Coaching Association of Canada

Buying Organic - What Should Athletes Do?

Most athletes are aware that to physically perform at their best, they should consume wholesome foods, such as: ample, high quality whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, plus sufficient fluids.

In combination, an athlete's diet should be:

  • high in carbohydrates (grains, fruits, vegetables, some dairy and soy-based foods) as their primary fuel source;
  • moderate with protein (meats, fish, poultry, eggs, legumes, some dairy and soy-based foods) to build and repair muscle;
  • low in fat for good health.

However, with these dietary goals in mind athletes may be confused as to which foods are ideal to meet their sport nutrition needs – especially when it comes to choosing between organic and nonorganically grown foods.

To date, there is no scientific evidence to confirm whether an organically-based diet will enhance sport performances. Furthermore, the research is conflicting whether organically grown foods are even more nutritious than non-organic foods.

Organic Farming: refers to farming without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, antibiotics, growth hormones or genetically modified organisms (GMO). Organic food labelling guidelines can be found at: www.inspection.gc.ca/english/fssa/orgbio/orgbioe.shtml

Whether farming organically or non-organically, specific farming methods can increase the nutritional content of foods grown, such as:

  • rotating crops;
  • covering crops to prevent erosion;
  • planting "green" manures (i.e., ploughing special crops back into the soil);
  • using plant and animal composts as natural fertilizers.

Phytonutrients :are compounds found naturally in foods (not vitamins or minerals) that may support good health.

In addition to considering whether to purchase organic or nonorganic foods, careful consideration should be given to the handling of foods, especially produce, in an effort to retain maximal nutritional value. Nutrients in produce are often lost upon excessive exposure to air, sunlight, water and heat.

The following tips can help retain the nutrients in foods:

  • store vegetables and fruits separately in air-tight containers in the fridge;
  • ripen fruits in a paper bag (with an apple or banana) in a cupboard – not out in the sunlight;
  • quickly wash produce just before consumption;
  • eat vegetables raw or steamed (i.e., foods rest in a bamboo or metal steamer above boiling water);
  • avoid boiling vegetables;
  • microwave vegetables with minimal added water;
  • cover left-over / uneaten cooked vegetables with air-tight wrapping;
  • cover cut fruits with air-tight wrapping.
The PROS and CONS of Buying Organically Grown Foods (compared to non-organic purchases):
PROS CONS
May contain higher phytonutrient content Often more expensive
May eat more produce due to perceived benefits May eat less produce due to cost
Supports personal values & choice Not always available when travel
Environmentally friendly Not necessarily more nutritious
May taste better May look less desirable to eat
Possibly supports local economies Poultry may contain more salmonella
  May limit food variety year round

 The bottom line is that athletes need to consume nutritious foods, especially produce, to support their training, competitions, and exercise recovery. It's a personal choice whether athletes choose to buy organic or non-organic foods, but regardless of the source, ample consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables is essential for good health and optimal sport performances.

For Additional Information:

*Dietitians of Canada, Current Issues – the Inside Story, Organic Food: What You Should Know about Nutritional Quality and Safety, January 2010.

*Dietitians of Canada, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) – Are organic foods better for my health? January 25, 2010.

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