THE TOP 4 NUTRITION MISTAKES TO AVOID FOR HEALTH AND PERFORMANCE
Nutrition is, for many, a puzzle. Perhaps it is the confusion and abundance of advice, the navigation of a crowded food environment or the fact that we all eat multiple times every day – whatever the reason it seems we all make mistakes when it comes to nutrition. When it comes to eating to optimize health, well-being and longevity there are some recurring blunders that are also reflected in the common mistakes of sports nutrition. Here are four of the most common mistakes and how you can rectify or avoid them in the first place.
OVER DOING IT
The stats on obesity and general health tell a stark tale of overdoing it. Most athletes balance this out, and yet going overboard before a race is a very common (and easily solved) issue. Carb loading can have benefits for performance, but those benefits are only realized if the practice is implemented correctly. More often the (incorrect) translation is that we need to eat as much as possible, or that we can add in a few extra cookies and scoops of ice cream, justified as necessary fuel. This simply places extra load on the gut, leaving us feeling heavy and bloated – hardly the feeling we want heading into a race. Foods you don’t commonly eat, or pro-inflammatory foods, may further increase this load, making your gut work overtime.
Gut issues are the most common reason people fail to finish or race to expectations. Carbohydrate loading may be appropriate, but get informed on how to do it correctly and eat for performance. If you are someone who eats when they are bored, anxious or stressed, then plan accordingly and have other strategies in place.
BEING TOO RIGID
Sometimes nutrition guidelines can feel like a set of rules, and diets can feel restrictive and rigid. As athletes, we plan our training regimes, logistics surrounding the race, race strategy and even how we are going to recover. Most of us also like to have a very structured nutrition plan, especially for race day. This makes sense – the less decisions we are trying to make in the heat of the moment, the better we can simply concentrate on executing. And, when it comes to nutrition, there are various resources, research and advisors that we can use to put together a blow by blow nutrition plan, detailing precisely how much carbohydrates, water, electrolytes, proteins, amino acids, the osmolarity, osmolality, caffeine content and when these should all be consumed. In theory, this works well. In practice, though, a plan is only good if things are actually going to plan. There are other factors that are hard to account for – weather changes, mood, mechanical issues, illness, unexpected reactions to food or water, as well as a little bit of chance and luck.
Plan. Then adjust that plan. Then listen to your body, tune into your instincts and adjust again. If your stomach is rioting, then don’t try and stick down another gel, instead sip slowly on water and slow your pace temporarily. If you feel hot and thirsty, then drink more.
BELIEVING THE HYPE
Avoid lurching from one dietary promise or revolutionary new product to another. Like the rest of the population, athletes are not immune to marketing and there is no stronger pull than the world of the food and diet industry. Indeed, in some ways athletes may be even more susceptible to hyped up promises on packages if the lure of a PB performance is strong enough. Often the claims don’t stack up to scientific or anecdotal trial, and are simply a wasted investment (of time, money and sanity).
When in dietary doubt, always go for the hype-free fruits and vegetables. We can all benefit from eating more whole foods, no matter what else the dietary persuasion is. When it comes to sports performance and promises, don’t forget where the real engine is – you. And that the basics are most often the most important: good overall diet, hydration and appropriate timing of intake.
LACK OF INVESTMENT
For some, nutrition can be a side note. A necessity to fuel training and other activities with little interest in the effect of food, or even the taste, quality or provenance. This disconnect removes our ability to eat appropriately – whether for energy or health. Get used to paying attention to how your body feels and repay it with quality nutrients. Invest in your health and performance by taking a hands-on approach – from shopping, cooking and nutrition knowledge.
Get educated. Learn how to cook, find out where your local markets are, get to know producers and learn to love your food. This intuition and interest translates directly into your sports performance too, by allowing you to better tune into body signals.
Pip Taylor is an Australian professional triathlete and nutritionist.