“Eat this, not that, for better performance!” – Said the Coach at my High School Track Practice. Eat a banana for cramps, he said. Carb load before track meets with pasta dinners, he said. Don’t eat sugary granola bars and candy before practice, he preached. However, I was always left questioning “Is what my coach telling me true?” and “What’s the science behind these recommendations?” Questions that ultimately led me down the path of Nutrition and Dietetics where I eventually received my Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) credential.
I believe that being told what to eat and how much to eat can damage a person’s psych. Whether you’re male or female, constantly being bombarded with nutrition advice and, even worse, conflicting nutrition advice– can be exhausting. Eventually, this may lead to disorderly eating habits or full blown eating disorders. However, as an athlete you have a strong desire to perform at your highest potential. So, if this means cutting out all sugar, losing and gaining weight rapidly—in the case of sports like wrestling – or being hyper-focused on your muscle mass you’ll do it, because you have a strong desire to outperform.
What if I told you that you could use an approach doesn’t have to be black and white, what if I presented you with a grey approach to eating? An approach that allows you to have a healthy relationship with food, your body, and your sport. This approach utilized intuitive eating along with what I call “FUN” training.
How to have a healthy relationship with food as an athlete—A Full Proof Method!
1) Gain Awareness:
If you find yourself overly obsessing with what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat, etc. Hone into that awareness and reach out for help as necessary. The key to this step is being honest with yourself. Let go of your ego, bias around mental health, and what others might think—at the end of the day YOU and YOUR HEALTH are what matters most.
2) Become Intuitive:
After you evaluate your current relationship with food and receive the help necessary, then it’s time to become intuitive with your body and what it needs. I’m going to be honest, this takes a lot of effort and is never going to be “perfect” — and that’s ok! What I mean by “becoming intuitive” is learning how to monitor what your body wants, needs, and desires– and then graciously providing your body with that food, without judgement. A task that may seem daunting to some of you, but is necessary for all of us.
Sometimes this looks like you eating ice cream with your best friend on a Saturday night and other times this may look like you choosing to eat a grilled chicken salad with an array of beautiful vegetables. Either way, if you’re coming from a place of love for yourself and your body—both options can be just as nourishing.
When speaking about this subject with intuitive eating and sports dietitian, Laura Farrell, she added “if athletes are too restrictive with food intake, they may end up in a guilt-deprivation cycle which can trigger mental stress and potential binge eating behaviors which ultimately hinders long-term performance by negatively affecting their mental and physical well-being. However, it’s important for athletes to take into consideration timing around games and practices when adding in mindful indulgences to ensure that there is no GI discomfort that may impact performance.”
If you want to learn more about intuitive eating the book Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole is a great place to start.
3) Have Gratitude for Food:
Have you ever scarf down a bag of chips while watching Grey’s Anatomy, only to be left with an empty (hopefully paper #sustainability) bag and no recollection of eating? Or have you sat down and ate your dinner while scrolling on Instagram? Both of these habits, while justifiable at times, can contribute to a lack of awareness surrounding how your body feels and a simultaneous lack of gratitude for the food you are provided with day in and day out. Something most of us take for granted. However, studies have shown that when you are more mindful and feel gratitude when eating you’re more likely to have a healthier relationship with food. So why not fake it until you make it? Even if you don’t have a completely healthy relationship with food right now, you can implement small things — like giving gratitude towards your food before eating, mindfully consuming your food, and eating with family or friends – to elicit a healthier response.
4) Train FUN:
F = Fuel
The “F” in the FUN method stands for fueling your body with appropriate pre, post, and intra-workout foods. You can work with a RDN to find out which are best for you and your sport!
U = Unconditional
The “U” in the FUN method stands for unconditional. This is a reminder to always provide yourself with unconditional love and support when training. Get enough sleep, stretch before & after workouts, and take time to destress.
N = Necessary
The “N” in the FUN method stands for necessary. This represents acknowledging the necessary energy and work you are expected to put into your sport. If you can accurately gauge how much energy you will need to perform then you can provide your body with the proper amount of fuel it needs. You can also estimate the necessary time needed to train for your sport, and by doing so, you can plan self-care activities to do for yourself during off-days or off-seasons.
I hope this helped any of you struggling with cultivating a healthier relationship with food. I know it can be difficult, however you’re heading in the right direction if you’re here reading this post! Keep reminding yourself each day of your small achievements, and I promise you can and will have a healthy relationship with food.
To work with me one-on-one or to find more mindful tips & tricks follow @thebiodiversitydiet on Instagram and DM me with any questions or to set up a time to chat!
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