Athletes and body image - your body deserves fuel

Many athletes feel personal struggles with body image. Eating disorders and disordered eating habits are evident in athletes in all sports (and in non-athletes) and in all ages but specifically in sports where leanness associates with an improvement in performance (lighter = better). 

It's extremely upsetting to hear of nutrition "experts" advising athletes to restrict food around workouts and to intentionally not fuel or hydrate during workouts as a way to improve performance or to lose weight. 

Due to a society that has a poor relationship with food and overemphasizes leanness as the 'ideal' image for athletes, more and more athletes are becoming more and more dissatisfied with their bodies. 

Athletes may experience strong feelings before, during and after workouts as if they do not have "an athlete's body" and ultimately underfuel in an effort to lose weight. Rather than fueling for success, good health and a stronger body, athletes chase a body image. Workouts become haphazard as the ultimate goal becomes to train more and to eat less.
Going back to these nutrition "experts" who are anti food, carbs, water and sport nutrition, athletes are now lead to believe that the human body doesn't need fuel to function. 
This thinking is absolutely wrong!!!

The outcomes of an underfueled/undernourished body are not advantageous for it's only a matter of time when an athlete who is restricting food/fuel experiences serious health and performance detriments. 

If you have been told to not fuel before, during or after a workout OR you feel you are chronically undernourished OR you are occasionally severely restricting your food/sport nutrition intake in an effort to lose weight in order to become faster/stronger/leanner, you may be putting your body at an increased risk for injury, illness, anemia, menstrual/hormonal disturbances,chronic fatigue and reduced longevity in the sport that you love to train for. 

There are a few ways that we can help athletes who struggle with eating and body image. 

First off, we must continue to reduce the stigma of disordered eating/clinical eating disorders in athletes so we can create a positive environment where athletes can feel comfortable admitting there is an issue and ultimately, feel comfortable reaching out and talking with a professional who specializes in disordered eating among athletes. 

Secondly, we must stop the information that is coming from these body-image (not health) obsessed "experts" who are brainwashing athletes to believe that sport nutrition, carbs and even water are "bad" for athletes. Restricting fuel around/during workouts or restricting carbohydrates (your body's prime and preferred energy fuel) is simply dieting for athletes. Dieting and athletes should never be used in the same sentence. 
Diets are very common in our culture but sadly, dieting can increase the risk for an eating disorder. 
For athletes, this can be extremely serious and can cause serious health issues when the body is asked to train/perform without adequate nutrients, fluids or energy. 

Athletes are naturally disciplined, focused, competitive and hard working individuals. Whereas a healthy lifestyle change in the diet can be safe enough to change body composition without compromising energy/performance, athletes often seek the most extreme and significant change possible for the quickest and easiest result. 

Third, every athlete should include a sport RD on his/her athlete-in-training team. Just like you would consider hiring a coach, personal trainer, physical therapist or sport psychologist to help you take fitness to the next level OR to stay consistent and healthy as an athlete, you should find great relief that there is a professional (aka sport dietitian) who can help you understand how to fuel your body in motion so that you do not have to feel anxiety, concern or overwhelmed with all the information that is out there on sport nutrition and healthy eating. 

If you have concerns with your body image, eating or performance as it relates to your weight, seek help now. 
The ultimate goal for any athlete who works with a professional is to optimize health and performance so you can do amazing things with your amazing body in motion.