Essential Sports Nutrition


Create your own nutrition plan

If I had to give only one tip to an athlete who was training for an endurance race (marathon, half or full Ironman), my suggestion would be to always have a plan. 

Now, I am guessing that most athletes who are training for an endurance race, have some type of training plan to help ensure that the training provides the most appropriate training stress to induce performance gains without risking injury or burnout. 

But what about a nutrition plan?

I'm not talking about a meal plan that tells you to eat the same thing every day but instead, a plan that you create for yourself, on a daily basis, that assists in making sure you meet your health and energy needs. This plan doesn't have to include percentages, grams or calories but instead, it is a plan that you create, describing how you will nourish and fuel your body, dependent on life, training and the past. 

There are some endurance athletes who are excellent planners when it comes to the diet. They prep food ahead of time, always have a variety of sport nutrition products in stock at home and have an idea of what they will eat for all meals and snacks, most days of the week. Even on the weekends, there is a plan.
But there are also athletes who are not so great planners when it comes to the diet. Eating is often an afterthought and sometimes it is even stressful and overwhelming. The concept of meal planning, meal prep and being proactive with eating just instead part of the lifestyle regardless of how dedicated and committed the athlete is to his/her training plan. 

If you are currently struggling with your daily diet or fueling routine and feel you could use some help, let's get started right now.
Let's go old-fashioned and grab a piece of blank piece of paper and pencil (not your smart phone).
Long ways, on the far left side near the top, write down what time you will wake-up in the morning.
On the bottom of the paper, far left, write down what time you will go to bed.
You have now created your own personalized day of living which will be your template that you can use when planning your nutrition. 

1) Write down your workouts for tomorrow. Include morning and/or evening workouts and consider the intensity and volume when writing this down.

2) Now write down what you will eat and drink before, during and after the workout. If you are not fueling for whatever reason, how about writing down what you should be fueling with before, during and after (and maybe have a heart-to-heart with yourself as to why you are intentionally not meeting your energy/fluid needs around your training).
3) Next, think about your day and write down what responsibilities you have as it relates to work, commuting, traveling, family, volunteering, etc. Write down when you have to start and finish these activities as this will affect how, what and when you will be eating. This is often the area that gets forgotten (or overlooked) when an athlete tries to follow a meal plan. If the meal plan doesn't account for your "life", how do you expect yourself to be able to make the plan work? Don't make life fit into your meal plan...your style of eating should enhance your life (not control your life).

4) Now the easy part - plan your three meals. Breakfast, lunch and dinner.  It's ok if a meal is a mini meal or broken into two meals. There are no rules here! You don't even have to have a recipe. Just write down a meal.  It is important that you make time to nourish your body so now that you have prioritized your workouts and life responsibilities, it is important that you make the effort to eat three balanced and healthy plans.

5) Your piece of paper should look a bit more filled at this point (kinda scary how busy you are, right?) so now is the time to snack with a purpose. Anytime you are going more than 4 hours without eating, plan for a snack. Reflect back on the times when you feel most hungry and plan for a snack. If you tend to go into a meal starving, plan for a pre-meal snack. If you tend to always have dessert after dinner, plan for that too. Be honest with yourself as this is your plan. You don't want to plan for a "perfect" day but instead, a realistic day which means planning for social events, indulgences and anything else.

Now imagine if you did this every day?
Imagine how prepared you would be when it comes to your eating but more importantly, how good you would feel knowing that you made the effort to nourish and fuel your body?

If you feel like this would be overwhelming to do every day, this is just because this is not yet a lifestyle for you. For myself, this is how I maintain a healthy relationship with food and my body. I don't log my food, my calories or follow any type of "plan" on paper. And I certainly don't have rules or feelings of guilt as it relates to how I eat.
Since I live a very busy and active life, I constantly think about what's happening in my life to make sure that I can meet my health and energy needs as an athlete. Food is never an afterthought. Food doesn't control my life, I know that I can not control life and I don't try to control every food that enters my body but I do have a plan.
And with that plan, I am able to adjust as needed in order to set myself up for good eating behaviors and the ability to keep myself in good health.

Try this strategy out for the rest of the week and on the weekend (especially if you are training long on the weekends).
Even if you are not an athlete, you can still create your own nutrition plan.

Consider how having a plan helps with your relationship with food, your workouts, your hunger, cravings and appetite, your daily energy and health, your sleep, your comfort around food, your ability to plan and prep meals and your overall food choices. Also think about how one day of eating on your plan affects the next day (or how the previous day affects the current day). Continually reflect and tweak your plan until you create a style of eating that works for your lifestyle, your health goals and your fitness routine.

Eventually, you will be able to stop planning on paper and you will have the ability to plan in your head for all occasions, no matter where you are or what is happening in life.
And anytime you feel "off" with your diet or feel anxious about an upcoming eating event or occasion, just pull out a piece of paper and create a new plan.

Planning your diet is a realistic, easy and simple way to make sure that you are eating exactly how you want to eat. No rules, fancy methodology or bad food lists.
You choose what you want to eat and when.
Now that's a nutrition plan that you should be excited to follow!