8/4/14

Is your nutrition performance enhancing or performance limiting?


Every athlete wants to take his/her fitness to the next level. I believe that we are all born with the trait of wanting hard work to pay off when it counts. 

As a dietitian who specializes in sport nutrition and fueling a body in motion, there's a lot of information that can be applied to an athlete who wants to take his/her training regime to the next level. It doesn't matter how you term your fitness - newbie, veteran, skilled, professional, novice - but instead, what are the goals that you aspire for yourself and are you willing to put in the hard work to meet your goals. 

I have had the great opportunity to work with many, many inspiring and motivated athletes on their nutrition, both daily and sport nutrition. Also, combing this with coaching so that a well-fueled body can go to the next level of fitness.

What's the difference between the two? Here's an article that I wrote for Triathlete Magazine that may help explain how sport nutrition is a topic that is very different from daily nutrition. 

There are similarities between the two and they do relate, but one (sport nutrition) helps the body adapt to training stress whereas the other (daily nutrition) helps keep the immune system healthy and reduces risk for disease and illness. To reduce risk for disease you do not have to use sport nutrition but to take training to the next level, you certainly have to eat healthy. 

One of the biggest issues I find with athletes is not knowing where to start in a nutrition journey. Regardless of working with a professional (ex. RD who specializes in sport nutrition) or from information on the internet, books and from friends/coaches, there's a lot of information available to athletes, some new and exciting but most of the information has remained the same for decades. 

So this brings to me to my focus of this blog post. 
If you are searching for nutrition help/advice to help take your training/fitness/performance to the next level, what category are you? 

Performance enhancing or Performance limiting. 

With so much information available, athletes are always looking at what others are doing (age groupers and pros) and trying to replicate in their own routine. Sometimes this works really well but many times, athletes are not focusing on exactly what is the reason for changing/tweaking the diet and fueling regime. 

Therefore, these are two categories that I use to help me (and my nutrition athlete) identify what are the underlying reason(s) for modifying the diet or fueling regime. Every athlete is different and I believe in a personalized approach. 

Far too many times I see athletes trying anything and everything to improve performance but not necessarily changing the right things. Often, things are changed that are working and new things are added that may not be necessary. 

 I will explain a little about both of these categories so that you can see where you fit in as you focus on the very important area of nutrition that is a critical part of an athletes training "diet". 

I find that most triathletes fit into one category more than the other, and those who feel limited by their current fueling/nutrition regime need an immediate change. Certainly, if I can help an athlete identify a red flag as to why performance is being limited, this can be addressed and practiced and almost immediately, performance will improve. And who doesn't want that?

Although I work with a wide range of athletes and I love working with the performance enhancing athlete, I would say that most athletes that I work with, are not in the performance enhancing category when they contact me for nutrition help. 

 Once you better understand if your current fueling/nutrition regime is limiting your performance, you will have less information to dive through as you discover exactly what it is that you should immediately address in hopes to modifying your fueling/diet regime to unlock great performances. 

PERFORMANCE ENHANCING

-You feel extremely comfortable with your current fueling regime. You have achieved a number of continuous solid performances this season (or in the past year) without minimal GI issues, cramping, bonking, fatigue, injuries, unintentional weight loss/gain. 

-You are looking for a safe/legal way to take your training to the next level. You are willing to make some changes in your current training and nutrition regime to see if there is something that can help you advance your fitness. 

-You are open to trying new things even though what you are currently doing is working just fine. This area of nutrition tweaking is more about individual responses to recent research that does not always works for the masses. Beet juice, tart cherries, spirulina, protein powder, fat burning, customized sport nutrition, caffeine, branch chain amino acids.....to name a few, there is research to support the use of many of these things in athletes (when used safely, guided by a professional, without any underlying health issues in the athlete). You have likely read in magazines or on forums that athletes "swear" by certain products or methods of fueling, however, it is not always necessary to help take training to the next level, especially if you are in the performance limiting category. 

-You accept that you are not an expert and that if what you are doing now is working, and you want to take training to the next level, it is going to require that you are walking on a thin line of injury/burnout/sickness. Any athlete who wants to step up performance should work with a professional who can help guide an athlete for if done alone, there are risks to trying new products to "gain the competitive edge" as well as modifying training to "step it up". Your team should involve an involved and dedicated/experienced coach to guide you with your training as well as a sport RD who can help properly fuel and recover your body so that you can be consistent with training. 

