Does dieting affect your sports performance?

We have all heard the advice;

“To perform better you must train harder”

“You have to get your nutrition perfect”

“You have to keep pushing”

 

We are currently surrounded by a culture that promotes “no excuses”, “Go hard or go home”, “No bad foods during the racing season”, “Push beyond your limits”, “Eat clean get lean”

 

Health is represented by visible abs and muscles, and taking rest is deemed as ‘weak’

 

 

Have we considered the impact this culture has on us?

 

Food provides us with the energy we need to function and perform day-to-day tasks. Every bodily process (that we can’t even see) requires food to power it. Think our reproductive system, cell growth, digestion etc

 

There is so much power in food. However, we are seeing an increasing amount of dieting approaches with these restrictive diets creeping their way into the athletic population – with detrimental impacts!

 

There is a misconception that athletes are unstoppable. There is no holding them back. They can push through the pain, accomplish feats that some can only dream of, have the perfect mindset. Right?

Not necessarily!!

There can come a stage where athletes crave control and seek perfection in all they do.

Athlete running

May I present my story in relation to this?

 

 

My story goes like many others…

An athlete, fit and healthy, but wanting to be “better”. So, I followed a dangerous road of being overly fixated on nutrition whilst continuing to follow an intense training program. Which ended up leading to health consequences both physically and mentally.

 

Over a period of a few months, I followed a strict and restrictive diet that didn’t match my fueling needs. These unhealthy habits were then reflected in my training and racing performances.

 

Taylah Clegg

Very soon I became aware something wasn’t right. I remember being so exhausted and sick. I wasn’t able to recover properly, I always felt tired no matter how much sleep I got, and I reached a stage where I realised I could only do so much for myself, I needed extra support. Which was the hardest, but the best thing to reach out for.

From my GP, I was taken to the emergency department, then to ICU, and was under the care of health professionals for a few weeks. I do not believe it’s necessary for me to go into any more details, but this experience was a huge wake-up call, and certainly indicated a need for drastic, but necessary changes.

 

This is certainly something I never thought a ‘fit’ and ‘healthy’ athlete like me would ever go through. It was, however, certainly the moment I realised the importance of fueling appropriately.

“Sometimes we have to hit rock bottom before rising to the top”

 

 

So why do I place such importance on ‘food as fuel now?

Other than experiencing the extreme impacts of under-fueling as an athlete, I have also come to understand, through working with a dietitian, the ways strategic fueling can be used with positive implications on performance and overall wellbeing.

 

Whilst I am an advocate for healthy eating, I advocate just as much the importance of having a healthy mindset around food.

I believe healing my relationship with food was something that didn’t happen overnight. It was a process. Something I had to keep working on, but it was definitely worth it.

Each time I sat down to a nutritious meal or had a slice of cake for my friend’s birthday, I saw the incredible benefits food has on our body, and start seeing ‘food as fuel’, as opposed to fearing the calories, nutrients or sugar in it. Because this is the food which will nourish my body, it will fuel my training (no I don’t have to burn it off), it will make me feel good, it’s something I will look back on with happy memories, it’s not going to make me unhealthy, I don’t have to skip meals after this, I am looking after myself and this is one of the highest forms of self-care.

 

I believe it was when I no longer saw ‘food as the enemy’ and when my training and racing began to come together that I finally understood how important food was in fueling my performance.

 

“Don’t dwell on what went wrong. Instead, focus on what to do next. Spend your energies on moving forward toward finding the answer”.

 
 

From the messages presented I hope the importance of fueling our bodies as athletes, is seen as important. We are all different and unique, therefore we all eat differently, train differently and require individualized advice.

Key points and advice from this post:

  • Find a supportive coach
  • Work with a sports dietitian, they are there to help!
  • Don’t believe everything you see on social media (it can be misleading)
  • Taking health risks for a perceived competitive edge will make you lose in the long run.
  • Don’t remove major food groups from your diet
  • Appreciate your own healthy, active body. Optimal weight for health AND performance is different for everyone.
  • Be a role model with both your words and actions. Speak up when you hear others making negative comments about weight, diet or body shape.
  • Be wary of those who value your competitive success over your well-being.
  • Don’t assume that fat loss or weight loss enhances performance
  • Be patient with yourself. Any positive change is worthwhile but can take time

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