Did/Will your "healthy" diet turn unhealthy?

If you have been trying to train your way to great fitness with a dieting mentality, you better believe that in your attempt to improve performance, you may actually be becoming less healthy.

Don’t assume that just because you are an athlete, that health and fitness are interrelated because for many athletes, they are not.

Just because you can run for 2 hours, swim 4000 yards or bike 100 miles, perhaps all in a weekend, this doesn’t mean that you are healthy, especially if you are not fueling and eating adequately and making smart lifestyle habits (like good sleep, good stress management, etc.).  

I have witnessed many athletes who are extremely active, look fit or are dedicated to training, yet when it comes to making smart choices with their diet, they are either too extreme and restricted or too careless and negligent.    

Have you or someone you know, experienced one or more of the following while training for an event? 

Hormonal dysfunction, poor bone health, stress fractures, decreased thyroid output, increased cortisol, impaired mood and cognitive functioning, suppressed immune function, muscle catabolism, anemia, inadequate hydration, hypoglycemia, constipation, diarrhea, anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue, interrupted sleep, inflammation, sudden/chronic loss of motivation, trouble sleeping/restless sleep, preoccupation with food, eating disorder, nutrient deficiencies, unintentional weight gain or loss, chronic muscle cramps/weakness, kidney issues, adrenal fatigue, cardiovascular stress, respiratory issues, gastrointestinal disturbances, nausea, intense headaches, skeletal, tendon and ligament injuries, thinning hair, decline in performance. 

Whereas we all know that injuries and sickness are typical health issues that affect athletes (especially endurance and high intensity athletes and new athletes), the above list features some of the health issues that are becoming more and more common among athletes, especially new or endurance athletes, due to not fueling properly around and during workouts, training too intensely or too long or due to food or calorie restrictive diets.

The physical demands of training and racing, especially in endurance events can be so extreme that it is no surprise that many athletes are unable to maximize performance and keep their body in good health at the same time. 

But, when an athlete intentionally restricts food, sport nutrition or calories in an effort to lose weight or to get leaner, you can see why health issues, beyond sickness and injuries, can occur. 

And the above list does is not a list that should be brushed off as "well, I'm training for an event and this feeling/issue is "normal".

If you do want a change in muscle or body fat for performance or health and want to ensure that your season is not derailed due to a nutrient deficiency, low energy availability or a complicated health issue, you must have an appropriate, safe plan to ensure that health is not compromised in the process of improving performance.  

If a body composition modification is a desired goal to enhance performance, the methods should not be strict, limited or extreme. You should allow for gradual weight loss (not a quick fix), without extreme food restrictions, excessive exercising, unsafe behaviors (starving, purging, laxatives) or use of weight loss supplements.   

If there is too much focus on what not to eat in an effort to be thin, rather than what to eat in order to win, an obsession and hyperawareness with food may intensify disordered eating patterns, which could turn into a clinical eating disorder and severely affect your health and quality of life. 

If you are constantly focused on the outcome, like being a great fat burner and/or getting leaner, you will find a constant struggle as to how you can actually improve your performance to be fit enough to race well on race day while intentionally trying to lose weight.

Ironically, when you put emphasis into how to train and eat in order to optimize performance, thus becoming "performance adapted", favorable body composition changes occur naturally because you are trained, fit and strong for your upcoming event.

Athletes, it is time to forget the diet mentality. Let’s make peace with food. Stop associating all of your health, performance and body issues with carbohydrates. 

Instead of trying to manipulate your diet or training regime to become better fat adapted, how about train and eat in a way that helps you become more performance adapted. 

Please love your body in motion. 

Respect it with food and exercise. 

Stop the body bashing, food restriction and overexercising.

YOU are an athlete.
Train smart, fuel smart and don’t forget to thank your awesome body.