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All-day nutrition tips for athletes: Lunch


Now that I covered my Breakfast Tips, it's time for lunch!

-Regardless if you love lunch foods or not, lunch is an important meal of your day as an athlete. Unlike breakfast which is super important as it kick-starts your day (and helps you refuel from your morning workout), lunch is a prime opportunity to nourish your body and fill in some nutritional gaps between breakfast and dinner. Whereas a high fiber, high fat and/or high protein meal is not in the ideal composition from a "fueling" perspective in the morning or evening if a workout precedes the meal, lunch is a great opportunity to fill in the nutritional gaps that may occur throughout the day in an athlete's diet. I highly suggest to emphasize a large salad for your lunch and to make your lunch very "plant strong."

-Many athletes eat lunch and then feel hungry just an hour later. This starts an afternoon of trying to mask hunger with unhealthy methods (drinking coffee or diet coke, chewing gum, eating sugar-free/low calorie processed foods, drinking energy drinks) or giving in to hunger with unhealthy snack options. Or just feeling like hunger never settles. The key to taming hunger in the afternoon is to ensure that your lunch meal is well balanced. I've worked with many athletes who eat a super healthy lunch but because of lack of protein and fat, the healthy lunch ends up becoming unhealthy when the athlete indulges post lunch due to not feeling satisfied. Whereas breakfast and dinner may be more carb-rich, be sure to incorporate at least 25-30g of protein and 10-15g of fat with your plant-strong lunch meal. Along with a heavy dose of fiber from a variety of vegetables, you should find your digestion slowing down and providing satiety for at least 2-2.5 hours. 

-You need a substantial afternoon snack. I feel this is where a lot of athletes go wrong. Don't expect (or plan) for lunch to hold you over for 4+ hours, especially if you are doing an afternoon/early evening workout. And if you workout in the evening, you may need two snacks! Don't be afraid to eat in the afternoon. You are not dieting so you don't need to "save" calories. The goal is to have a substantial snack that looks like a mini meal. It could be a 1/2 sandwich or wrap, granola, yogurt and fruit or a small potato with side of cottage cheese. Whatever your mini meal looks like, consider the evening workout so that you allow adequate time for digestion (at least 2-3 hours before the evening workout).

-Simple pre-workout snacks before an evening workout can be very similar to a morning workout. Ideally, athletes should still consider a small afternoon snack in addition to a pre-workout snack. This may look like a lot of eating but in the big picture, you are trying to manage your appetite throughout the week, minimize overeating in the late evening when you are sedentary and seeking good digestion before bed and to ensure great workouts on a daily basis.

-Don't be afraid to get a little help from others. There is nothing wrong with relying on eating-out once a week, picking up a pre-made salad or selecting from a salad bar. Just always keep your goals and appetite in mind. A pre-made salad at the grocery store or restaurant may work for your sedentary co-worker but it may not be enough for you if you are training for an Ironman!

-Lastly, I have worked with many athletes. I try to help my nutrition athletes better plan their day rather than abiding by a standard meal plan that may or may not work for their lifestyle. If you are a retail employee, emergency room nurse, lawyer, doctor, teacher, stay-at-home parent, vet, accountant.....whatever your job  may be, you must eat based on your schedule. Consider your day and how your job requirements impact your food choices, timing of food, energy, cravings and anything else that will help you be a better planner (and healthier eater). 

Stay tuned for dinner tips!