Today’s athletes are scrapping the bottomless protein shakes and post-exercise fast food runs to make way for a tried-and-true training staple: whole grains.

In the Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD, the team nutritionist for the Boston Red Sox baseball team, writes, “Without question, wholesome forms of carbohydrate are the best choices for fueling your muscles and promoting good health.” Beyond being easy and delicious carbohydrate sources, whole grains offer many other benefits that make them the perfect centerpiece for any athlete’s diet. Unlike their refined counterparts, which often contain only the starchy endosperm, whole grains also contain the bran (filled with fiber, B vitamins, and antioxidants), and the germ (filled with minerals, protein, and healthy fats).

For this reason, whole grains are one of the key food groups in NFL star Tom Brady’s famously regimented eating plan. With a diet that’s approximately 80% whole grains and vegetables, the New England Patriots quarterback is said to enjoy bowl meals, like quinoa with wilted greens and curry sauce, as well as other whole grains like brown rice, millet, and buckwheat.

Michael Phelps, whose outlandishly high calorie diet once made nutritionists queasy, moved towards a healthier eating pattern in preparation for the 2016 Olympic Games. Older, wiser, and more decorated than ever, the former Olympic swimmer stayed competitive into his 30’s by diving into a large plate of whole grains, lean meats, and vegetables at dinner, rather than a large pizza, and by swapping the tower of chocolate chip pancakes for a bowl of oatmeal with fruit.

While there’s no denying that carbohydrates are the foundation of any good sports nutrition diet, protein tends to win the popularity contest with athletes. But here too, whole grains have an edge.  Switching to whole grain carbohydrates can add a significant boost to your protein intake, as most grains have 25% more protein than their refined counterparts. In fact, ¾ cup cooked whole wheat pasta and 2 slices of bread each have the same amount of protein (about 6g) as 1 egg or 1 ounce of almonds.

To train smarter, not harder, replace the white bread, white rice, and refined carbohydrates in your diet with hearty whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, farro, or whole grain pasta. Whether you’re a fierce competitor or an occasional exerciser, eating more whole grains is a winning strategy to help outrun chronic disease, and live a happy, healthy life. (Kelly)

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