Diet and exercise always work well together. Whether you are trying to build muscle or lose weight, one without the other hinders results. When an athlete follows a structured exercise routine and fails to eat properly, optimum performance cannot exist. In competition, this is a tragedy. All the time and sweat invested in training wasted because the plate was deprioritized. Investing in your diet is crucial, and hopefully after this article, it will be much easier to prioritize!
"Strong and fit is the image to aspire to."
Sometimes it seems people get caught up in eating for taste and forget the actual purpose of food is to provide us with the energy and nutrients we need to function. Taste is an incentive to eat, but is not the reason for it. Once you starting eating to fuel your body based on what it needs, you have the opportunity to find a new level of performance. Optimizing your diet to accomplish this does not sacrifice taste, and is definitely not restricting. Instead, it encourages a variety of foods as sources of the many nutrients your body needs, in moderate portions that translate to a balanced diet on the plate.
These same rules apply to males and females striving for to look a certain way. Magazines and movies suggest what we should look like, and use Photoshop and perfect lighting to capture it. A majority of these images are not of health or fitness, and they are never applicable to all people. Shifting the mindset from thin to fit is a major movement, and one with genuine intention. Lean muscle is healthy. It is worth working towards. Most importantly, it is a personalized image. It embraces the fact that there are many body types with areas of strength. To ignore this, is to waste talent and potential. Not every girl is going to fit in 00 pants, and nor should they. Strong hips and legs are what drive softball, allow lateral agility during a cut or pivot, and encourage strength. Strong and fit is the image to aspire to. Find your fit!
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As an athlete or fitness enthusiast, you need all nutrients. The recent excitement over low-carb dieting is a guaranteed way to suppress performance, especially in endurance sports. While some new research suggests a high-fat diet can provide sustained energy for elite performance, the evidence is not there. While dietary advice in the form of sound-bytes, driven mainly by the media, has taken a stance against carbohydrate in recent years, the fact remains that they are the most valuable macronutrient for an athlete’s performance. Without carbohydrate, muscles fatigue faster and cannot perform at peak levels. To ensure you are performing at your best, make sure carbohydrates are in your diet. It should be different types of carbohydrates, from a variety of sources. They should be in the meals proceeding and following exercise to maximize short-term energy stores and encourage recovery after.
Protein and fat are also important, but are less affected by exercise. Your protein needs will increase slightly based on training goals, and fat generally only changes when total calories change. Even though they do not change as frequently based on duration and level of activity, they are both critical to sustain performance in the long-term. With out appropriate amounts of fat and protein your muscles will suffer, and they won’t be the only organ system to get upset. Make sure you are getting protein at each meal, with a larger portion in the evenings. Fats can be eaten anytime, but should come from a variety of sources, mostly plant-based. Keep an eye on the serving size of your fat sources, they add up quickly.
"When an athlete fails to eat properly, optimum performance cannot exist."
In addition to your macronutrients you have the often-overshadowed micronutrients. Without vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, and antioxidants, your body won’t be able to use any of your macronutrients for the thousands of processes that are happening every second in your body as you’re reading this. Make sure you are getting vitamins and minerals from fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, and the animal products. If you don’t eat one or more of these categories, you are likely missing some critical nutrients, and should consider talking to a Dietitian to figure out how to compensate!
As an athlete, you owe it to yourself to eat. Find your physical goal and pair your training with nutrition to accomplish it. On your plate look for a balance of all three macronutrients and the many micronutrients using a variety of foods. If you are overwhelmed by the dietary approaches to exercise, schedule a consultation with a Sports Dietitian, and keep reading this blog for more advanced articles!
Andrew Wade, RDN, LDN
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