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The Role Nutrition Plays in Performance and Recovery
by Coach Crystal McCullough, RN (Find Crystal on Instagram @crystalmac_72 )
You know the old cliché saying of “you can’t out train a bad diet”? Well, it’s true! There are many aspects that go into an athlete’s training and nutrition is one of the most important. What you do inside the gym is only a fraction of what is required of you as an athlete to perform at your best.
What is the point in spending hours on end in the gym trying to reach goals if you aren’t willing to put in the work outside of the gym where you spend the majority of your day? You should be putting as much time into your recovery as you do into your training. One very important aspect of which is nutrition.
I’ve recently heard athletes who have aspirations of competing at a high level for weightlifting, powerlifting, or CrossFit say they don’t have time to cook or keep up with what or how much they are eating. This baffles me. These same people spend 2+ hours a day in the gym training, but won’t take the extra few minutes a day it takes to prep meals or track their daily intake.
What you put in your body on a daily basis will have an affect on your performance AND your health. Not taking in enough calories can cause loss of muscle mass, fatigue, moodiness, slower metabolism, and the list goes on. Taking in too many calories can lead to weight gain and ultimately to chronic illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure. With excess calories, normally comes excess refined sugars, which are a huge contributor to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other cardiovascular diseases.
When someone goes from having poor eating habits to exercising and eating higher quality foods, they will often see results. They may not necessarily have to track their macros for the first part of their journey, but at some point, they will most likely need to start tracking in order to continue progressing.
For high level athletes, the difference between a gold and silver medal on the platform, could very well come down to something as simple nutrition. A holistic approach to training would include recovery: nutrition, sleep, massage, chiropractic, mobility work, etcetera. If you want to be the best at what you do, you need to take this holistic approach and what and how much food you put in your mouth is well within your control.
There are those of you that your job is to train. You really have no excuse not to eat right, get proper sleep, and get regular bodywork. This should be considered part of your job. Don’t get me wrong, though, I realize most of us have jobs and responsibilities outside of training. We have kids and spouses and we have to juggle all of this with getting our training in and usually eating differently than our families. It can be tough, but these shouldn’t be excuses. We will make time for the things that are most important to us.
Whether you are a full-time athlete or an athlete juggling a career and/or kids, there are steps you can take to keeping your food intake in check on a daily basis.
1. Have a Prep Day – Decide what you want the bulk of your protein to be for the week, pick a starch (rice, sweet potatoes, quinoa), and vegetables. Pick a day and spend a couple of hours pre-cooking you’re the majority of your meals. This will give you go to meals even on the go and in a crunch.
2. Have snacks readily available – Have protein bars for on the go. My favorite kinds of bars a Oh Yeah! One bars and Fit Joy bars. They have a great macro breakdown. Also, I love rice cakes and peanut butter or an apple/banana and peanut butter.
3. Track It – Use an application such as MyFitnessPal to track your macros. It helps to know everything you are eating and drinking. A lot of times, we don’t realize how little or how much we are consuming until we track it. Also, if we know we have to track it, we might be less likely to deviate.
4. Pre Plan – Don’t wait until the end of the night and go back in to track the current day’s food intake. Put everything you plan on eating into your app the night before or the morning of so you can make adjustments as necessary. Waiting until right before you go to bed to only realize you are short 75 carbs doesn’t do you much good.
5. Research Food Establishments – If you know you are eating out, research the menu of the restaurant and decide what you want to order prior to getting there. This would tie back in with number 4 by pre-planning. If you know you are going to be eating more carbs when you go out, you can be sure to save enough if you plan properly.
6. Forgive Yourself – some times, if we don’t preplan or prepare, we end up overdoing it and guilt normally follows. With guilt, one bad meal turns in to two bad meals and then three. Instead, forgive yourself and move on.
7. Moderation – The great thing about counting and tracking macros is it is sustainable. Pick high quality, nutrient dense food to eat most of the time, and enjoy your favorite treats now and then. I refer back to number 7 when I say that indulging once in a while is ok and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it.
All in all, it isn’t an easy path when you are following your goals of being a high level athlete. Sacrifices are usually made and it isn’t always fun. Keep your eye on the prize and remember, the little things like what food you consume can play a huge role in your performance.
Check out one of the Eat What You Want Online Teams:
Check them out here: ⇒ ‘Team Eat and Lift What You Want’
About the Author:
Crystal McCullough, R.N.
“41-year old Army wife and Mom to a genetic 13-year-old freak. Basketball player turned runner turned CrossFitter turned powerlifter. Crystal has podiumed over the years at 5k and 10k road races and local CrossFit competitions. She is currently a 72k USAPL National Level powerlifter. Her best competition lifts are 145k squat, 77.5k bench, and 170k deadlift. She is an RN with a Masters degree in Nursing Education, a CrossFit affiliate owner, and a Mash Elite Performance coach. She has several years of coaching experience in the CrossFit community and is a life long learner of the art and science of the vast strength and conditioning world. She is currently studying for her CSCS.”