“Eat like an athlete” is often confused with a diet with an abundance of fruits and vegetables and minimally processed food. However, after close to 10 years of working with athletes of all levels, I can tell you that “eating like an athlete” is nowhere near that.
Since most of the athletes I deal with are endurance athletes, their energy requirements are often high. Meeting these energy needs relying primarily on fruits and vegetables is nearly impossible. Those who dare to try it are likely to spend most of their day visiting the toilet… yikes!
Due to their convenience and energy density, energy gels, sports drinks and bars (aka processed foods) are also part of an athlete's regular diet.
However, due to this belief attached to what “eating like an athlete” should look like, many endurance athletes find themselves not fuelling correctly in their attempt to eat as clean as possible.
Even recently, in an interview for 220 Triathlon, professional triathlete Lucy Charles-Barclay shared her experience dealing with her nutrition. She mentioned how her need to be as professional as possible in every aspect of her life forced her to restrict her diet and not fuel properly. Lucy shared that she now understands the role nutrition plays and that energy restriction will keep her from becoming the world's best Ironman triathlete.
In contrast, Michael Phelps’ diet became very popular a few years ago. He regularly ate hamburgers and fried food to meet his 10,000 kcal needs and keep up with his daily 6 hours of training.
So, what does eating like an athlete actually look like? There is no particular food list you need to follow to ensure you are eating like an athlete. What you need is that your food choices help you achieve the following:
- Include sufficient energy to meet your caloric needs for optimal health and performance.
- Add enough protein to spread out your protein intake throughout the day.
- Include enough variety to assist with essential nutrient intake.
- Prioritise key fuelling times to support training adaptations.
- Be easy to absorb and digest when consumed close to training.
There is no single food that ticks off each of the points above, and that is not the intention. For example, a high in fibre food won’t be as easy to absorb and digest as a refined grain or sugar.
An example of a day of an athlete’s diet meeting these requirements is outlined below.
- 4:50 am - Pre-training meal: Toast with jam and fruit
- 5:30 am - Swim session
- 7:30 am - Post-training meal: Eggs on toast with spinach and a fruit smoothie
- 10:00 am - Morning snack: Fruit, greek yogurt and granola bowl.
- 1:00 pm - Lunch: Mixed greens, pasta and chicken breast with a glass of lemonade
- 3:30 pm - Afternoon snack: Fruit and nuts
- 5:30 pm - Pre-training snack: Muesli bar and fruit
- 6:00 pm - Run session
- 7:30 pm - Dinner: Salmon fillet, a bowl of rice and roasted veggies followed by sweets: ice-cream scoop
- 9:00 pm - Bedtime
As you can tell, the majority of the foods are those included in a regular “healthy/balanced diet”, but there is room for energy-dense foods. The meal frequency spreads energy intake throughout the day while including energy at key times near the training sessions.
Eating like an athlete does not mean restriction. Before you go on cutting things from your diet, have a look at what could possibly be missing. Focusing on what you need to add rather than remove will bring you far better results.
6 nutrition tips for enjoying the silly season
Christmas is by far my favourite time of the year. I enjoy it so much because I love spending time with family, friends and I relish the atmosphere of happiness and harmony that you can feel everywhere. Unfortunately, for many people, it can become a stressful season where the pressure to "avoid gaining weight at all cost" becomes exacerbated. This is why I have put together my top recommendations for enjoying the holidays without the pressures of diet culture.
Food is at the top of the things I enjoy the most about Christmas. Much of what was prepared in my house when I was growing up was rarely cooked at another time of the year. Now that I live overseas, I enjoy the food even more, every time I visit Mexico. I have also learned to enjoy the food prepared in Australia and share some of the Mexican cuisine by cooking the family stuffing recipe. Apparently, I have turned it into a tradition over here too.
This is why I promise you none of my tips will result in a look of terror from your nanna when you suggest she makes a sugar-free pudding.
1. Enjoy it!
This pandemic has shown us how important it is to value what we have. Take the time to be with your loved ones and enjoy their company by being present in the moment. Stressing about how many calories you're eating or how much weight you think you're going to gain will only distract you from the things that matter like the company of those around you and the hands that prepared the delicious food in front of you.
2. Eat during the day
Skipping meals or not eating enough during the day to "save calories" will only make you hungrier at dinner, end up eating more than you need, and enjoy less than you should.
Sometimes this is unintentional. We get so busy chatting, cooking or travelling during the day and we forget to eat. Try to listen to your body and eat if you're hungry, preferably choose foods that you know will make you feel good and that will keep you satisfied for longer.
3. Choose what you love best
Filling your plate with vegetables or salad isn't going to stop you from finding room for the casserole or the things you like. It is better to fill your plate with what you love the most from the start and give yourself the time to enjoy it. By the way, if vegetables or salad are on the list of things you enjoy most... go ahead! But this applies to the rest of the food too.
You don't have to try absolutely everything there is, especially if you are already full; remember, there's usually enough for leftovers.
4. Be compassionate
What's done is done. Hating yourself for everything you ate and how "bad you behaved" doesn't help at all.
5. You don't need to "burn" what you ate
Staying active has countless benefits; however, "burning dinner calories" does not belong on this list. Killing yourself by exercising the next day to compensate for everything you ate is neither necessary nor healthy.
If you're going to exercise, do it because you enjoy it, don't use it as a punishment or as a way to justify everything you're going to eat afterwards.
6. Ignore January!
Thinking about January as the month you're going to "behave yourself", start your diet and finally "be good" only causes you to feel guilty during December. It's impossible to enjoy something when it's done with guilt. "I'll be good in January" practically translates into "what I'm doing right now is wrong, but I will fix it later". This prevents you from following everything I just recommended and enjoying the things that matter the most during this season: family, friends, health and all the good stuff.
Thank you for reading! I wish you a merry Christmas and hope you and your loved ones enjoy good health.