10 Nutrition Dos and Don’ts
By Bob Seebohar
1. Become an instinctual eater
We are born instinctual eaters but unfortunately, as we age, we lose the ability to know when we are truly hungry. There are three types of eating: biological, habitual and emotional. Because of many influences, adults typically lose the ability to gauge their hunger via biological cues (stomach pangs, decreased cognitive functioning) but rather eat out of emotions (stress, boredom, fatigue) or habit (normal lunch or dinner times). It is best to focus internally on your hunger cues to re-develop good instinctual eating patterns which will help you control your food intake.
2. Control your blood sugar
This is by far the most important “do” of all time. The control of blood sugar is linked to many health benefits and challenges. By simply focusing on trying to control your blood sugar throughout the day, you will reap the rewards of sustained energy, improved body composition and body weight, less risk of chronic diseases and enhanced metabolic efficiency. To best control your blood sugar, be sure to combine a good source of protein and fiber at each meal and snack. Good examples are plain Greek yogurt with berries, spinach salad with a handful of diced chicken on top or a smoothie made with milk, chia seeds and fruit.
3. Use real food to supply your daily and training needs
Because of time limitations, athletes are gravitating more to satisfying their daily energy needs through easily portable options. However, it is best, year-round, to try to supply your daily energy needs through real food whenever possible. This will depend somewhat on your training cycle and the training session that you have coming up but in general, real food can and should be used whenever possible to supply the right nutrients to your body.
4. Consume more vegetables and fruits
Most endurance athletes fall behind in this on a daily basis or they try to make it up by taking a supplement. The recommended intake for vegetables and fruits is 6-10 servings per day (both combined) for athletes. It doesn’t take much to constitute a serving but it does take proper planning and preparation to ensure that you fit these into each meal and snack. Be sure to choose the more vibrant colors of vegetables and fruits and vary your intake based on the seasonal choices.
5. Periodize your nutrition
Aligning your nutrition to meet your physical training goals is the ideal scenario to manage your macro- and micronutrient needs. Whenever your training load (volume and intensity) changes, so should your nutrition. For example, in early base training when training load is low, you can supply all of your energy needs from protein, vegetables and fruit. The need for grains will be minimal and you do not really need sports nutrition products until your training load increases and the physical demand on your body is greater.
1. Count daily calories
Honestly, there is nothing more destructive than to count daily calories. I understand some athletes like the quantitative feedback but it detracts from your ability to become an instinctual eater again. Counting calories will make you a slave to numbers and not teach you the right lessons surrounding food and adopting a healthy lifestyle.
2. Consume a high amount of calories during training
This is simply not necessary and with the common knowledge that the body can develop better efficiency at using its internal fat stores at higher intensities of exercise, and thus preserving the precious carbohydrate stores, you do not have to be a slave to shoving down as many simple sugar products as you can. Consuming a large amount of calories during training is counterproductive to developing a high degree of metabolic efficiency and promotes more consumption of simple sugar, refined carbohydrates which have been recently linked to many of the chronic diseases that are seen in the United States. Develop your body’s ability to be metabolically efficient then get by on only the calories that are necessary to promote good performance.
3. Use food as an emotional friend
This is difficult for every athlete and while it will happen from time to time, it is important to realize when it is happening and why it is happening. Allow it to take its course so you can learn from the emotional connection but try to decrease the rate at which it happens so it does not become a habit. Food should not be used to fulfill another biological need unless you are hungry. When you find yourself emotionally drawn to food, engage in another activity to get yourself out of the current situation and into a healthier, supportive one.
4. Overconsume carbohydrates
The era of a high fat intake causing chronic diseases has been changing since there has not been research to suggest a direct correlation. However, there is much data linking a high refined, processed carbohydrate diet to chronic diseases. Let most of your carbohydrate intake come from vegetables and fruits with grains filling in your remaining needs. And don’t forget that some protein sources, such as nuts and beans, contain carbohydrate. It is fairly difficult to have too few carbohydrates in your normal nutrition plan, especially since you are an endurance athlete.
5. Go on a diet
Anything that has the word “diet” in it does not suggest a sustained lifestyle habit change. It doesn’t matter if it is the next best thing or just another quick fix that someone decided to write about in a book. Diets have been proven in scientific research to not have long lasting positive effects. When adopting a new nutrition plan, be sure that it is sustainable, fits into your lifestyle, meets your goals and does not contain the word “diet.”
Bob Seebohar was the 2008 Olympic Sport Dietitian and was the personal sport dietitian for the USA Triathlon Olympic Team. Bob is also an elite triathlon coach and works alongside Susan Williams, 2004 Olympic Triathlon Bronze medalist, delivering coaching services to professionals, age-groupers and youth in Littleton, Colorado. Bob’s book, “Metabolic Efficiency Training: Teaching the Body to Use Fat”, is a great resource for athletes to learn how to teach the body to become more efficient in using its fat stores. Visit www.fuel4mance.com for more information or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.