5 Nutrition Missing Links: Expert Advice for Athletes

Time to exercise, but no time to eat? Think again.

“Nutrition is my missing link. I have my training down, but my eating needs help.”

Time and again, my clients express this concern when they fail to get desired results from their workouts. These busy people, who range from casual exercisers to competitive athletes, are eating at the wrong times, choosing the wrong balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat, drinking too little fluids, and consuming adequate iron.

The question arises: How much better could these athletes perform? The answer is: Lots better. The following article highlights some common missing food links, and provides solutions that can help you to avoid these pitfalls.

Missing Link No. 1: Respect for the Power of Food

“You know, Nancy, too many athletes show up for training but they don't show up for meals. They might as well not show up for training...” These words, spoken by a winning Boston College hockey coach, are true, indeed. Instead of rushing to practice, only to show up poorly fueled, you'd be better off taking 10 minutes from your training time to fuel properly and be able to get more from your workout. Plan ahead!

Missing Link No. 2: Eat Enough During the Active Part of the Day

The same athletes who show up underfueled for training are generally the ones who undereat nourishing meals by day, only to overeat “junk” by night. This pattern fails to support an optimal sports diet—nor long-term health.

Why do so many athletes undereat during the active part of their day?

• Some claim they are “too busy.” Wrong. If they can find time to train, they can find time to fuel for training.

• Other athletes are purposefully restricting their food intake at breakfast and lunch, with hopes of losing weight. In a survey of 425 female collegiate athletes, the vast majority wanted to lose five pounds. Forty-three percent of the women reported feeling terrified of becoming overweight; 22 percent were extremely preoccupied with food and weight. (1) This fear that “food is fattening” certainly deters many athletes from fueling optimally.

If you are weight-conscious, pay attention to when you eat. Fuel adequately during the active part of your day, so you have energy to exercise. You will then be less hungry at the end of the day and better able to “diet” at night (that is, eat less dinner or fewer evening snacks). After dinner, get out of the kitchen and away from food, brush your teeth after dinner, go to bed early, and lose weight when you are sleeping, instead of when you are trying to exercise.

Note: If you want to lose weight, you should not severely undereat. Rather, create just a small 100- to 200-calorie deficit. Little changes at the end of the day—like eating just two to four fewer Oreos—can knock off 100 to 200 calories a day and theoretically lead to 10 to 20 pounds of fat loss a year.

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