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5 ways to maintain your nutrition game

As college athletes, you were accustomed to preparation, whether it was for the big test or the next competition. But when your college career comes to an end, along with your regular access to dining halls and team meals, it’s easy to overlook the importance of having a post-graduation game plan for good nutrition. We asked Lauren Link, a registered dietitian who oversees sports nutrition for Purdue athletics, to provide her best healthy eating tips for this transition period.

Lauren Link

1. Adjust your caloric intake. Most former athletes burn only 500 to 1,000 calories per day from activity, which is less than they did as a student-athlete. “Even if you stay active and have a workout regime after college, it’s unlikely that you are going to be burning as many calories as before,” Link says. Dietary changes are one way — a big way — to bridge the post-college calorie gap.

Carbohydrate intake is an area to pay attention to. Instead of carbs such as grains and starchy vegetables taking up one-third to half of your plate when you were in full training mode, Link recommends about a fourth of a former athlete’s plate be filled with carb-rich foods. Think of carbs like pasta as a side item now, not the main course.

Meal planning for the young professional in 3 easy steps

  1. Buy a crockpot.
  2. Add four fresh or frozen chicken breasts and let it slow-cook all day.
  3. Use the shredded chicken for a variety of easy-to-prepare future meals, like chicken tacos, chicken wraps and barbeque chicken.

2. Just like your momma said, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. It’s not only a healthy choice, Link says, but filling yourself up with fruits and veggies comes without the negative caloric impact found in many other food items. With meal planning in mind, go to the grocery every week or two so that you can purchase fresh produce, dairy and grains — consumables that won’t last a month in your pantry or refrigerator. Empty caloric foods such as fried foods, cakes, cookies and candy don’t do much for you, so limit your intake, she says.

3. It’s your kitchen now, be the cook. A detailed meal plan might seem intimidating to young professionals, but it starts with the basics. Choose one or two nights per week to prepare meals at home. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Even if it’s just you, cook a quantity large enough to pack for your lunch for the next day. Batch cooking not only ensures that you’ll be eating healthy meals that you prepared, but you’ll be dining out less, which can really rack up the calories — and the dollars.

“Cooking ahead is a huge money saver that I see all the time among young grads who played college sports,” says Link. Starting out, they feel like they have a lot of money. Tuition bills are in the past and their careers are now underway. But a daily $7 to $10 lunch out with co-workers can add up to a couple of hundred bucks per month, and without realizing it, you can spend a couple of thousand dollars in a year just on lunch. A little bit of meal prepping and planning can go a long way for your wallet.

4. You didn’t skip practice, so don’t skip meals. You may be running late for a meeting or traveling for work and think you don’t have time for breakfast or lunch. Those meals get abused a lot, Link says. Skipping meals throws off the body’s metabolism, increases the risk of muscle breakdown, and can add fat mass. If you do skip a meal, the next time you eat, the body’s insulin response is higher, which promotes the storage of fat. It also leaves you hungry, which leads to being irritable. Eating three meals a day may just make you a more productive employee, given you are not cranky from missing meals.

5. If you drink alcohol, have an intake plan. Most college graduates are over 21 and, like a lot of young professionals, many enjoy the social scene out with friends and former teammates. There is nothing wrong with a beer or a glass of wine, Link says, but doing so multiple times a week, or to excess, really adds on the calories over the course of a week or month. A good plan is to limit yourself to a day or two per week to consume an alcoholic beverage. If you drink, be choosy about the mixers used. Avoid sodas and juices and opt for lower caloric mixers such as water, tonic water or club soda.

About the Expert

Lauren Link is a registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics. She earned a bachelor's degree from Purdue with a double major in dietetics and in nutrition, fitness and health, and she competed on the Boilermakers’ women’s soccer team. As director of sports nutrition at her alma mater, Link promotes optimal performance during student-athletes’ sports careers and is passionate about helping them successfully transition into the post-college athletics world. She is spearheading a transitional program called BLAST (Boiler Life After SporT) and is the author of “From Athlete to Normal Human.”