We’re often told of the latest new diet that will improve performance, help us lose weight etc, etc. However, although these diets may help us improve certain aspects of our lives, they’re normally only short term things. A diet tends to be something people only follow for a short period of time before reverting back to previous habits. To get real, long term changes and benefits, often you need to change your lifestyle.
Routine and schedule are important considerations when looking to make lifestyle changes, especially with regard to nutrition. Maintaining regular meal times from day to day can really help you stick to eating the right amount for what you need during a day and to avoid over snacking. It can also be helpful to schedule drinking a glass of water at regular occasions throughout the day. All too often, people neglect drinking enough fluids and it can be surprisingly easy to go 3-4 hours without having had a proper drink.
However, for an athlete who is training regularly and doing different quantities and intensities of exercise a day, this can be difficult. In these cases, routine is still important but even more so when looking at eating a pre training meal/snack 60 minutes before a session, eating/drinking regularly during the session if longer than 2 hours and eating a post workout meal within 30 minutes of completing the session.
In terms of what you are eating, it is often best to avoid foods and drinks that are overly processed and prioritise whole foods. Generally speaking, processed foods are not as good for your health as whole foods. They often lack fibre (e.g. fruit juices vs whole fruit) and do not leave us feeling as full due to having several stages of the digestion process already done for us before food enters the body. Alongside this, it is also recommended you avoid refined sugars as these will spike insulin levels and, in extreme amounts, can lead to insulin desensitising and type-2 diabetes. However, these sugars are useful just before, during and straight after intense exercise.
Changing your diet to include more of, or limit consumption of, certain foods doesn’t just happen overnight. Often, a complete removal of a food group will only be successful in the short term. In the case of something ‘addictive’, like chocolate, it can be more successful in the long term to reduce the amounts slowly to wean yourself off them. Alongside this, you need to slowly increase your consumption of whole foods. An example of a meal you might want to modify could be: chicken nuggets and chips with sauces and dips. You could start by removing the dips and adding a portion of peas or other veg instead. After a while, swap the chicken nuggets for a grilled chicken breast. Finally replace the chips with a jacket potato or sweet potato to reduce the glycaemic index of your carb choice. All of a sudden, you’ve gone from a high saturated fat, low nutrients meal to a nutrients rich meal with lean protein, complex carbs and higher fibre.
Lifestyle changes take time but they are well worth pursuing. A healthier nutritional lifestyle will not only help sporting performance but also general health and wellbeing.
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