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Nathan Chen: How to Start the Morning Strong with Food

close up of male figure skater's skates on ice

Between training on and off the ice, travel, and competitions, I have to be very mindful of my nutrition and I know that breakfast is so important to starting the day off strong. I usually train in the mornings, and if I don’t have a good breakfast, I start the day lagging and generally fatigued. I’ve also found that it’s really easy to get injured if I’m not well nourished.

THE SCIENCEThe pre-exercise or pre-training meal serves two purposes. It keeps the athlete from feeling hungry before and during exercise, and it maintains optimal levels of energy for the exercising muscles.

Store bought yogurts of different flavors next to spoons.To start the morning strong with food, I first focus on picking things I like to eat! But, of course, I also need to find foods that will give me the nutrients and energy I need for training. The best foods to fuel your body can depend on what type of training you’re doing, which is why it can be helpful to discuss your nutrition habits with a nutritionist.

Close up of dark chocolate covered almonds.I typically try to get in some protein, carbs, and veggies for breakfast. And I remember to hydrate! To refuel later in the morning, I’ll also have some healthy snacks. I love yogurt, so that’s what I’ll usually have, and fruit is always a go-to. Dark chocolate almonds are a guilty pleasure of mine, so I snack on those sometimes too!

THE SCIENCETo avoid stomach upset, the carbohydrate content of meals should be reduced the closer the meals are to the event (1-2 grams per kilogram 1-2 hours before the event). Adding small amounts of protein can aid in regulating energy levels by slowing down carbohydrate absorption, delivering the carbohydrates to the working muscles at a more consistent rate over time.

When it comes to meals and snacks around competition, I try to keep things as normal as possible. I know what foods work for me, and I stick to those. For me, it works best to eat a bigger meal hours before competition and then snack on things that are higher in carbs before I compete. Most importantly, I don’t recommend trying something new before competing!

Suggested meals for pre-event eating table.

About Nathan Chen

Figure skater Nathan Chen first gained widespread acclaim in 2016 when he became the youngest U.S. male athlete to medal at the ISU Grand Prix Final at age 17. He quickly followed this with another record in 2017 when he became the first male athlete in figure skating history to land five quadruple jumps in a single performance at the 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. In this time frame, Nathan secured silver at the ISU Grand Prix Final, gold at the 2017 Four Continents Championships, and gold at the 2017 ISU Grand Prix Final. At the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, he went on to earn a bronze medal (team).

What is food-first nutrition?

Every athlete wants to reach their peak performance, which often means pushing harder and longer in training and in competition. In the quest to reach their maximum potential, many athletes know that good nutrition is critical, but they may also look to the latest supplements and trendy diet regimens to give them that extra boost.

Some athletes, on the other hand, have found that a food-first approach is all they need to achieve peak performance. While some athletes may need to supplement their dietary intake because of a medical condition, many athletes can properly fuel their bodies and meet all their bodies’ needs with the right food.

In the Food-First Nutrition series, Olympians, Paralympians, and elite athletes share how they maintain the strength and energy they need to compete at the highest levels of sport through a food first approach. For more information on the best foods for athletes, check out the TrueSport Nutrition Guide.

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