Athletes come to my office asking me to help them with their eating habits because they’re not seeing the results they want to see from the weight room and in sport. The first think I tell them is for the next 7 days I want you to write down what you eat, when you eat, and your activity throughout the day. By having my athletes do this I get them to think about what I might be looking for from their eating habits and they begin to analyze what I’m going to be looking at. This has been the most productive way to get my athletes thinking about food and when to eat. After the 7 days pass I have my athletes hand in their 7 day food diary. I will begin sifting through each day looking at time, food, and activity. There are a few things that I look for that I will break down in this article that will hopefully help you analyze your own diet.
One of the most common issues I see with athletes from all ages is the huge gaps in time between meals or snacks. I can’t tell you how many athletes say “I don’t snack because I want to keep my calories low” or “snacking will make me fat.” I’m going to tell you a secret….SCREW CALORIES. I never tell athletes Calories in vs. Calories out. Its bullcrap. Look, the longer you go without food slows down your metabolism and prevents your body from burning proper fuels for energy. You don’t let your car run out of gas do you? No, you fill that sucker up every time it starts to get low. The same thing applies to your body. When I start noticing gaps longer than 2-3 hours in length without a high quality snack I mark that down as issue number 1. As an athlete you need to eat every 2-3 hours. Your body needs to prepare for the events that will be happening later.
I’m skipping over the food section till last and you’ll understand why in a little bit. Your activity during the day plays a huge role in how your body responds to the foods you eat and when you eat it. I have my athletes write down how long practice was, how intense it was on a scale of 1 to 10 and how they felt before, during and after. These responses along with what they ate prior to and after practice will give me a good idea on how their bodies are recovering from practice and intensity. If I have an athlete that has not eaten all day (I’ve seen it day in and day out) and feels light headed in practice or lift pisses me off. How does anyone expect their body to function the right way without proper fuel? This is how injuries happen and happen often. Your activity dictates when you eat and how you eat. I rather an athlete over eat and start pulling things off the plate to find the perfect combo of food and activity rather than an athlete under eat and something serious happen to them.
Paleo sucks. That is all I really need to say in this section but I’m sure people will flip out and say how amazing crossfit “athletes” look and how it helped them drop 30 pounds. I’m sure if I stopped eating M and M’s and other junk food I’d drop some baby fat too. While paleo works for body composition so does normal eating. I tell my athletes focus on 3 things when making a plate of food: Protein, Veggies, and healthy fats. Sounds paleo to me but there is the 4th thing I tell them to apply to their high intensity days a starch whether it is a potato, pasta, rice or etc. The body needs its starches for instant energy and I know the body can convert fats and proteins into glucose for energy but why take the long way when I can take the easy way and still have a pretty damn good body composition. I’m an athlete not a bodybuilder winning a good looking contest. Look, eating quality foods at the right times based on how intense your days are will ensure that you’ll have the energy for performance whether it be in practice, game or in the weight room.
This isn’t a new method but I’d like to think I have perfected a method used for athletes for nutrition education. While this is a very short breakdown of what I do with my athletes the process never stops. After I analyze their info they give me the athlete and I sit down pick a goal weight they feel is ideal for them to play at their best and we work on a program together. What I do is let my athlete build their own menus of foods that they love and want to keep in their diet. I allow this because once something is restricted it is going to be on their minds till they over eat that food. So how about candy? I tell my athletes look, if you are going to enjoy a bag of single serve M and M’s that is ok, do it around a workout where you have a protein shake and some M and M’s. I don’t care; your body will accept that sugar content much better than you sitting in a chair watching a movie. Don’t make this a daily occurrence though. Pick your hardest day of the week (usually beginning of the week or mid-week pending on game schedule) and enjoy a little bit.
There is a ton more things I do with my athletes and looking to do with my athletes this off-season coming up. If you have any questions or would like to talk about the process and method I use feel free to contact me at any time @ firstname.lastname@example.org
Vincent Cagliostro, M.Ed., CSCS, USAW, FMS, Pn1
Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach