Athletes have a lot to worry about. First and foremost is their sport or task. You need to train, practice your sport, engage in recovery practices, and deal with a host of other issues. Diet is obviously a big piece of the puzzle, but after every other debt is paid, how much time and effort do you have left to put into this?
The goal of this article is to give you simple strategies that will help you create a diet that supports your athletic endeavors without bogging you down and making you feel like food is a full-time job that takes away from your real goal – to be good at your sport.
The Key Ingredient Is Balance
Too much focus isn’t a good thing.
Sometimes people focus too much on diet because he or she thinks it will substitute for genuine hard work. But your diet cannot compensate for a poor work ethic. It just can’t. So, have a balance.
Everyone is looking for some kind of secret when it comes to nutrition and performance. There is always a new superfood people are trying to take advantage of or some new diet that people preach about. The reality is there is no secret, no magic pill, no special supplement. The best way to govern your eating is to make informed, well thought-out decisions that relate to your individual needs and goals.
Each one of us has different genetics, athletic goals, a different upbringing, and training history. To think we can all eat the same because a book or television show tells us to is absurd.
Often, the simplest solution is the best solution. There’s nothing overly complicated in what I’m about to share. Just six pieces of real, simple, sound advice.
1. Eat to Support Your Goal
Your daily caloric intake should be adjusted to suit your goals. This should be a relatively simple rule to follow. If you want to gain weight, eat more of the right foods to do that. If you want to lose weight, eat the proper amounts of the right foods to do that.
Each one of us has different genetics and a different history when it comes to training and nutrition. Some of us have slower metabolisms and some have faster. Some of us have different training volumes and need more or less food.
Track your calories for two weeks. Don’t eat any different than how you eat now. Record what you put in your mouth and when. After two weeks, look at your logs and make note of your daily caloric average.
2. Eat Real Food
Ask yourself one question: would you put junky fuel into your brand new sports car? So how about keeping your engine clean so you can perform well, especially when it counts.
Food today isn’t real food. It is genetically modified, filled with preservatives and chemicals, covered in pesticides, and injected with hormones. Just eat real food. Look at ingredients and make better choices. Read labels, stay away from chemicals, and buy organic when you can.
Here are a few simple rules to follow to help guide you to make better choices:
The closer to nature your food is, the better.
If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, don’t put it in your mouth.
If you can kill it or pluck it from the ground, it is fair game.
If it was made in a lab, it is off limits.
If it wasn’t food 100 years ago, it isn’t food today.
If you can visualize the ingredients, the food is okay to eat, but if not, then it doesn’t go in your mouth (i.e. I know what a tomato looks like, but have no clue what polyglycerol bolyricinoleate looks like).
3. Eat a Good Balance of Carbs, Proteins, and Fats
Protein is a building block. Make sure you eat enough good quality protein. Eating fat doesn’t make you fat. In fact, the more HEALTHY fat you give your body, the more efficient it becomes using fat as a fuel source. Healthy fats also helps make you feel full.
You do not want to be on a no-carbohydrate diet. Choose from fruit and vegetable sources when you can and eat sources high in fiber. Potatoes and brown rice are also fine choices.
Each meal, just make sure that protein, fat, and carbohydrates are well represented from high-quality sources. A simple rule of thumb (assuming you have consumed enough calories) is if you are hungry two hours after eating, then your meal was too high in carbohydrates. If you are hungry three or four hours after eating, then your ratios were about right.
4. Eat Frequently
People often overeat at a single sitting, causing them to store the unnecessary calories as fat. They go too long without eating and then, when they do eat, make poor choices and overindulge. A good way to manage how you eat is to eat small meals throughout the day. This will boost your metabolism, remind your body that food is plentiful, and help you make better eating decisions. Many bad food decisions are made when you are starving.
Some people complain it is difficult to have food ready at all times, but really how hard is it to throw a good meal replacement bar, a snack like an apple, or a little container in your purse, backpack, or briefcase? It just takes a little bit of planning. If you find this to be too much work, then perhaps you aren’t as dedicated as you think.
5. Allow Yourself the Freedom to Enjoy Yourself
Many people follow diets religiously for months and then when they come off them, find they have no self-control left, eat everything in sight, and end up in worse shape than when they started.
You don’t need to completely restrict yourself to have a good diet. You can enjoy the odd drink, dessert, or other food you enjoy. Don’t make yourself miserable. Manage yourself. You know the right thing to do.
6. Individualize and Listen to Your Body
Just like you shouldn’t follow someone else’s training program, you shouldn’t follow someone else’s diet. Each and every one of us has individual needs. Some of us can’t tolerate gluten. Others are fine with it. Some of us have an issue with dairy, and for some of us it causes no issues at all. Some of us need to go to bed on an empty stomach and some of us sleep better on a full belly.
Do what works for you. Pay attention to your body. Note how it responds to certain food choices. Note how you feel. No book or article can tell you how you should feel.
The best judge of whether something works or not is you. Just make sure you have high standards, make your talk consistent with your actions, and make choices that influence your goal in a positive way.
That is it. Nothing revolutionary. Nothing complicated. Just straightforward real advice. If you need help, #GetRealWithJess