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Fishing For Protein

Protein is king (it literally means “of prime importance”) and swimmers are always looking for the “perfect” protein. Is it milk (or the dairy proteins whey or casein), beef, chicken, soy, pea, hemp? The truth is that all protein contributes the building blocks (amino acids) needed for muscle growth and repair after hard workouts. But, protein-rich foods deliver much more than amino acids, which is why you won’t be surprised to hear that nutritionists recommend food instead of protein-powders.

Many young people are experimenting with different dietary patterns…from Paleo to Vegan and even “Pegan,” a mash up of Paleo and Vegan. If you are searching for a nutrient-rich pattern with high quality protein yet want to eat less meat, consider a pescatarian diet. A pescatarian eats fish and seafood added to a vegetarian diet. Here are some of the many reasons that swimmers should consider eating more fish – after all, they have a lot in common… they spend most of their lives in water!

  • Fish is a protein with health benefits. The protein quality is high (right up there with eggs, dairy, meat, and poultry) and the health benefits include reducing heart disease risk and developing healthy brains, especially during childhood.
  • You’ve probably heard that fish is “brain food,” because fatty fish (like salmon, trout, Alaska Pollock, Barramundi, sea bass, and tuna) contain omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA. “DHA is to the brain what calcium is to the bones,” says Dr. Tom Brenna of the Dell Pediatric Research Institute at University of Texas. Which is one of several reasons that major health organizations recommend eating fish twice a week.

With so many types of fish (and shellfish) it isn’t hard to get started. Here are some tips for choosing fish that can get even the “I don’t like fish” crowd in the game:

  • Ease into fish with a kid-friendly food – fish sticks. Look for fish sticks made with whole fish filets, like wild Alaska Pollock.
  • Mild white fish, like cod, Pollock, tilapia, snapper, or mahi mahi make tasty fish tacos; try it instead of chicken or beef tacos.
  • Frozen fish that is flash-frozen is often fresher than the fish at the fish counter, so don’t fear the frozen food section to find fish or seafood.
  • Canned or pouched tuna or salmon is an easy lunch or snack for busy swimmers. Try some of the new flavored tuna or salmon to introduce a global flair to seafood.
  • Make tuna or salmon “burgers” on the grill. You can find frozen wild Alaska Pollock burgers in the grocery store, too.
  • Try seafood, like shrimp or scallops in pasta instead of meatballs or meat sauce.
  • Enjoy a seafood-based soup or gumbo; clam chowder, she-crab soup, or New Orleans-style gumbo, minus the sausage.
  • If you like salmon, try it grilled over a salad (a salmon Caesar salad) or smoked salmon on a bagel.

The Seafood Nutrition Partnership website has helpful recipes to get you started, as well as information on all things seafood. So, dive in!

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  chrisrosenbloom@gmail.com.