The dieting athlete?

It seems like every day there is a new diet telling us what not to eat and a scientific article for reference, a nutrition expert, doctor or personal trainer touting a diet plan, a book, blog or website telling us what foods are destroying out heal and a food company excited to grab the market share by introducing a new “healthy” re-engineered processed food alternative which has the opportunity to be highly profitable.  Whether it’s lack of confidence, common sense, passion or effort for healthy eating, much of our society relies on diet plans as the best way to lose weight or to improve health.

We all know why people struggle with food and body weight. It's not so much because people are eating too many vegetables, eating healthy fats and quality proteins, consuming grains like buckwheat, quinoa and wild rice and eating lentils and beans.

In defense of carbs, we know very plain and clear that added sugar, soda's, processed and fast food are to blame. 

In America, eating habits are not steady and when it comes to the mention of food, people are still confused how to eat. Without the use of labels, numbers, grams, apps, spreadsheets and journals, many people experience great anxiety, fear and stress regarding what and how much food they should put into their body. 

It’s quite the paradox but America is obsessed with eating healthy yet we are one very unhealthy nation.
We are obsessed with food yet the “off-limit” food list keeps growing every year. 

It’s quite counterproductive for athletes to diet and train for an event at the same time, but many athletes believe that weight is a metric of progress - if weight is dropping, performance is improving.  However, weight loss is not always correlated with performance and health improvements, especially when an extreme calorie reduction starves the body for available energy, slows the metabolism, does not preserve lean tissue, is restrictive of essential nutrients and suppresses the immune system. 

Unlike the normal population, you use your body differently when it comes to working out. As an athlete, you workout to experience physiological improvements so that you can prepare yourself for the demands of your race day. Therefore, your eating style will need to change throughout the season in order to supply sufficient energy and nutrients to support your variable training load, especially when intensity and volume increase. 

However, the same dietary rules apply to you - you have to have healthy lifestyle habits, you can't overeat on carbohydrates (or calories for that matter), you need to eat mindfully, you need to meal plan ahead and on top of it all, you have to learn how to meet your metabolic needs before, during and after long workouts. 

Ironically, when you put emphasis into how to train and eat in order to optimize performance, favorable body composition changes occur naturally. This has to do with making sure you eat enough calories to support metabolism but not too much that energy is stored and not used efficiently. You want to eat a variety of foods to provide your body with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and consume adequate macronutrients to keep your body in good health and well-fueled and various phases of training and to support the immune system. Lastly, it is important to use sport nutrition properly to train your gut, stay hydrated, meet electrolyte and energy needs.

I can put many athletes into two categories - athletes who eat too much and athletes who don't eat enough. How do you know which category you fit in? 

If you have or are experiencing any one of the following, there is a good chance your eating and fueling habits are not supporting your athletic lifestyle: 

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

These issues do not happen because you are eating gluten, eating carbs or eating fat. These issues happen because you are putting too much training stress on your body and because of what you are or are not eating, your body lacks the necessary nutrients and efficient use of energy to support training demands. 

A well-fueled and nourished body is more likely to get stronger, faster and more powerful in the training process compared to a depleted and nutrient deficient body hoping to make “race weight” by a certain date.

If you don't know how to fuel and eat smart as an athlete, reach out to a sport RD to help you out in your journey.