Nutrition for Athletes
Diet culture is popular all around the world and athletes are especially vulnerable to the false promises it makes. Oftentimes, athletes are led to believe that dieting, “eating clean” or being in a smaller body will make them faster, stronger, healthier, improve digestion, reduce inflammation, improve performance, and recovery. Some sports, like gymnastics, are judged and athletes may think that being in a smaller body will help improve their score.
Athletes are often rigid not only in their training, but also the way they eat. This puts them at a higher risk for eating disorders. Dieting rarely delivers all that it promises. Dieting often results in decreased performance, depression, anxiety, slowed digestion, suppressed immunity, brain fog and bone loss. Dieting can often lead to even more dangerous outcomes for athletes if it develops into an eating disorder. If an athlete is not eating enough the body will use lean tissue (muscle) as fuel. By eating a varied and balanced diet, athlete’s can care for their bodies leading to improved performance and mindset.
The truth is, anyone, no matter their body size, can be a great athlete. By taking an ant-diet approach and focusing on intuitive eating, athlete’s can reject the diet mentality and experience food freedom.
Intuitive eating is a better option for athletes because it focuses more on internal cues instead of external. By honoring hunger, fullness, and cravings, athletes can better nourish their bodies. Athlete’s typically need to consume a lot more energy than non-athletes.
Every day is different. The body requires different amounts of energy on different days. Sometimes, we need more energy due to poor sleep, high stress, hormone changes, a hard workout the day before or earlier in the day, and more. By counting calories or following food rules, athletes are likely to miss out on important cues their bodies are giving them to eat certain foods that will lead to better recovery and performance.
Many athletes try to avoid certain food groups due to the belief that those foods are “bad” for them. They may believe that the food will cause inflammation, weight gain, or decreased performance. The only foods that are “bad” for us are foods we are allergic to, don’t like, or are spoiled or rotten. Being on a restrictive diet can make it hard to get enough energy for recovery. It can also take up a lot of brain space that could be better used for strategizing for competition, building relationships, or focusing on work or school. All foods fit. That means that cake can be as great a choice for an athlete as a protein shake.
Intuitive eating is such a great philosophy for athletes to follow because it is not only about hunger and fullness cues. It is also about gentle nutrition/ This acknowledges that there may be times when the athlete is not hungry but still needs to nourish and replenish their bodies. If an athlete is feeling anxious before a competition or still riding an adrenaline high after, they may not feel hungry despite needing nourishment. Eating shortly after a workout benefits recovery by replenishing glycogen stores and keeping blood sugar from dipping.
Nutrition before a workout is just as important. Listen to your body and play with the timing to see what works best for you. Eat a meal 2-4 hours before the event and have a snack 1 hour-15 minutes before. Foods that are high in carbohydrate are ideal before an athletic performance. Greasy foods may cause gastrointestinal distress and make you feel sluggish. Start hydrating the day before an event.
Staying hydrated during a game or practice is very important. Sweat and heavy breathing cause the body to lose fluid quickly. Drink plenty of water or a sports drink of choice before and after the event. If you choose to drink a sports drink make sure to pick one that is not zero calories and that does have carbohydrates (sugar) in it. The carbohydrates help the electrolytes be more effective and keep blood sugar levels stable. During exercise it is recommended to take a few sips of water every 15-20 minutes or whenever you are thirsty.
Eating disorders are not a choice and genetics and brain chemistry play a large factor in the likelihood of someone developing an eating disorder. There are so many options of intentions to set to improve health, wellness, and happiness in the new year. The best part is, weight loss does not have to be part of the plan.
If you have a loved one who is struggling with an eating disorder or disordered thoughts and is not yet in treatment, please get them help. There is no such thing as not being “sick enough”. Eating disorders are treated with a combination of therapy, nutrition education, and medical care. Reach out to email@example.com and learn more about our dietitian Grace, who wrote this blog!