With the rise of more competitive forms of exercise like Crossfit over the past several years, many people have come to think of themselves as athletes who wouldn’t traditionally fall under that previously limited category. And, by right of the intensity of the training they undergo, many have every reason to classify themselves that way.
But if you train like an athlete, shouldn’t you eat like one? In fact, this is often a missing piece of the equation and the reason that many individuals stall in their training or even deal with injuries; they’re diet isn’t keeping up with their workouts.
So, how can you get past this? How can you eat like an athlete?
Know Your Body, Know Your Sport
First of all, we need to be clear that dietary demands are – or, at least, should be – highly personalized. The amount of total calories that you need, as well as the proportions of your micro and macronutrients will vary widely from person to person. Your weight, gender, fitness level, training style, training frequency, goals, age and overall health status will all greatly influence your diet. And athletes not only understand this, they account for it.
To start with, you’ll need to know your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) – the amount of calories that you use to just stay alive. From there, you will need to calculate the number of calories you burn when you’re going about your average day, known as Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).
Of course, total calories aren’t the only things you need to consider. Athletes have various needs when it comes to individual macro and micronutrients. While this is a huge topic – impossible to cover here – we’ll try to give you some guidelines based on the two main categories of sport.
Endurance athletes – The practice of packing away huge amounts of carbohydrates, called carbo-loading, has a long and proud history among endurance athletes. In truth, though, your body has the ability to store a pretty impressive amount of carbohydrate fuel – enough to last about 90 minutes. This means that the standard diet provides more than enough fuel for some endurance events like 5Ks. For longer races, athletes will need to load up on slow-digesting carbohydrates in the days before an event. If the event lasts longer than 90 minutes, endurance athletes also typically use a carb-rich gel or drink during the race. Interestingly, endurance athletes also have an oft-neglected need for some extra protein for muscle recovery. A fast digesting complete protein, like Gnarly Whey, will give you exactly the fuel you need for your muscles to repair themselves. Eating excess carbs – preferably of the fast variety – will also give your body plenty of fuel for general use and prevent it from using that protein for anything besides muscle growth.
Strength athletes – Protein is classically linked with weightlifting and muscle building, for good reasons as we’ve seen. Strength athletes, then, need plenty of high-quality protein – though the exact amounts will depend on the individual. That being said, the typical recommendations for protein intake is about 0.68 to 1g per pound of bodyweight. Athletes in need of power, however, should not neglect carbohydrates which are vital for the rapid muscle contractions you rely on. Bodybuilders, on the other hand, generally cut carbs as their competition approaches in order to slim down. Again, the exact diet needed will depend on your individual circumstances.
Keep It Clean
One similarity that stays true for most athletes is their aversion to heavily processed foods and the associated additives. This is a must, for numerous reasons.
Many of the artificial flavorings, dyes, sweeteners, preservatives and other additives thrown into foods have been associated with a long list of varied side effects – including obesity and diabetes. Although the science behind these claims is still in the early stages, the evidence is strong enough that athletes wouldn’t want to risk it.