We look at athletes as these perfect specimens, the peak of divine creation. Their performances inspire and entertain us. We want to be like them, see the world through their eyes, and do the things they do, or at least take a couple snapshots with them to show off on social media.
As superhuman as some of their feats are out on the field, they’re still only human. And as such they have to abide by the same rules as you do.
The athlete’s demise
What people don’t realize is athletes are often the first to face severe physical setbacks (and I’m not talking about injuries here) due to the high demand they place on their bodies. Athletes and high performance individuals, are more likely to suffer from digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut, food intolerances and sensitivities as a result of overtraining (Van Houten et al, 2015).
Chronic overexertion will drive any system into the ground sooner or later. Nature doesn’t distinguish between athletes and average Joes.
Now, if you never take your body to the limit, if you never go beyond your comfort zone, you won’t run into issues associated with systemic overwork and fatigue. Don’t get me wrong, you will suffer the consequences, if you fail to treat your body with the necessary respect, but they won’t intrude your consciousness until something gives, or it’s too late.
As you start increasing the demand on your system, however, every little misstep is amplified. Yes, you become more resilient too, but you gain an awareness that wasn’t there before.
“He’s an athlete, he can get away with it.”
Think about it. The more you put yourself through the grinder the faster underlying health issues become apparent. When your machine is firing on all cylinders it needs to be maintained and operated properly, not the other way around.
That’s why I cringe every time I hear armchair experts give out advice to athletes. Truth is, 9 out of 10 times, they’re absolutely clueless. The scientific data they reference to support their claims, will never substitute real world experience.
They never got their hands dirty. They’ve never taken their bodies to the limit and beyond. They don’t know what it takes to perform at superhuman levels.
But I do.
And I have developed a regimen suited specifically for high performance individuals. Athlete or not, if you want maximum performance you must do the things others are unwilling to do. You must eat differently, follow a sound rest and recovery protocol and support your body in times of high stress. In this article we’ll focus on the nutritional requirements of athletes.
You wanna be a champion? Start eating like a champion.
The Athlete’s Diet
1. Eat real food
First and foremost.
Forget shakes, supplements and performance powders. Gain the competitive advantage by eating REAL FOOD. What is “real food”? Food your great grandparents had on their plates. Eggs, dairy, grains, fruits and vegetables, meat and fish. Cocoa Puffs and microwave meals don’t apply.
Your body expends large amounts of energy on a daily basis. Hence, you need to take in a lot of calories to sustain peak output. Junk food is a very dense energy source, but it’s practically devoid of nutritional value. Meaning, your body must dig into its own nutrient reserves to digest and assimilate these “foods”. Base your diet on earth-grown, nutrient-dense foods, and minimize the intake of highly refined options (refined carbohydrates, most vegetable fats, trans fats and chemical additives).
Shitty diets are the # 1 reason young athletes are chronically injured and unable to develop and mature into high level competitors.
You can and should definitely enjoy yourself every once in a while, but don’t make eating junk part of your daily routine. No amount of vitamins, creams or injections will ever replace a solid diet.
2. Don’t overemphasize protein
As an athlete, you need more protein than the next guy. But you don’t need nearly as much as the magazines have you believe. Instead of drinking protein shakes and inhaling chicken breasts every 3 hours, aim to get a balanced intake of macro and micronutrients at every meal. Protein alone won’t get you far. You need energy to perform and recover from your workouts.
3. Don’t eliminate macronutrients
Don’t even think about going on a low-fat, low-carb, low-anything diet. Eat a diet rich in carbohydrates, protein and fat. Macronutrient restriction is for the sedentary, overweight population, not the high performance individual.
Eat sufficient amounts of fat (preferably saturated and monounsaturated) and cholesterol to support endocrine function and power output. A low-fat (< 30% of calories) nutrition protocol will be your downfall.
While carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap in the nutrition industry, you should strive to consume a proper amount of starches and fruit every single day. Don’t be blinded by diet scams and protocols that were developed with couch surfing individuals in mind. You’re a different breed. Eat accordingly.
4. Nutrient timing
Meal timing is irrelevant to the general population, but highly relevant to you. Introduce a peri-workout nutrition protocol to maximize performance and recovery. You must have sufficient fuel in your system during training to be at your best.
Eat a small amount of readily absorbable carbohydrates (fruit or a light carb snack) right before exercise. If the exercise duration exceeds 60 minutes, make sure to ingest another serving of carbohydrates during training. Immediately consume another serving of carbs post workout, and eat a solid meal within the hour of finishing your training. This will not only maximize performance but vastly speed up recovery.
5. Don’t chronically overeat because you can
Most athletes I’ve worked with were perma-eaters. Their days were basically long stretched meals. They’re existence reduced to eating and digesting. A critical performance error, most are not even remotely aware of.
Yes, as an athlete you can eat obscene amounts of food without gaining an ounce of body-fat. But you’re compromising metabolic efficiency and flexibility by shoving and gulping calories like tomorrow never comes.
Eat at regular mealtimes (3-5 meals/ day) and stop snacking throughout the day like a spoiled kid. Eat more on heavy training days and tone it down on rest days. Rest days shouldn’t just give your muscular and nervous systems a brake. They should give your body as a whole an opportunity to recoup and recharge. Digestion is a very energy costly process. Keep that in mind.
6. You are deficient
As a hard-working athlete, you are likely deficient in essential vitamins and minerals. This has a direct effect on your work output, recovery and general wellbeing.
Common micronutrient deficiencies in athletes:
- Vitamin D
Understand that as long as you have an underlying nutrient deficiency, you’ll never reach your potential. You might be above average. You might even be an international superstar. But you could be better.
Your Body is Your Machine
What you eat (and when), can make the difference between first place and early retirement. Your body is your (money making) machine. Treat it with respect or drown in the flood of could’ve-beens and has-beens.
Thank you for reading
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