COMMON NUTRITION MISTAKES
We all make mistakes. But rather than think of mistakes as a bad thing, reframe them as opportunities to learn and to adapt. Nutrition, in the context of sports performance, is a prime example of this. It’s important to try, test and perfect individualized plans for both training as well as racing. However, diet also seems to be an area where many of us often make the same mistakes over and over. Here are five common nutrition mistakes to look out for.
Worrying too much about macronutrient profiles Macronutrients – protein, fat, carbohydrate – are important. Adequate quantities of each, at the right time, enhance fuelling, recovery, optimze training adaptations and allow for manipulation of body composition. Periodizing intake daily and seasonally may also be appropriate according to goals, while the ideal quantities will be highly individualized. However, macros only tell a very small part of the story. What we really should be paying attention to, the majority of the time, is nutrient quality. Worry more about the quality of the foods you are eating rather than the numbers. Nutritious whole, real foods will have much more of an impact on health, and performance, than trying to adhere to any sort of numbers guide.
Expecting a nutrition plan to work each and every time Nailing a nutrition plan for racing, or day-to-day fuelling, is an evolving art (coupled with some good science). Factors that determine what will work best include age, fitness level, environment, previous day’s intake and exercise, stress levels and health just keep changing. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try and develop your own nutrition plan, but you need to be aware of these factors and how they might influence your plan.
For instance, when it is hot and humid you need to modify your sodium intake along with fluid needs. Also, when training in the heat, your appetite drops and so liquid-based recovery options are preferable. The key is to adapt and change a plan, but knowing how and when to do so.
Expecting scientific research to translate directly to you in real life Research is often conducted in laboratories and is likely conducted using subjects that bear little to no relevance to you personally. Or it might be conducted on mice, or even on cells in a petri dish. So, while results might be interesting and indeed pertinent, the findings do not necessarily translate directly into meaningful actions for you. Even studies that are conducted on athletes need to be carefully examined before any conclusions are made – often studies will look at time to exhaustion when trying to determine performance benefits from interventions. But, in reality, no race is won by the person who can go the longest – the race is won by the person who gets there fastest. So, whenever you read about new research or nutrition claims look at the subjects, performance parameters, protocols, any funding or commercial interests, as well as the actual results, before jumping to any conclusions or making any changes.
Trying to combine all possible sports nutrition performance boosters There are some very well-studied, and well-supported supplements and nutritional interventions that can help boost athletic performance, such as caffeine, creatine, beet juice and Beta Alanine. However, just because caffeine or creatine may boost performance, it does not mean that you can simply use both supplements and expect a certain level of performance boost. Consider very carefully how and if you incorporate any supplements into your nutrition plan and remember that the biggest “bang for your buck” in terms of nutrition comes from simply having the basics in place first (a nutritious, healthy diet).
Taking it too seriously Every athlete, no matter their level or age needs to have a solid nutrition plan to back up their training. This means paying attention to what you are eating every day in order to really maximize training adaptations and get to race day in the shape desired. However, diet can also be taken too seriously and actually jeopardize your goals and progress. Timely recovery nutrition is important to get the most out of the next workout, but don’t have a fit just because your protein smoothie arrives five minutes outside the “20-minute recovery window.” Guidelines and recommendations are just that – and this level of stress is most likely detrimental to performance (and health too). The reality is, that close enough is sometimes good enough.
Pip Taylor is a professional triathlete and registered dietician from Australia.