I love being inspired by food. I take pride in the meals that I prepare and I also enjoy the foods that I put in my body. As a health conscious individual, when I see food, I see vitamins and minerals - good for my mind, brain and body. As an endurance athlete training for the Ironman World Championships, I see food for fuel - helping to keep me energized before and during workouts and to help me repair and refuel after workouts. As a lover of yummy food, I don't see calories, carbs or fat when I eat. While this mindset did not develop over night, I worked hard over the last few years to develop a healthy relationship with food. I do not fear an occasional dessert for when I eat well most of the time, I don't have to worry about the rest of the time. More so, my daily diet supports occasional treats (I don't believe in "cheat" days..such a harsh word to associate with food, especially since the word in other contexts is viewed as a horrible thing) whenever they come. Because I believe we have a lot of control over what we put into our body, we have the ability to plan ahead to control our cravings, appetite and intake.
I enjoyed every bite of the amazing food provided to me in Napa. I love new food and there was plenty of it on the West Coast. From fresh figs, to homemade granola to the most delicious selections of sauteed and fresh greens and vegetables. Every meal made me incredibly excited.
If you struggle with finding the right balance as fitness enthusiast, athlete or health-conscious individual, try the following:
On a piece of paper do the following (in order):
1) Write down when you are going to exercise/train (sport, intensity and duration).
2) If the workout is first thing in the morning plan your post training recovery snack (preferably protein + carb, around 100ish calories per hr of training). Depending on the intensity and duration (and phase of training), you may not need a pre training snack (coffee is fine). As a start (since we like to work our way up in calories), if the workout is around an hour and low intensity (within 45 min of waking), you may be fine without a pre training snack and water during training. If the workout is more than an hour after waking, is more than 90 min or is high intensity, plan to have a snack (most of my athletes find that 125-200 calories for a 1-2 hour workout sits well around 45-60 min prior to training) of carb and protein such as toast w/ PB or 1/3 cup oatmeal w/ nuts. Your pre training snack may vary depending on the workout so keep an open mind as you plan your perfect pre training snack which may be used on race day. Plan easy to make, easy to buy foods (most race venues will not have a whole foods or trader joes within walking distance so keep it simple).
3) After you plan your pre and post training snacks (if not training first thing in the morning and not eating within an hour of waking, I always recommend a protein pre-meal snack when you awake such as yogurt, milk, eggs or whey protein. No need to fear carbs, but likely they will be included in your breakfast), then plan your breakfast. We all differ in recommended daily calories but a good goal for active women is around 1700-2000 calories (as a baseline for daily needs, not including pre, during and post training nutrition which will exceed this calorie range). I do not encourage a daily diet of less than 1500 calories no matter the fitness routine. For men, I find that the calorie range can vary from male to male. I have worked with male athletes in the 2400-2800 calorie range as well as in the 2800-3200 calorie range. For most athletes, I find that 35-40 calories per kg body weight (1 lb = 2.2 kg) is an easy way to find a range to meet your needs. When I factor in weight loss goals, I typically adjust body weight and then determine calorie needs.
So when you find a good calorie range (there are many tools on the internet to figure estimated needs, but unfortunately, those calculators don't understand your training goals nor do they understand what phase in training you are in - which makes a huge difference on how you fuel), break that range into 3 meals and several snacks. If you are a snacker, give yourself 3-4 snacks a day. If you like bigger meals, give yourself 2-3 snacks a day. I recommend no less than 3 snacks for most people.
4) I find that most meals can be around 350-550ish (+/- 50 calories) with more calories surrounding workouts (ex. lunch before a PM workout or breakfast following an AM workout). There is no perfect plan as to how to plan your meals so my suggestion is to keep a journal with your meals, mood, hunger/satisfaction and exercise routine so that you can get in tune with your body and figure out the best balanced meals to leave you well-fueled, happy and satisfied. Snacks work well around 150-200 calories. As for a pre training snack in the afternoon, try to not make things complicated with calories. Eat when you need to fuel (not because you are bored) between meals and more than 3 hours go by and you are approaching an afternoon/evening workout, have another snack around 1-2 hours before training (carb and protein/fat such as an apple with PB or yogurt and fruit).
These are 4 simple steps that I use with my athletes to find a balanced plan that works at this point in time. Keep in mind that as your training/exercise routine changes, so will your diet. However, if you prioritize your foods around your training, you will find yourself feeling more energized throughout the day, thus benefiting more from your workouts. And most importantly, by planning your day, you will be able to find your weaknesses and strengths in your diet, as it relates to meeting your performance and health goals.