Processed foods have a bad reputation, but how many of us grow our own wheat, mill the flour, and bake bread? Processed foods shouldn’t scare us; we could all do with less ultra-processed foods that are loaded with saturated fat, added sugar, and excess sodium, but many processed foods can be part of a healthy diet for swimmers. Parents of athletes want convenience and quality; flavor and nutrition, and minimally processed foods. So, here are a few that are approved by this dietitian to provide needed calories and nutrients with the triple benefits of convenience, quality, and good taste.
- Low-fat chocolate milk is great recovery beverage, but you probably already knew that. What you might not know is that the naturally occurring proteins in milk, whey and casein, are referred to as “fast” and “slow” proteins. The whey fraction is rapidly digested and absorbed to speed essential amino acids to your muscles to begin the repair process, and then the “slow” protein, casein, prolongs the time of amino acid delivery. A win-win combination.
Bonus: Milk naturally contains calcium and one serving delivers about a one-third of the calcium needed for the day; vitamin D is added to milk to help with calcium absorption.
- 100% orange juice fortified with calcium and vitamin D. This processed beverage ticks a lot of boxes for swimmer: naturally occurring sugar for energy, fluid for hydration, and vitamin C for immune support. The addition of calcium and vitamin D makes it a bone-building beverage, too. Bonus: Many young swimmers need extra calories and 100% fruit juice is an easy way to boost calories.
- Bean dips are the new hummus. Black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans are rich in protein, fiber, and minerals needed to support growth. Use them as more than a dip for chips, but spread them on wraps, sandwiches and as a topper for baked potatoes.
Bonus: Beans provide the B-vitamin and folic acid, needed for healthy red blood cell production.
- Tuna in pouches or ready-to-eat containers (complete with fork). Chicken of the Sea has a new line of flavored-infused tuna, just perfect for a post-workout protein punch. With about 20 grams of protein in a 2.8-ounce container and global flavors like Thai Chili, Lemon &Thyme, Sundried Tomato, and Basil it is a portable mini-meal. StarKist has line of single serving pouches with great flavors like ranch and lemon pepper, with the convenience of eating straight from the pouch with no draining.
Bonus: Tuna has omega-3 fats or “fish oils” to fight inflammation.
- Whole Grain Brown Ready Rice goes from microwave to mouth in just 90 seconds. The rice is pre-cooked, so no long cooking time required. Brown rice can be the base of a quick meal for hungry swimmers, microwave and add a protein (chicken, seafood, tofu, beans) and toss in some pre-cut veggies. After cooking, the rice can also be added to your favorite soup to boost calories and carbohydrates.
Bonus: Ready rice is minimally processed with no artificial colors or flavors and provides needed quality carbohydrates to replenish muscle stores after a long, hard workout.
- Chickpea snacks are replacing chips as a healthy, crunchy snack. While you can roast chickpeas at home, they lose their crunch, so the processed chickpeas area winner. Higher in protein than chips or pretzels, they also contain fiber, a nutrient lacking in many young people’s diets. Bush Brothers make 100-calorie snack packs in many flavors; cracked pepper is a favorite.
Bonus: Roasted chickpeas are great on salads or in soups instead of croutons.
- Sweet Earth Natural Foods frozen meals are 100% plant-based and will please vegan athletes. Try the veggie lover’s pizza, breakfast burritos, artisan bowls, veggie burgers, and a variety of other great-tasting foods.
Bonus: This natural food company has some unique additions to their meals; like probiotics in a breakfast burrito or flaxseed breakfast sandwiches.
Chris Rosenbloom, PhD, is a registered dietitian nutritionist who has provided nutrition information to coaches and athletes for over 30 years. She welcomes questions from swimmers, parents, and coaches at firstname.lastname@example.org.