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How to Eat Like an Athlete - Part 2

3 ways to eat as an athlete continued...

Eat for performance and health, NOT weight.

I've read two recent interesting articles on this topic. and Weight issues plague most athletes and I would venture women especially.  There is no question that we live in a society that makes maintaining a healthy weight difficult at best.  The way most of our daily lives are currently wired involve packaged, chemical convenience foods that are enormously  calorie-laden, combined with sitting and a relatively sedentary lifestyle for most of our days.  To buck this trend involves effort, effort to make mostly health eating choices, to find time to move your body every single day.  For most athletes, the latter comes easily; we like to move and although it may be difficult to find the time, the motivation is there.  The nutrition piece is far trickier.  First of all, there comes reward eating.  You know, "I just ran 20 miles, so I DESERVE to eat whatever I want".   Unfortunately, especially as we age, this becomes untrue, and most MASTERS athletes (such a pleasant term, so much better than AGING ATHLETE) really have to watch what they eat very carefully, even if they are training at a high level.  So yes, I mean you may be running 50-60 miles per week and strength training 3 times a week and still have to be careful with what you eat.  Unjust but true. It is easy for driven, type A athletes to become a little borderline obsessive about eating.  Everyone wants to get to 'race weight', be lean, light and fast.  It is very, very easy to take focusing on health and diet too seriously and cross that line to where you are undereating and underperforming OR you lose some of the simple joys and pleasures in food.  Don't cross that line. Maybe run a little heavy (not necessarily a bad thing in very long endurance events such as a 100-miler or Ironman) but feel proud and strong in your body.  Pay a little attention to the scale from time to time but don't let it dictate your mood or satisfaction with your performance and your body.

Periodize your eating.

Not complicated.  During times of heavy training and activity, you will need to eat more, most likely carbs, but this is highly variable and individual (see below).  During times of lighter training, you will likely want and need to eat less.  Be metabolically flexible.

Individualize your nutrition and approach dietary trends with caution.

I touched on this in my last blog post, but will expand further and conclude with a superb article I read recently that provides a very common sense, non trendy approach to nutrition for athletes. There are so many different and popular approaches to diet these days, from the old standby of the 80s 'low fat' to the modern version of 'high fat', also you can choose between, paleo, vegan, raw, fruitarian, low carb, high carb, ketogenic... Common sense dictates that there is no one 'right' way to eat.  With our enormous genetic diversity, it seems intuitively obvious that there is likely not one single correct way for the human species to eat.  Nonetheless, many individuals become almost fanatical about their diet and how it is the only right way to eat and can truly be dogmatic and unpleasant about pushing their version of 'right diet' on you. I'll say it again, there is no one right way to eat. There IS a lot of trial and error to figure out what works best for your body, and for most people, this is a long and gradual process to figure out optimum nutrition for your body.  This is one of many reasons that extreme or unusual diets and eating patterns, such as a ketogenic diet, need to be approached with great caution.  Perhaps for a few unique individuals, eliminating almost all carbohydrates and adopting a ketogenic approach will work.  The temptation is to think, well, it worked for so and so athlete, so why not give it a try.  This can be a very dangerous approach, as genetic diversity may dictate that what enhances performances for one human may produce dramatic and unhealthy neurohormonal changes in others.  This is why for most of us, a moderate and common sense approach to food and nutrition is best.  This article which I read recently sums it all up nicely: Why You Should Eat Like An Elite | Page 6 of 6 | Keep eating and stay healthy!

About the author

Sarah Vlach