7/19/16

Sport is more than body image




The other night, Karel and I were watching an ITU triathlon on Triathlon Live
We watch little cable TV but absolutely love watching swimming, cycling, running and triathlon. 

While the female triathletes were in the water, the commentator mentioned how swimming becomes more difficult as the triathletes get leaner during peak training. When the female triathletes were on the bike, the commentator mentioned how they need strong legs to be powerful but not too bulky or else it will affect their running. And for the run, words like lean, light, little and small were used to describe the female triathletes as they ran efficiently to the finish line.

It was only a few days prior, while watching the Tour de France, when the commentator mentioned that Peter Sagan "would be a better climber if he lost weight."

I love watching strong, fit and fast bodies in action.
For me, I am captivated by movement of the human body.
When I watch an athlete, I see determination, tenacity, commitment, passion, dedication, hard work and a deep fire to be the best that she/he can be.

But for the athlete, there can be great preoccupation with food and the body, all in an effort to be light and lean (of course, body composition is often sport specific and lightness and leanness are not rewarded by all sporting activities).

We live in a society where athletes want to perform well but feel pressure to look a certain way.  Coaches often believe that excess weight is a detriment to performance. In order for races to be won, records to be broken and memorable moments to be made, athletes are told that losing weight will improve performance.

Yet coaches and experts know that unrealistic aesthetic expectations and restricted eating habits can trigger eating disorders, thus harming athletic performance and health. 

So where do we draw the line?
Do we keep celebrating athletic achievements by bodies that are starved for nutrients and calories?

I don't believe we can change the thinking of coaches, experts and athletes that the lighter you weigh, the better you are as an athlete. There is truth to this statement - sometimes.
What we need is proper education, so that coaches and athletes understand the safest and healthiest ways to train and eat for a sport of choice.
Ultimately, we need to encourage athletes to make good decisions with their body, because there is no one-size-fits-all diet or training plan for a sport.

As a board certified sport dietitian, I work with many athletes, from various athletic backgrounds, all with different body compositions. While it's not uncommon for an athlete to express to me that she/he wants to lose weight or improve body composition for performance, I never let a number on the scale be the driver of a change in eating habits or an exercise routine.

Body composition and weight changes should be unintentional, when desired.
When the body changes because of a well-laid training plan and well-executed fueling, results are seen overtime (not quickly) and the athlete can maintain good focus for training and proper lifestyle habits.

Athletes already live an extreme lifestyle as it requires a lot of focus, dedication, hard work and commitment to excel in a given sport.
Developing optimal fueling, training, recovery and mental habits should be top priorities for athletes.

In order to help an athlete reach his/her body composition goals in order to improve performance, I simply take the focus away from the scale or what the body looks like (seems counter intuitive, right?) and instead, I focus on the many ways that an athlete can train better.

I often ask my athletes.....
Are you too busy and exhausted to "eat healthy"?
Do you know how to properly use sport nutrition during workouts?
Do you know how to properly time nutrition with training, before and after workouts?

Other questions include......
Do you sleep well, are mentally strong, do have employ a good warm-up before all workouts/races, are you stressed/overwhelmed, do you focus on strength training or mobility, do you train too hard, too often, do you rest enough?

Based on the responses of an athlete, athletes can easily change body composition without trying, simply by focusing on better training, nutrition, mental and recovery habits.

But yet, coaches, trainers and even nutrition "experts" continue to tell athletes that if she/he would lose weight, she/he would perform better.

Just like that.
Being lean is everything. 

WRONG!

To compete at your best, your body needs energy.
Long-term low energy availability can leave to nutrient deficiencies, hormonal issues, fatigue, bone issues as well as other cardio, GI, endocrine, reproductive, skeletal, renal and central nervous system complications.

Obsessing about food and the body may increase psychological consequences such as stress, anxiety and depression, not to mention increase the risk for disordered eating or an eating disorder.

While I love watching the human body in action, especially when gold medals are won, records are broken or the underdog comes from behind, I don't want to celebrate the athletic success of an athlete who is battling with an eating disorder, all in an effort to "be the best."

If you are an athlete, please don't feel pressure to "look" a certain way. 
Your body is amazing because of what it allows you to.
If you feel your health and/or performance is compromised because of your weight, any change in your diet or exercise routine should make you feel better about your body and what you can do with your body.

Above all, the best way to change body composition is unintentionally - when you focus on the many ways that you train and eat smarter.
A change in body composition is the outcome of your consistent habits. When you make good decisions with your training, life and nutrition, your body changes without needing to diet, starve yourself or avoid sport nutrition.

If you are dieting and excessively exercising in order to meet society's view of what an "athlete" body should look like in your sport, all in order to succeed, you will constantly find yourself struggling as it is impossible to look lean, strong, skinny, tiny, small, health, powerful and fast.

BE YOU. 

Don't talk about what you are not or what you wish you were.

Love your sport.
Own your body.
Stop trying to live up to the expectations of others.

Your body is your instrument, not your ornament.

In your pursuit for athletic greatness, I advise you to pursue love for your amazing body.
The more you take care of your body, the more your body will take care of you.