Hall of Fame basketball player Ray Allen once wrote in a letter of advice addressed to his younger self, “You’ll win a championship in Boston. You’ll win another in Miami. The personalities of those two teams will be different, but both teams will have the same thing in common: habits. Boring old habits. I know you want me to let you in on some big secret to success in the NBA. The secret is there is no secret. It’s just boring old habits.” Obviously, the athletes that I work with want to improve their performance in sport and want to do so for long periods of time, but these same athletes sometimes lack the knowledge needed to make healthy choices. One of the habits that legendary guard Ray Allen was speaking of in the above quote, is nutrition.
Going to the grocery store is often a flurry of confusion for a high school or post-secondary student-athlete. Heck, with all of the options available, the grocery store can be a confusing place for anybody. One of the biggest dilemmas that I find myself in when I enter the grocery store, is in the bread aisle. Most people know that you should grab a whole wheat loaf of bread instead of the white one, but why? I want to clear up some confusion and explain exactly why you should reach for a whole grain loaf of bread over the white stuff that many say tastes better.
To start learning why whole grain is the best option, let’s take a look at what a single grain is made up of.
A grain has 3 components. The bran, germ, and the endosperm. The bran is the outside layer or the protection for the grain. It is dense with fibre and vitamin B. Inside of the bran at the core, is a small section called the germ, containing vitamins, minerals, oils, antioxidants and proteins. The endosperm is also inside the bran and is the source of the macronutrients of carbohydrates and proteins that come with eating grain products. Well, that’s great, but why does it matter? It matters because the difference that takes place in each form of bread is determined by which part of the grain it uses.
A whole grain loaf of bread contains all 3 layers of the grain (the name finally makes sense!). A product like white bread is actually stripped of its bran and germ layers, and is referred to as a refined grain. Companies do this to increase the shelf life of the product, and more importantly, make it taste better. Removing the bran actually gives the final product a smoother, more enjoyable texture. These sound like awesome benefits, so why in the world would you buy anything other than white bread? Well, just like most things that taste good, it’s way less healthy. Think about it. By removing the bran and germ, you are now missing out on all kinds of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and my favourite, fibre.
Fibre is a super important nutrient that often gets overlooked. It’s the one that calls nature for you! It’s the part of plant foods that the human body has no idea how to digest, sending it straight through to the toilet. Hey, it had to be said. Don’t hate the messenger. Super gross, but also super important for making us feel full and regulating our body weight.
Now that I got the fun facts of fibre out of the way, it is also important to note that a diet with high fibre intake has a decreased risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Sounds impossible, but fibre makes the carbohydrates present in grain products digest much slower than if it was not present. Your body can now secrete insulin at a less rapid, more controlled fashion, therefore having a better grasp on blood sugar levels.
Not convinced yet? This ‘slow down’ effect also makes whole grain products a much longer-lasting source of energy compared to a product made from refined grains. Your fuel tank when training is going to stay fuller, longer, and you will now be able to get the most out of each training session. By picking a white bread or pasta next time you go to the grocery store, you are neglecting all of the benefits that fibre and the other important nutrients stored in the parts of the grain being filtered out have to offer.
Now that nobody is going to buy white spaghetti over the much better option of whole grain, what about whole wheat? This is another option that often appears on grain products. So, do you choose 100% whole grain, or 100% whole wheat? Well, wheat is just a type of grain. Buckwheat, oatmeal, and barley are a couple other types of grain. When all parts are used in these grains, each one will have the full nutritional value that we so greatly desire. So no need to stress whether to buy whole wheat or whole grain, just make sure it is 100% one of them.
Multigrain sounds close enough to be a healthy choice, but what does that really mean? In reality, all that needs to happen to be able to smack a multigrain label on a package is use multiple grains in a product. More grains, however, does by no means equate to improved athletic performance. Actually, the opposite often happens. A multigrain product is not required to have the whole grain of any grains being used. Most of the time, it is just a variety of refined grains put together. Even in a package that says 100% multigrain, most of the grains aren’t 100% used. Only a small fraction of the total grains used have to be whole.
All things considered, it is best when purchasing any grain product, to choose one with the label of 100% whole grain, or 100% whole wheat. Over time, small habits can reap tremendous rewards both athletically, and for lifelong longevity. Habits build character, character builds champions, and whole grains build some damn good bread.
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