1/27/15

Body image and sport performance - make the changes, now.



There is so much nutritional dogma out there and it's hard to go a day without feeling overwhelmed by nutrition and body composition. 


 On social media, TV, in magazines and pretty much wherever you go, nutrition is the most dominant topic when it comes to health, wellness, performance and disease. Of course, there is a great reason why we should focus on nutrition for it is the vital component in our life that keeps us healthy and well. But, would you be surprised if I told you that much of my work with athletes as a sport RD is clearing up confusion, worry, fear and guilt about eating and fueling a body in  motion?

Can you be fit, healthy, strong, lean and fast and eat carbohydrates, drink milk, use sport nutrition products and eat before a workout?

Probably not if you have been listening to the loudest voices in today's sport nutrition/diet industry. 


Rather than learning about moderation, balance, mindful eating and nutrient timing, you may find yourself drowning in information on what not to eat. Now a days, many athletes feel pressure to pick a diet fad to "fit-in" and to find comfort in controlling your food intake. 

I work with many athletes who adhere to a gluten-free, vegan, dairy/lactose-free or vegetarian diet but it's not because media or someone on a forum told them too. There are underlying issues going on and they are seeking help to stay healthy and take performance to the next level. 

Healthy eating is a lifestyle 
Not that it was ever a focus of our society, but we have completely overlooked the necessary component of making healthy eating part of our lifestyle. Learning how to cook bread, slowing down for meal time and eating around the table, having a meal plan for the week on Sunday - with a grocery list  and recipes - for you and your family, making it an effort to prepare leftovers, seeing eating out as a special occasion, making time to soak grains and beans and lentils overnight, finding fun ways to eat your "5-a day" of fruits and veggies and making a few swaps from eating entertaining foods to eating more sustaining foods. 

Nope, now we live in a world of shame, guilt, self-hatred when it comes to food. Just eliminate these x-foods foods and you will be healthy...even if that means sticking to a diet of broccoli, sweet potato and chicken for the next 30 days. 

It doesn't hit every athlete or fitness enthusiast this hard but I do believe that people are becoming much more vulnerable to their bodies these days and a dietary fad or extreme measure is the quick fix. 

Developing a healthy relationship with food and the body
  I'm proud to be one of the few sport RDs who make an effort to focus on sensitive and not commonly discussed issues like body image and learning to develop a healthy relationship with food in athletes. 
And I'm also proud to be one of the few sport RD's who still advocates eating carbohydrates, using sport nutrition products (yes, the ones with sugar in them) and eating before every workout because I know these things boost performance and keep an athlete healthy.
Yes, I said it - these things can be done and you can still be fit, lean and healthy. 


You can still be metabolically efficient by eating before a workout.
Sugar is not evil or poison.
Carbohydrates will not cause inflammation or make you experience more sugar cravings throughout the day. 


However, you must ask yourself what does your typical diet look like throughout the day that would favor fueling properly before, during and after workouts? If you want to take your training to the next level, you have to see your daily diet and fueling regime as two different entities. 


As a coach and dietitian, before I give an athlete the best training plan I can create or provide the best fueling strategy before, during and after workouts, it is critical that my athletes have a healthy relationship with food and the body. And this doesn’t happen overnight and it's no quick fix. 

But no female OR male athlete is going to reach her potential if she/he doesn’t learn how to have a healthy relationship with her body. 

Changing your body on the outside, doesn’t always make you healthier, stronger or fitter in the inside and there is a fine line as to how much weight should be lost before performance and health are compromised.

Certainly, let's not make the method of losing weight be counterproductive of the goal of improving health and performance. 

Stop the body bashing
 In the mix of hundreds of pictures on social media of athletes showing their ripped abs and flexed legs and biceps, there are many athletes who struggle with body image to the point that they  sabotage performance and even health in order to “look like an athlete."

Guess, what...you are an athlete and no one can take that title away from you - no matter your weight, body composition or speed. 

Let's not forget that personal best performance comes from a well-laid training plan and a well-fueled body. 


You can't put a specific number on the scale or body fat percentage on that fact.

There is a broad spectrum of shapes and sizes when it comes to the physiques of female and male athletes, specifically triathletes. Athletes of similar sports tend to carry similar physiological traits such as runners legs, sprinters butt, swimmers shoulders/back, gymnasts abs, cyclists quads. 

But when it comes to triathletes, we are merging three different sports that require stamina, power and efficiency. When it comes to performance, leanness is not our missing link in triathlons.  The three big limiters in a poor endurance performance are fatigue, glycogen depletion and dehydration. Not being 5 lbs over your race weight or not being 12% body fat. 

I am sure we have all done some body examining, “oh she/he looks so fit, so she/he must be fast” but let’s not forget basic physiology. 


A body performs based on consistent hard work which happens with a smart training plan and good daily and sport nutrition. 

 Body image is getting in the way of happiness, health and performance for so many athletes. 
This must stop. 
Now.
 Let’s stop the body bashing and extreme exercise and dietary practices and let’s start living an amazing life with a healthy relationship with food and the body so you can finally reach your full athletic potential.
Put an end to the diet fads and off-limit food list because you need to start thanking and respecting your body in motion.

If you need help or have some questions that you want answered, reach out to a sport RD.