Essential Sports Nutrition


Why your diet keeps failing you (hint: are you meal planing?)

If you are an athlete, you'd probably agree with me that your biggest nutrition struggle is attempting to eat healthy when you don't have time or energy. While your biggest mistake could be not making healthy eating a priority on your daily to-do list, it can be very difficult to sustain a healthy diet when you are exhausted and overwhelmed with your daily life responsibilities and workout regime.

Here are some of the common reasons why you may be struggling to consistently sustain a healthy diet:
  • Cooking for yourself seems like too much work. 
  • You don't have time (or energy) to grocery shop.
  • You are overwhelmed by so many food choices. 
  • Other things in life are more important to you than spending time and energy on healthy eating. 
  • You don't plan ahead to have healthy foods available. 
  • You go into meals starving. 
  • You rely on fast food/restaurants because it's easy. 
  • It's too difficult to learn how to make and eat healthy food. 
  • It's too overwhelming to follow a recipe. 
  • You or your family is picky with food. 
  • Your off-limit food list does not allow for variety.
  • You are fine eating the same thing over and over again. 
  • You don't make time to cook. 
  • You always go into a meal starving or exhausted and look for convenience over healthy. 
  • You are too busy.
  • You don't have a plan for the day. 

Planning your day of eating in advance is the most important component of sustaining a healthy diet. Here are a few reasons why meal prepping is beneficial to your health, fitness and body composition goals:
  • Prepping food in advance eliminates the chance of eating on a whim. 
  • Planning ahead reduces the risk of overeating and grazing. 
  • Meal planning helps you stay accountable. 
  • Planning out your meals and snacks ensures that you meet your caloric and nutrient needs. 
  • Planning out your meals and snacks ensures that you have energy for your workouts and so that you can optimize recovery. 
  • You save money when food is available and avoid splurges or grabbing something quick/fast/sugary because you are starving (or low in energy).
  • Meals come together faster when you know what you are eating and the food is mostly/already prepped. 
  • You are more likely to make better nutrition choices when you meal prep. 
  • You feel better (and less stressed) when your meals are ready when you want to eat. 
  • You get back more time in your week/day when you prep in advance. 
While some people are meal prep masters, the process of meal planning can be an overwhelming task when all recipes are selected in advance, all the weekly groceries are purchased and every meal is made in one day only to be stored in containers inside the refrigerator. 

Seeing that athletes love plans, it's no surprise that athletes will often look for a detailed meal plan and precise caloric information to make healthy eating "easy". But without meal planning habits, this plan will be all for nothing. In other words, anytime you deviate from your meal plan, you will feel like you have absolutely no idea how to eat. That's because you haven't learned how to create and plan a healthy diet.

Realizing that most athletes want a diet quick fix, I don't believe in this approach. I want to help athletes change their relationship with food. When I work with an athlete on nutrition, I first address nutrition strategies/habits to ensure that my athlete make the effort to plan balanced meals and snacks before we start focusing on nutrient timing and sport nutrition. While many athletes are looking for something concrete to follow (aka "tell me what to eat"), if you don't have strategies for meal planning, your diet will never work for you. Without a solid foundation of healthy eating and the habits to ensure that you keep up with healthy eating, the body will not respond well to training. How do expect your body to tolerate your training when you add in more intensity and volume to your workout regime but right now, you have no idea how to plan and prepare a balanced meal? You can't out-train a poorly planned diet.

One of the main reasons why your diet keeps failing you is likely because you are doing the same things over and over, hoping for a different result. While you may have the best intentions to eat better, if healthy food is not available or planned appropriately, you will struggle to maintain healthy eating habits when you are tired and busy. Plus if you are currently following a 30-day diet plan, you will have mastered restrictive eating which means come February, you will likely return to your former old bad habits, likely filled with quick, convenient and nutrient-empty meals and snacks.

If you feel incredibly overwhelmed with the "meal planning" process (ex. prepping food/meals in advance), I encourage you to consider how meal planning can change your life as it relates to food.

Right now, I want you to get a piece of paper and write down what you will eat tomorrow for breakfast, lunch and dinner and snacks between. Don't make it fancy or complicated. With your best knowledge of "healthy" eating, plan your day of eating and then decide how you will go about making the day of eating happen. By having a plan, you will be more likely to follow through with healthy eating versus thinking about what you should be doing but failing to keep up with your expectations.

No off limit food list, no calorie counting, no extravagant recipes. Simply plan your day before it happens. As a helpful hint, the more restrictions you have in your daily diet, the more difficult it may be to plan a diet that you will actually enjoy and can sustain. I encourage you to not make your diet more complicated than it needs to be. Remember, start small for big results.

Be mindful that last minute changes in your schedule, needing variety in your diet and occasionally not wanting to eat what you planned to cook/eat that day are common reasons why you need to be an active participant in your meal planning process. You have to work at it to figure out what works best for you.  If you enjoy cooking all your meals in advance on Sunday evening and it works for you, go for it. But if not, don't stress - start working on a few small, easy and creative strategies to help follow through with your healthy eating plan.