As cliched as it may be, a new year is the perfect excuse to give yourself a makeover (and we’re not just talking a change of nail polish colors). As a cheerleader, the new year is a great time to get back in those good habits that may have fallen by the wayside during the hectic fall and winter seasons. Nutrition and healthy eating is one habit all cheerleaders should work on. It should come as no surprise that what you eat plays a huge role in how you perform. The tricky part of this is that sometimes you don’t even realize you aren’t eating the right foods. The side effects can vary from fatigue to a lack of focus. A lot of people may shirk off these side effects as the result of a lack of sleep. In reality, it may all have to do with your eating habits. If your diet isn’t balanced, your cheerleading skills can take a tumble. Here are six food rules every athlete should follow: Increase Your Protein Intake Feeling nauseous or drained during practice or after a performance? You may not have had enough protein. Protein is gold and it can provide more energy and strength than anything else. The foods with the highest amount of protein per serving are meat, poultry, and fish – from beef and salmon to chicken and eggs. These are great foods to eat for lunch or dinner. For vegetarians, tofu and tempeh are great high-protein foods. If you want to take a protein-rich snack with you to practice, go for nuts (like almonds, peanuts, and cashews), seeds (sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin), and peanut butter. Don’t Stuff Yourself Overeating (or just eating too many carbs, like pasta and bread) before a day at practice or a competition can almost guarantee you a less than stellar performance. When you eat until you can’t eat any more, you end up feeling tired and sleepy soon after. This is the last way you want to feel when you’re working with your team. On cheerleading days, don’t stuff yourself. Snack Often Just because you’re not supposed to eat too much doesn’t mean you should go hungry. The golden rule is to eat less but more often. Try having five smaller meals a day, rather than three large meals. The more often you eat, the more fuel you’re providing your body, which can then be used for cheering, stunting, and tumbling. Never go to practice on an empty stomach and without a small snack of some kind. Easy, packable snacks include granola bars, trail mix, peanut-butter crackers, veggies, and fruit. Carbs Aren’t the Enemy While you should avoid a giant bowl of pasta right before a performance, don’t think you can’t eat any carbs. It’s all about eating the right kind of carbs. Swap white bread for wheat; white rice for brown rice or quinoa; and cereal for oatmeal. A Spoonful of Sugar After a long practice or intensive routine or game, it’s important to raise your blood sugar. It’s amazing how a little bit of sugar can get you feeling better almost instantly. Avoid candy or chocolate, which can upset your stomach before and after exercise and instead opt for fruit, muffins, or bagels. Drink Up Perhaps the most important rule is to hydrate as often as possible. The normal person should drink around eight glasses a day. An athlete, who is sweating and burning major energy, should be drinking at least double that amount. Always have a water bottle nearby or in your bag. While you should always be drinking a lot of water, electrolyte-enhanced beverages, like Vitamin Water and Gatorade are great options for when you want some flavor. How do you stay healthy? What are your favorite foods and snacks?