09 Feb Nutrition Behavior Change for Athletes: Eating Healthy Once and For All
Changing your nutrition doesn’t happen from getting lectured over and over again.
I mean, it’s a start, but it will only get you so far.
No one wants to be told ad nauseam what foods are healthy. Most people already know what is healthy and what is not.
Anyone can google the macro nutrients that humans need to survive. Everyone knows that a greasy burger in all its juiciness is not ideal before practice. Everyone knows skipping breakfast is a terrible idea on game day. Everyone knows not having veggies and fruit isn’t good either. The information is available, whether it be a quick internet search, or access to an online Registered Dietician.
But why do some people still fail at nutrition?
Human Behavior Change
Humans are funny.
They can have full knowledge on proper nutrition, yet still fail to implement it.
This can be for a few reasons. First, they don’t know their “why” behind what they’re doing. With nutrition, they just say, “I want to be healthy.” This is a start, but the onion needs to be peeled back more.
Try answering this prompt:
Why do you want to be healthy?
Because it’s the right thing to do.
Why is it the right thing to do?
Because it is good for my performance.
Why is it good for my performance?
Because I will have the energy and focus to play
Why do you need energy and focus to play?
So I can be healthy for myself and my teammates.
Now, you’re getting somewhere.
When you’re clear on why you want to eat better, then you’re willing to make the necessary sacrifices to make it happen.When you're clear on why you want to eat better, then you're willing to make the necessary sacrifices to make it happen. Click To Tweet
In fact, you value your why so much, you embrace the discipline it takes to start getting healthier.
The second reason most humans don’t stick to a good nutrition plan is because they try to do too much at once. Anything that is overwhelming is hard to execute.
Here’s the truth: with nutrition behavior change, you don’t need to overhaul everything right off the bat.
Start small. Start by adding an extra serving of carbs for energy each day. Then, add a bowl of fruit each day. Then, maybe drink an extra glass of water in the morning. Stop trying to change your entire plan in just a week’s time, and sprinkle in small new habits along the way.Start small. Start by adding an extra serving of carbs for energy. Then, maybe drink an extra glass of water. Stop trying to change your entire plan in just a week’s time, and sprinkle in small new habits along the way. Click To Tweet
Lean into the long game. Give it three months, six months, a year, and beyond.
After a few months, pay attention to how you feel. Notice how much better you perform. Notice everything that improves in your life. Was your focus better? Did your confidence soar? Did you perform better in school? Did you have energy in the second half? Did you blast by defenders?
Acknowledge these small wins and celebrate how amazing you feel with your new nutrition habits.
Surround yourself with good influences, too. Go out to eat with friends who also eat to perform at a high level. Follow the right role models, and people who are at a place you wish to be. Ignore diet culture and most of the nonsense you see on the internet. You aren’t a supermodel. You’re an athlete.Ignore diet culture and most of the nonsense you see on the internet. You aren’t a supermodel. You’re an athlete. Click To Tweet
That skinny, fit girl you see online lives a different life than you with different demands. She may not be happy and healthy, either. Your energy expenditure is three times as much as hers. You don’t know her whole story, so stop trying to be her by restricting yourself. It’s okay to enjoy a slice of cake and an ice cream, occasionally. It’s far more sustainable to not deprive yourself 100% of the time. Eat to perform, enjoy some treats, and do what serves both your performance and sanity.Eat to perform, enjoy some treats, and do what serves both your performance and sanity. Click To Tweet
As a performance coach, introducing proper nutrition into the training environment has done wonders to get teenage girls to transform their habits (hint: parents, you need to do this at home, too).
One of my girls’ favorite things is when I give them chocolate milk post-workout a few times a month. I also give them other snack ideas such as granola, protein bars, and fruits. Not only does it all taste yummy, but they can begin the recovery process immediately in my gym. Introducing this small habit also sets the standard that they must get in post-training and competition nutrition right away – carbs, protein, healthy fats, and hydration.
If you have a strength and speed workout, or team practice, what can be packed in your bag for post-workout that will maximize your recovery? Treat this post workout shake or snack as diligently as packing your sport equipment in your bag. It’s just as important as your cleats, shin guards, gloves, hockey stick, soccer ball, and everything you use to suit up.
Nutrition behavior change happens with good preparation, and when you start with small habits that you can keep consistent.
Working with a RD
If you’re still struggling with your nutrition, I recommend consulting with a RD. Not only will you have the added accountability, but the meal plans they write for you are specific to you – your performance goals, caloric needs, schedule, food restrictions, and behavior patterns.
Nutrition Impact on Overall Health
Proper nutrition does more.
It wasn’t until I retired as a soccer player when I realized performance nutrition must last a lifetime. Starting a career in the real world was a wake-up call.
For me to last ten hours days on the performance facility floor, coaching athletes advanced movements, making sure no one dropped a barbell on their chest during bench press, all while being a social butterfly, required just as much fuel as when I was an athlete. I needed energy and focus to sustain the workday.
Mind you, health gets tougher to maintain as you age, which means you need to continue to be even more intentional with nutrition. When your brain fogs more, your hormones are all over the place, and your joints start to ache, nutrition is your best medicine to combat the aging process. Your mental, emotional, and physical health are impacted by what you put into your body for the rest of your life. The hope is this: you can still be vibrant and bolster your longevity with proper nutrition.
For good mental and emotional health, these become paramount: healthy fats for brain function, magnesium for nervous system function, probiotics for brain function, and vitamin D for mood. Enough protein is key for hormonal balance, as well as mood regulation.
For physical health, we must pay attention to the old saying: “you are what you eat.” What you put into the inside of your body, manifests to the outside of your body. Too many processed foods have their way of ruining eye, skin, hair and nail health.
On the other hand, healthy, whole foods make the whites of your eyes whiter, your skin clearer, your hair shinier, your nails stronger, your smile brighter, and your overall appearance a more radiant glow.
Healthy, whole foods make the whites of your eyes whiter, your skin clearer, your hair shinier, your nails stronger, your smile brighter, and your overall appearance a more radiant glow. Click To Tweet
How exciting is that? What’s more is, you can’t help but ooze confidence when your body is cared for and well nourished.
If these aren’t enough to elicit nutritional behavior change, then I don’t know what else needs to be said. Oh, wait…
I forgot the MOST important benefits to proper nutrition: boosts your immune system, improves heart health, builds healthy bones, improves joint health, reduces inflammation, improves mood, and improves sleep. Beyond sport performance, you need it for life performance. You need it for basic human health.
You are what you eat. Choose wisely.
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