Are you looking to enhance your performance? 


PERFORMANCE LIMITING

-
You commonly experience fatigue, bonking, cramping, burn out, injuries, dizziness, headaches, GI issues, plateau's, mood swings, unintentional weight loss/gain  during your training/racing. 

-You haven't yet discovered how to best fuel your body before, during and after a workout. You may not even be using any type of sport nutrition during workouts, eating before workouts or consuming any recovery foods/drinks post workout. Maybe you don't know what to do, you are scared of trying something new, you have had bad experiences in the past or you just don't know where to start. 

-You haven't yet discovered how to best nourish your body throughout the day to keep your immune system healthy and to reduce risk for disease. 

-You haven't yet discovered how to fuel for performance and fuel for health. Perhaps you have some underlying health issues that you are working on and not sure how to combine sport nutrition with your current diet (which in your opinion, is still a work in progress).

-You constantly find yourself trying something new because you read or heard about it. 

-You keep trying the same things, hoping for a different result. 

-You are extremely dedicated and passionate about your training and want your hard work to pay off in training and on race day. However, you find you are stuck in a constant circle of lack-luster performances despite putting in the work (which sometimes doesn't feel like you are gaining fitness but instead, experiencing setbacks). 

-You have great workouts but come race day, you have no idea how to fuel for your given distance/intensity or your fueling plan fails you. 


As you can imagine, with triathlons and running (my two sport areas of expertise for coaching and nutrition) growing so quickly in popularity and racing venues, it's very ease to train for a race. However, many athletes find themselves uncomfortable, unaware or confused with the area of sport nutrition when it comes to meeting the physiological/metabolic needs of adapting to applied, intentional training stress. Throw in not understanding how to eat "healthy" and there are a lot of athletes out there who feel extremely limited when it comes to taking training to the next level. 

One area I did not put into either category is body image and an athletes relationship with food. This is an area that I am very passionate about for I feel that if an athlete can improve on this area (which is extremely hard in a body image obsessed world with dozens of food trends for athletes and the masses), they can often find themselves enhancing performance and taking care of many performance limiters at the same time. 

I feel that this area can be applied to both categories and often I find that athletes seek dietary/fueling changes in order to change body composition to improve performance (or feel body composition is limiting performance). 
This is understandable for if an athlete carries extra weight on his/her frame (sometimes coaches call it dead weight but let's use a nicer word such as extra weight), he/she may be at risk for injury as well as not using fuels efficiently. However, I must say that I find that many athletes feel they are limited by their body composition but often times, develop extremely unhealthy eating/training patterns to try to improve performance when in actuality, they are not limited by their body but instead, they are just not fueling properly around workouts and during the day. The weight may be the outcome of a fueling/nutrition regime that just needs a little tweaking. Losing weight doesn't always transfer to improve performances, especially if you are not supporting your training load. 

It isn't that losing weight will automatically improve performance but instead, changing how food is timed/consumed produces a stronger and faster performance on a more consistent basis. Really, there is no point of a lean body if you can't do anything with it. 

Without guidance, an athlete who feels that she/he is limited by his/her body composition and doe not having a healthy relationship with food and the body, may produce performance destructive habits and this is certainly not a category you want to be in. It is just not possible for an athlete to take training to the next level if she/he is unable to see food for fuel and for health. Many times, athletes constantly find themselves overly sensitive with their own body imagine and when it comes to taking training to the next level, athletes are doing nothing more than sabotaging performance or not getting anything out of a training session. 

Regardless if an athlete does needs to manage body composition from a physiological, health or metabolic standpoint (which should be done with a professional), athletes should always consider if there is an underlying issue that should be addressed prior to tweaking the fueling regime/daily nutrition. There are many reasons an athlete can feel "limited" with his/her performance and if looking to take training to the next level, it is critical that a healthy relationship with food/ body and a good understanding of how to safely and properly support a training regime is in place. This is the foundation of great consistent performances. 

Do you feel as if your current fueling/nutrition regime is limiting your performance or/and do you feel that you would be able to improve your fitness by developing a healthier relationship with food and the body? If so, contact a RD who specializes in sport nutrition that can be of help.