Intuitive Eating and Sport- Do they go together?
So, I have run a few half marathons, done a triathlon or two, competed in a few CrossFit comps, rowed a few flat water races, sprinted in surf boat carnivals, competed in two 200km rowing endurance races, done a couple of novice power lifting events, competed in a national level bodybuilding competition, love strongman as a sport and also really like walking as my meditation.
I also really enjoy looking after my body in the most positive way possible, feeling good in my skin and love eating really good food.
Did I mentioned that I am a fully accredited sports dietitian and accredited practicing dietitian? I get to talk about sport and food all day and it's my job- ripper.
Now there is a reason I am talking about my experiences as a sports person and my professional credentials. And it's not to let you know how great I am- my mum does that for me already.
It is because I want to talk about positive body image and intuitive eating, through the lens of sports nutrition.
And I want to talk about this, because there is a time and place for discipline, and there is the rest of the time, when you can fuel your body for a great performance, without getting down on yourself for not looking the way you think you should for any particular sport.
I often get people coming and asking me for exactly how many grams of protein they should be consuming, if there is any benefit in front loading or back loading carbs, or exactly how many meals they should have in a day.
They might even commence to try and tell me how low carb in sport leads to optimal performance and how cutting gluten will 100% cure IBS for everyone.
Well firstly, and personally, I think that food neuroticism is more likely to cause IBS than any piece of bread I have ever consumed.
Let me re-phrase that.
Getting that caught up on the grams, timing and bro-science is at best fun, in a geeky way, but socially isolating and anxiety-inducing at worst.
Sure, there is plenty of worth in finding out more information on how to boost your performance via nutrition. In fact, I have worked with many athletes in order to do so, starting with a plan, and tweaking it, according to their observations, recovery, and feelings through trial and error. All the while ensuring that they understand that what I prescribe is an estimate and a guide based on what research shows us, and by no means gospel.
For two of the sports I have competed in, I had a strict nutrition plan. These were either an aesthetic based sports or a weight classed sports. I had a plan that required me to be compliant in order to reach the end goal of competing.
Where bodybuilding is concerned, I have seen very few come out of this sport without at least a little damage to their relationship with food and their body, largely because it is all but aesthetically focused.
For weight class sports, the focus is still very much on performance, which is why I feel a lot more comfortable with the 'why' behind the dietary focus required.
For the rest of my sportd, I have applied key sports nutrition principals, did some trial made some errors, and listened to my body.
It is very possible to learn and use sports nutrition principals without getting caught up on food rules.
The focus should always be on performance, not on how your body looks. I know all too well, from experience personally and with clients, that the popular lean physique we are faced with daily via social media does not always bring with it corresponding performance improvements.
There is a point of diminishing returns for sports performance and leanness Certainly, and more specifically for a professional sportsperson, reduction in body fat can improve performance outputs. But then comes the 'too far' point, when illness, injury, overreaching and burn-out comes.
No one ever got a personal best by adhering to societal ideals.
Personal bests come from hard work, self-respect and listening to and respecting your body.
My tips for eating intuitively for sport:
1. Get the basics right first. Eat a quality source of protein at each meal for muscle recovery and growth. Then add in a healthy wholefood carbs from fruit, vegetables, legumes and wholegrains to replenish muscle glycogen and then garnish with filling, anti-inflammatory and immune boosting fats from sources such as avocado, dairy, nuts, seeds and olive oil.
2. Review the colour in your diet. Colour coming from fruits and vegetables will give you the antioxidants you need to soak up the damage done in training.
3. Note how your body is feeling during and after your exercise session. If you felt tired before you event started, review your pre-training nutrition. If you flag half way through the session, again, reveiw your pre-training nutrition. If you wake up starving the morning after a night time session, you might need to give yourself a bit more food at dinner to assist with recovery. A little hungry is ok, starving is never a good sign.
4. Hydrate. Your pee should be pale yellow, not clear, as an easy way of assessing if you are fully hydrated or not. Dehydration of as little as 2% can decrease performance and cognitive function.
5. Avoid rewarding yourself with 'treats' because you worked out. You don't need to be an angel, but after you have trained your body has been stretched and needs fuel and antioxidants from good food to make the most of the session. Feed your body what it needs for good health and recovery and save the treats for when you are with family and friends.
6. Use supplements as your 2%, once you have the basics down. No supplement is going to recover you faster, or grow muscles better than hard training, good food and a full nights sleep.
I believe that 90% of the time, if you listen to your body, it will tell you what it needs- all you have to do is learn to listen.