If you’re an athlete looking to optimize your performance, avoid these 3 nutrition missteps!
As an athlete, I’ve made my fair share of fueling mistakes. I’ve under-fueled (hello, hitting the wall!), over-fueled (hello, running to the bathroom instead of on the track!), and just plain gotten it wrong. All of the athletes I work with have made mistakes as well, so if you’ve struggled along the way you’re not alone! The good news is, I’ve come a long way with my nutrition strategies and with a little trial and error have been able to optimize my nutrition plan and start beating my PRs. And you can too! Today I’m sharing the 4 most common nutrition mistakes I see athletes make in my practice, and what you can do to avoid them!
- You’re reading the WRONG nutrition information online. Much of the nutrition content we come across is geared toward the “general population”, or other large sectors of the public like those trying to manage a chronic disease, or people seeking weight loss. Nutrition content geared toward athletes can be hard to come by (especially younger athletes!), so you might find yourself trying to follow diet advice that might be more suitable for a 60-year old with type 2 diabetes. And it just isn’t going to work. For example so many athletes come to work with me and have a huge fear of sugar. They’re spending time on health and fitness websites that just aren’t gearing their content toward an athletic population! This fear of sugar can be so huge that they’ve wound up inadvertently following a diet that is far too low in carbohydrates to adequately fuel their performance. Some are even unsure if they should be eating fruit! They would never dream of consuming any type of sports drink mid-workout even during the longest training sessions. This mindset of food fear and following the wrong advice is definitely going to impair your performance, not enhance it.
My advice? Be sure the nutrition content you’re seeking out online is geared toward athletes or at least a highly active population, not meant for someone trying to manage high blood sugars or lose 30lbs! As athletes, carbohydrates are necessary for fueling our training, and the harder we train the more we need. Better yet, get the help of a sports nutrition expert who can help you personalize your diet to meet your training needs!
2. You’re not adapting your nutrition strategy for your training schedule. Many athletes I meet are used to following the same meal schedule day in and day out, regardless of when or how long they’re training for. This can leave them eating most of their calories at the wrong times of day, or under-fueling completely on heavier training days. This can be a challenge for athletes who find heavy workouts really diminish their appetites, and may lead to them being in an even bigger energy deficit on those days, which will leave them feeling drained, or even injured.
My advice? Having a solid nutrition plan in place ahead of time is key. Take a look at your weekly training schedule, competition schedule, or tournament schedule and write down what you’ll need to eat when in order to optimize your fueling (and recovery!). Be sure to also pencil in time for preparing those meals or snacks, so you’re easily able to stick to your plan.
3. You’re under-fueling around the times when you’re most active. This is a biggie. There’s this old rumor that’s been circulating around for years about how you “burn more fat” when you exercise while fasted. Since many athletes want to be as lean as possible, not eating before a training session or practice is a common occurrence. Some athetes may also struggle with GI issues if they eat too close to exercise, so they’re thinking it’s better safe than sorry and skip the pre-workout meal. Now, the whole “fat burning fasted exercise” myth is not completely false, but it really depends more on the intensity of our exercise, not what we eat or don’t eat beforehand. When we don’t have enough fuel in our bodies to sustain high level activity, we’re going to crash out. This means you might be able to go for a walk around the block without eating beforehand and not notice any ill effects, but are seriously going to struggle with a team practice or tempo run. Over the long term, this can lead to muscle loss and will seriously impair your sports performance.
My advice? Don’t skip that pre-workout meal! You’ll feel more energized, perform better, and get better results from your training if you’re adequately fueled. Try various combinations of different carbohydrate foods to see what your GI system can tolerate best, and work with a professional if digestive distress is causing you serious concerns. Just like you train your muscles you can also train your gut over time to be more accepting of food before exercise. Really!
4. You’re eating for looks, not for performance. Hey, I get it, we all want our hard work as athletes to “show”. But remember, a low body fat percentage, looking ‘shredded’, or a lower weight will not necessarily pay dividends in terms of your actual sports performance. Athlete’s bodies come in various shapes and sizes just like everyone else, so comparing your looks to others rather than focusing on how you perform as an athlete is a waste of your precious time and energy.
My advice? If you’re really restricting your calories, avoiding certain foods due to weight gain concerns, or are getting obsessive with your 6-pack or the scale, it might be time to re-evaluate your current nutrition strategy to see if it’s really working for you. Chances are, changing your perspective to fueling your body for performance, not looks will pay off far more in the long run. Not only for your athletic performance, but your overall physical and mental health too.
Does your sport nutrition strategy need a second look? I’m currently accepting clients for my one on one performance nutrition program! Click here for all the details and what you’ll gain from working with me!
If you’re ready to dive right in and apply for a spot in my coaching program, click here!
About the Author: Hi! I’m Stephanie Hnatiuk, a Registered Dietitian and Personal Trainer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba who specializes in helping athletes reach their peak potential with nutrition! Whether you’re getting ready for your first 10k or are a lifelong athlete, I would love to help YOU perform your best with a personalized nutrition strategy.