Everyone’s hungry for proper guidance when it comes to food and fitness. Eat a mammoth breakfast or skip altogether before a ride? What are the drawbacks of an energy restrictive diet? So we’re turning it over to Dr. Asker Jeukendrup, a sports nutrition scientist and IRONMAN triathlete to shine the light on everything eating. Our series kicks off with a foodie foundation that applies to just about everyone.
1. Athletes should vary what they eat.
In fact, they should eat everything. Some things in moderation, others in larger amounts - but athletes should not be restrictive unless there’s a specific reason, and be ready for modifications. For example, vegetarians may lack in their protein and iron intake. They must find alternatives and find other sources to stay balanced. A varied diet ensures that you absorb a full plate of ingredients, and avoid deficiencies. A one sided diet makes it difficult to hit all your nutrition intake targets.
2. Focus on quality.
High quality foods should be the vast majority of your intake. Select foods that have the ingredients you need: essential fatty acids, a wide range of amino acids (high quality proteins), little added sugar. By sticking to this rule, it’s tougher to overeat, as fresh foods are bulkier and more filling. “Processed” foods often contain little more than empty calories, fat and sugar behind fancy packaging. As a rule, find fresh whenever possible.
3. Athletes need fuel.
Many athletes are energy restrictive. This is neither healthy nor helpful for performance. You need to fuel your body properly with the right balance. Too much means you gain weight, and excess is stored as body fat. Too little means you lose body fat – but are more likely to get fatigued, poor recovery, lose muscle, get ill, get injured and if severe enough cause a host of health issues like low bone density. Make sure to get enough energy to maintain your training output. Remember this: the more you train, the more you can trust your gut to eat when you need to.
4. Know your goals.
Even one athlete can have different goals each day: fat burning, recovery, setting a personal record etc. Keep in mind both your short and long-term goals when planning. There is not one perfect food, meal or even diet for everyone, or even every day. If you want to burn fat, start your workout without a breakfast, but if you want to set a new personal record for your 100k ride, have a good breakfast 3 hours before!
5. Eating should be fun.
We often eat on automatic pilot. We’re hardly aware what’s going in our mouths. Our intake is subconscious, a result of routine patterns and poor habits. If you prepare your own food, find your own ingredients, you’re forced to think. Experiment with new foods and increase the range of foods you can use in training. You may find new foods that work really well for you! Appreciating healthy nutrition is the first step towards optimizing it.
Asker Jeukendrup is one of the world’s leading sports nutrition scientists, who’s worked with many Olympic champions and weekend warriors. Asker is also a keen cyclist, runner and triathlete himself. Read more at mysportscience.com or chat up Asker while he’s riding in Watopia.