The start of a new year feels like a fresh start for many people — this is the time of year people set New Year’s resolutions. But unfortunately, many people may be setting unrealistic resolutions or goals that they have a hard time sticking to. For example, setting resolutions to “stop eating sugar” or to eat vegetables at every meal may be reasonable goals for some but completely unrealistic for others.
Instead of setting yourself up to feel defeated by too-big resolutions and diets that just don’t work, athletes can take advantage of the “fresh start” time of year by working on adding these basic (yet important) habits in the new year.
1. Make hydration a priority.
This might seem like a “too-easy” goal to set, but many athletes may know that drinking water is a healthy thing to do but don’t necessarily pay attention to their hydration status. Athletes could be walking around dehydrated before, during and after practice or competition, which can have a negative impact on performance, and can cause athletes to feel fatigued sooner.
A simple way to check your hydration status is to monitor urine color — light lemonade indicates that you are better hydrated than a darker-colored urine. You can also weigh yourself before and after practice, a workout or a competition. A weight loss of greater than 2 percent body weight indicates inadequate fluid intake during that practice or competition. For every pound you lose, you want to drink 16-20 ounces of fluid over the next few hours.
Another good rule of thumb is to make sure you’re sipping on water throughout the day (not just one small cup at meals), and refill that water bottle several times throughout the day. Remember — water is recommended for maintaining hydration all the time, with the exception of including sports drinks if exercise is prolonged, intense or in a hot/humid environment to maintain and replace electrolytes lost in sweat.
2. Work on your sleep hygiene.
Getting enough sleep is important for athletes (and really, everyone!). Sleeping gives your body the time it needs to recharge and repair muscles. Sleep also has an impact on hunger hormones — when you don’t get enough sleep, your body’s hunger and satiety signals (ghrelin and leptin) may be impacted, which can make you feel hungrier during the day. You will also likely feel more tired, which can have a negative impact on decision-making and how much effort you can put into a workout or competition.
Sleep needs can vary among individuals, but most people should be getting between seven to 10 hours of sleep per night. Know how long you have to sleep based on what time you have to wake up, and make sure you’re setting aside at least seven hours at night to sleep.
3. Add healthy habits to your nutrition plan.
Eliminating entire food groups/carbs/sugar/low-calorie diets leave athletes feeling deprived and sacrifice performance and recovery. Instead of adopting these plans that don’t work long-term, let’s start the new year right by adding healthy nutrition habits to our diet plan. A couple good examples include:
- Eat breakfast every day. If you usually skip breakfast, start slow. Try a piece of fruit, toast with nut butter or avocado, scrambled eggs, or a bowl of oatmeal or cereal.
- Pack a healthier snack. That includes a carbohydrate (fruit, vegetable or whole grain) plus a protein or a healthy fat. If you usually hit the vending machine, grab a protein bar, or neglect snacks altogether, you might feel extra hungry at mealtime. Try packing a snack in your bag. Mixed nuts and raisins, apple with peanut butter, grapes and string cheese, jerky and a piece of fruit, avocado or nut butter toast and Greek yogurt with berries are good examples of healthy snacks.
- Add a fruit or vegetable to add color to meals. Adding more color to your plate is an easy goal. For example, let’s say you eat toast with peanut butter every morning. You could add a banana. If you’re an egg eater, try scrambling them with mixed peppers and/or spinach. Add tomato and spinach to your lunchtime sandwich, or include a side of carrots instead of chips. If you eat pasta, add a bag of steamed freezer broccoli to add color and nutrients.
Setting small goals can motivate you to make long-lasting changes that can impact your health and performance.