By Matt Luongo, MAEd, RDN, CSSD, CDN
Many have begun to question if intuitive eating for athletes is appropriate. Proper nutrition for athletes is one of the most crucial pieces to success in sport. Good nutrition provides more energy to the active individual and can help the Olympic athlete finish first in their event. No matter who you are, nutrition for athletes is key in supporting the body and performance. Myths about what, when, and how much we should be eating may not support a healthy relationship with food and the body. This is where the journey of intuitive eating for athletes begins.
Intuitive eating is not performance focused, but is focused on listening to your body. Sports nutrition on the other hand focuses on nutrient timing and optimizing performance with food choices. Thus, combining sports nutrition and intuitive eating can be the best option. There may be times where you have to eat for energy or recovery when when you may not be hungry. Listening to hunger cues is important, but so is proper nutrition before and after a workout. By fueling properly AND practicing mindful eating, it is easier get all of the nutrients you need and enjoy eating stress free. Looking for some pre-workout snack ideas? Check out our blog on 5 Pre-Training Snacks for inspiration!
Intuitive eating removes athletes from the pressures and harmful habits of diet culture. Diet culture often falsely promises improved performance and optimal body composition. Instead, intuitive eating allows athletes to develop healthier relationships with food, exercise, and their body. The restrictive nature of diets and their “food rules” can lead athletes to eat too little. Restricted food intake impacts performance and leads to decreased focus, hormone issues and poorer health. If you’re an athlete interested in what intuitive eating looks like, take a look at the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating. These basic principles can give you a new, and healthier training focus and can ultimately lead to better performance overall.
Intuitive eating for athletes also depends on the training phase. Instead of restricting food groups to alter body composition, try adjusting the proportions of the food groups on your plate. This can help ensure your body is receiving the nutrients it needs to meet your training goals.
The United States Olympic Committee‘s visual guide gives examples on how to get enough of each macronutrient without focusing on numbers. For instance, during weight management phases easy training cycles they recommend filling half of your plate with vegetables, a quarter with carbohydrates, and a quarter with protein. The more intense your training, (for example, two-a-days, football camp, preseason workouts, heightened cardio/lifting days) the more carbs you need. At the end of the day, trust your hunger cues to make sure you are supporting your body’s needs!
Unfortunately, there is no “quick fix” to achieving your ideal body or reaching peak athletic performance. Intuitive eating can help you reach your individual goals. It shows us that there are other factors that play a role in meeting performance goals. Building a strong relationship with food can help you get enough nutrients for energy, building and maintaining muscle, and improving performance. Best of all, intuitive eating makes eating more enjoyable and takes away the stress of mealtimes.
If you have any questions or concerns or are interested in working with one of our non-diet, sports dietitians: you can learn more about how we help active individuals stop overthinking food, meet their goals, and keep a healthy relationship with food here: https://expertnutritionandwellness.com/services#about