When it comes to eating for peak performance, there are fundamental guidelines not to be messed with. The following are common mistakes athletes make that significantly work against the body’s ability to perform well.
DON’T: WING IT
Nothing is more frustrating for a sports dietitian than an athlete who doesn’t plan their performance food. You likely have a training plan you stick with and yet, the nutrition part seems to get shrugged off and left out of the plan. Consuming whatever you find at rest stops (like gas station hot dogs) or race aid stations (mystery sport drinks, anyone?) can lead to being under-fueled (bonking), over-fueled (GI discomfort), dehydrated or lacking electrolytes.
It is crucial for athletes to figure out what nutrition best fuels their body and stick to it by packing and planning ahead. This notion goes beyond just ‘what to eat’ but also takes into consideration the climate (chocolate melts and some bars may freeze) and actual ability to eat something while training. (For example: Don’t bring a bar if you can’t chew while running or a package you can’t open on the bike). Planning takes a little extra time at first, but soon your fueling plan becomes second nature and is likely the largest component of eating for performance.
DON’T: SKIP RECOVERY
Not bringing food along typically leads to delayed or missed recovery. I get it, refueling can easily take a backseat after a workout when you’re tired, sweaty and just want to collapse. However, skipping the recovery — or waiting too long — is detrimental to performance in the long run. Your body cannot go on training hard daily when it hasn’t been given the fuel to rebuild and replenish.
Stash an extra banana and bar in your gym bag or prep frozen smoothie packs in advance so as soon as you run in the door, you can get carbohydrates and protein to your tired muscles ASAP.
DON’T: CUT CALORIES
OK, let me clarify, there is a time and place to cut caloric intake to reach certain power-to-weight performance goals; however, too many athletes skimp on consuming calories during their endurance workouts. Have you ever gone on a long run or spent hours on the bike telling yourself you’re not hungry enough for that gel only to spend hours after the performance on the couch feeling exhausted and eating everything in sight? I refer to this as the ‘after bonk.’ Since the activity is over, athletes do not consider it as hindering performance, but this can lead to slower recovery and weight gain. By depriving your body of calories during your workouts, you won’t have that immediate energy available to pull from which means you can’t reach your peak performance speeds, power and/or endurance. My best advice is to add calories when your body needs them and cut back later in the day.
DON’T: RELY ON SPORT FOOD
Too many athletes consume bars for breakfast, protein shakes for lunch and sport beverages as snacks even when they’re not doing their sport. While fueling with sport-specific foods is a simple, on-the-go way to get calories, if you’re not actually performing a sport around eating these foods, this fueling strategy deprives your body of crucial nutrients.
If you rely on sport food, save these sport drinks, protein shakes, bars, gels and chews for when your body is performing a workout or training session. Outside of before, during and recovery food, aim to eat whole foods that supply you with macronutrients along with fiber, vitamins and phytonutrients needed for a healthy body.
READ MORE > MAPLE SYRUP: THE FUEL OF CHOICE FOR PERFORMANCE
DON’T: CONFUSE EATING TO WITH ING TO EAT
Insert workout of choice into the first blank, and you get the idea. Sure ‘Will run for wine!’ makes for a fun T-shirt slogan, but in reality it is a poor choice. There’s a big difference between consuming food in a purposeful way to enhance performance goals, and working out to burn more calories so you can consume more cake (or beer, chocolate, pizza, wine, etc…).
Too many athletes (even top pros) can get these two situations confused. It is much easier to consume more calories than can be worked off. Besides the basic calorie in versus calorie out imbalance, this mindset sets you up to consume foods that are of poorer nutrition and will not work to strengthen your body’s ability to perform.
If you’re guilty of any of these scenarios, it’s time to make simple changes to improve your performance-fueling strategy.