5 lunch mistakes athletes make

Why you should never skip the mid-day meal, eat the same thing every day, and more

While busy athletes typically prioritize breakfastand have an array ofpost-workout dinner recipes on hand, many are all too often found dining desk-side come lunch hour.

But a routine of sad salads or handful of nuts grows stale and letting your mid-day meal fall to the wayside does not allow for optimal performance nutrition, says Matthew Kadey, R.D., author of Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sports & Adventure.

Revitalize your second meal of the day by avoiding these common athletes' lunch mistakes.

Mistake #1: Not planning ahead

“When we leave nutrition choices until we are hungry, cranky, irritable, or simply have diminished willpower, we tend to make poorer choices," says Brian St. Pierre, R.D., C.S.C.S., the director of performance nutrition at Precision Nutrition. "Over time, these choices and their extra calories add up, and end up on our waists.”

The fix: Meal prep on Sunday. Kadey includes whole grains like quinoa, spelt, or sorghum; proteins like legumes, roasted chicken, or canned salmon; and chopped veggies, like cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, and cucumber. “The combinations are endless, which can keep the midday meal more exciting and give active bodies more of the nutrition they need to perform at a higher level.” For a more detailed healthy meal prep guide, click here.

Mistake #2: Skipping lunch altogether

Forgoing your mid-day meal shuts down your body's metabolism and usually results in eating larger meals later in the day, explains Krista Austin, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., a performance and nutrition coach based in San Diego, California. “The metabolism works best when its fire is kept steadily burning throughout the day.”

The fix:Eat at the rate you burn. A 135-pound 40-year-old woman who is five-foot-five, for example, would have a resting metabolic rate of about 1,608 calories, explains Austin. To account for activities such as walking, breathing, and commuting, you multiply that number by 1.3 to land on a daily number of calories (in this case 2,090 calories). “If we eat five times a day, about every three hours, we would need to eat about 418 calories at lunch to eat at the rate we burn,” she says. Add in exercise and you’ll need to plan not only for lunch but pre- and post-workout snacks, too.

Mistake #3: Skimping on protein

“Protein is the most satiating macronutrient,” says St. Pierre. It’ll hold you over more effectively than carbs or fat every time, preventing snacking and keeping calories in check. “Protein also helps to boost metabolism and build and preserve precious lean mass, while also assisting in fat loss.”

The fix: Incorporate one to two palm-sized portions of a protein-rich food such as chicken, fish, eggs, tofu, cottage cheese, or beans and legumes in your lunch, suggests St. Pierre. “This will help you eat less while minimizing hunger, build muscle, and burn fat.”

Mistake #4: Eating the same thing every day

“We get disinterested in food if we eat it over and over again," says Austin. "Giving variety keeps us more interested and committed to reaching our goals. Plus we usually enjoy our food more this way."

The fix: Come up with 10 to 15 on-the-go lunches to cycle through, then prep for your chosen options over the weekend, suggests Austin. This will help you from falling back on a go-to that can grow stale and also expose you to different ingredients, which means you'll be getting more varied nutrients.

Mistake #5: Distracted eating

“Studies show that people who eat while doing something else are more likely to overeat later on,” says Kadey. “When you eat with your mind elsewhere, you don’t register the meal the same way; You miss out on noticing satiety cues, so you just end up hungry again sooner.”

The fix: Focus on your meals instead of your computer or phone. Eat lunch outside on a park bench or in a cafe, he suggests. This helps your brain connect with the food you’re eating, which could prevent overeating later. Eating more slowly than you think you should has also been shown to help you be mindful of how full you actually are.