Everyone knows that nutrition matters. It matters for overall health. It matters for performance. It matters for how you feel on a day-to-day basis. It matters a lot! But in the same way that many people inadequately address their biomechanical fitness (mobility and stability…see yesterday’s post), many athletes focus on their diet in a discontinuous manner. What does that mean? Well, some meals are considered important and some are afterthoughts. It may be that an athlete assigns a greater importance to a pre-workout meal than they do a post-workout binge. You’ve seen it. Someone meticulously plans their breakfast and their workout fueling, but once it’s over you’d think they have license to eat whatever they want. And it’s often not just for one meal that this “free pass” is granted, but for the next day as well. I’m not against a culinary reward now and then, but it shouldn’t be the norm.
There are also those athletes who pay very little attention to what they eat. They know what they should eat, but they end up just grabbing whatever they can throughout the day. The excuses abound.
But perhaps more damaging, and all-too-common, are the people who truly think they are eating well and supporting their body’s health and athletic performance…only to eat a diet that is counterproductive and potentially destructive. This usually stems from an overabundance of advertising and misinformation in the form of magazine and blog articles (not this one, surely!).
If you’re active, your body needs high-octane fuel for performance. (I’d argue that even if you’re not active, you still need very high-quality sources of nutrients and fuel.) If you are attempting to perform at a high level on a poor diet, something is going to have to give. It will have an impact on your health, whether in the form of fatigue, illness, weight gain, or similar.
This series is all about making actionable recommendations to improve your fitness for the new year. That doesn’t mean the suggestions are easy to implement, but they are simple enough that anyone can use them to effect real and lasting change. This is not a diet! These are tips on how to clean up your eating, fuel your body, and benefit from better health and higher performance.
Hydrate. Drink 2 to 3 liters of water every day. More on days when you exercise in the heat. If you want to add something for flavor, use electrolytes with little to no sugar (Nuun, Skratch Daily, etc)
Eat whole, unprocessed foods. Don’t unwrap things (unless it’s a banana). Avoid labels (because it should only have one ingredient on it anyway). Of course, you’ll eat some things that are cooked, combined, etc. In those cases, the ingredients should all be real foods. You will be amazed at how much unpronounceable, chemical content is in “healthy” bars and snacks. If you must eat a food with a label, take the time to read it. You’ll probably put it back!
Don’t count calories.
Do be aware of your carbohydrate intake. You don’t have to go “Low Carb”, but be mindful of how much you are eating. You’ll likely do yourself a huge favor by decreasing your intake by as little as 25%.
Eat lots of vegetables!!
Eat more fat! Don’t be scared of fat…the good kind. It does amazing things for your performance and recovery.
Don’t eat sugar! It’s terrible for you. If you’re eating labeled foods, look at how much sugar is in there. You’ll be amazed at all the places where it hides. Avoid it at all costs (except, perhaps, 3 hours into a 4 hour bike ride).
If you eat beef or dairy, only eat those from cattle which are grass-fed (and grass-finished, if you have the option). This means that their fat content will be more akin to the lauded anti-inflammatory fish oils that we know we should consume. Cattle are meant to eat grass, not grains. A juicy burger can actually be a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids!
Practice moderation. Enjoy good, unhealthy food sometimes! But make it a truly uncommon event.
Learn one new, wholesome recipe every month. This doesn’t have to be complex. Make something that is nutrient-dense and affords you days of leftovers. Start simple and your nutritional arsenal will grow to the point that you no longer have an excuse for unwrapping your lunch.
Eat like it matters. The most important thing you can do is to be mindful of what you put in your body! Food is the fuel on which you ask your body to do all of its tasks, and you ask a lot of your body. Prepare it for the challenge, or suffer the consequences.