Struggling to understand your appetite?
I find that far too many athletes are on the search for the perfect eating plan for weight loss, more energy and improved health. Sadly, this plan doesn't exist for the masses. Figuring out the ideal style of eating for you takes some work.
Calorie or macronutrient -focused meal plans which offer no flexibility or options do not address normal hunger and satisfaction cues.
Whereas I do like the idea of having a meal template for different meal and snack options to better understand your appetite,hunger and satisfaction and to create new nutrition habits, you can't expect a meal plan to be a forever approach to eating.
Your diet will always evolve just like you evolve from baby, to child to adult to elderly adult. And when it comes to training for an event, a periodized approach to nutrition is also a way to support your extremely active lifestyle as you develop your skills, strength, power, speed and endurance.
It takes time to work on your eating to determine what works best for you. But if you are constantly trying to do what everyone else is doing or waiting for the perfect moment to start something new, you'll waste many months, if not years, struggling to understand your own appetite.
Here are some suggestions to help you learn how to eat in a smarter way while moving closer to meeting your energy and health goals.
You should include carbohydrates, protein and fat at your 3 meals and snack between meals (aim to eat every 3 hours).
You should not follow any diet fad or specific style of eating during this time as you need to learn what works best for you and your body.
Try to follow a similar style of eating with your meals and snacks for at least two weeks but pay attention to your hunger and fullness. Every evening, reflect on the day and make one or two small tweaks based on what didn't go well during the day. Your goal is to feel that by the end two weeks, you have a better idea of how much food is enough to leave you nourished, satisfied, healthy and energized. You have to trust yourself in this process as you may find yourself with confusing signals from the brain and belly. Even though it's only two weeks, many athletes make the mistake of doing the same things over and over and never make a change. Give yourself a week to make small changes each day and then try to follow a style of eating for week #2 based on what worked and didn't work in week #1.
2. Create easy options for fueling before and after your workouts.
For the athletes who have little appetite before or after workouts or for those who have extreme hunger, it is important to have a plan with your eating so you don't overeat but also so you don't undereat. If you want your body to work for you, you have to feed and fuel it properly on a consistent basis. You need to understand what helps you fuel for an upcoming workout but also what helps you recover, replenish and rehydrate. If you have a plan, you will be more likely to follow through with your good intentions. Consider easy to digest options which are easy to find and prepare before and after workouts. Training is stressful - don't make your fueling plan stressful.
3. Understand YOUR body.
I often hear from my nutrition athletes that they do well in the mornings with eating and then everything falls apart in the afternoon or eating. More willpower is not the answer. If you are following a diet plan or a style of eating that is not fit for you, you will spend your entire life struggling to understand how to eat and constantly hoping to do better tomorrow.
Learn to understand what works best for you. Eating is not cheating and what works for one person may not work for you. Accepting your hunger, your fullness and your individual needs is the first step to creating a diet plan that works for you.
4. Create a fueling game plan.
While it is easy to consume treats, indulgences and reward food to replenish the calories that were used in training, it's important to understand what foods, drinks and products work best before, during and after your workouts to help you better adapt to training. While you may need to work with a sport dietitian to understand how much and when you should be eating and fueling to help you meet energy, electrolyte and fluid needs, it's important to figure out what works best for you, your appetite and your body around and during your training.
Whereas one athlete may be able to eat a stack of pancakes, syrup, milk and fruit and eggs after a long run, another athlete may struggle to eat a handful of berries. In this scenario, the later athlete would benefit from a liquid recovery meal after the workout and to slowly ease into solid food as tolerated. No two athletes are the same, especially as it relates to fueling before, during and after workouts. However, every athlete should nail the basics before creating a personalized fueling plan. There are general guidelines that all athletes should follow and once these are mastered, individual scenarios and situations can be discussed.
In any case, you need a game plan that will allow you to train consistently and meet your energy needs.