As a Sports Dietitian I’d argue that healthy eating is not only doable, it is vital for today’s athletes.
I want to talk a little bit about what “healthy” actually means. I am not a believer that an athlete has to follow any sort of special diet. But I do believe that it’s crucial for an athlete to be meeting the demands of their bodies, which means eating the appropriate amount and balance of macro and micronutrients.
So, what does healthy eating mean for athletes?
Meeting Macronutrient Needs
Eating “healthily” as an athlete first and foremost means you are meeting your body’s energy (or calorie) needs. There is something called “RED-S,” which stands for Relative Energy Deficiency in Sports. There is a ton that can happen to the body if an athlete is not getting enough energy from food. GI issues, cardiac issues, psychological issues and low energy levels/decreased performance, just to name a few. I find that it can be so difficult for athletes, particularly female athletes, because society’s mentality is to “eat less.” However, for your body to work properly, especially when you are eating to perform in a sport, it’s critical to put back in what you are putting out.
Meeting Micronutrient Needs
Going along with getting adequate macronutrient needs. It’s also critical that athletes are getting in those micronutrients, also known as vitamins and minerals. Some nutrients that are typically missed include, sodium, iron, calcium, and vitamin D. I actually wrote a blog about 4 Important Micronutrients For Marathon Runners, which highlights a few nutrients that I just mentioned.
Flexibility in Eating
There is wiggle room for “fun foods” and eating out with friends. It’s important to note that eating healthy also means having a healthy relationship with food. So, food should take up an “appropriate” amount of brain space and not feel too overwhelming.
Taking Breaks from Activity
Okay, so this one isn’t completely related to nutrition. But, it’s highly important to give your body a break! This allows your muscles to relax and can support some muscle growth. When you’re always training, your muscles are constantly wearing and tearing. Think about that! Maybe it’s important to plan some off days into a hectic training schedule.