Training for a performance based goal should not imply that one is opting for their health and body composition to slip for the sake of reaching that goal. This seems to be a misunderstanding amongst entry level to seasoned trainees and it is the fear of having a negative impact on health for the sake of improved performance, or vice versa, that is holding many people back from getting to their long term goal.
I have seen it time and time again: people puzzled as to why they see no change in their physique or why they can’t seem to conquer a particular weight or break past a desired race time. At the beginning stages of training, poor nutrition habits will have little to no effect on performance or body composition so long they are training consistently and somehow eating in a calorie deficit. However, this is often attributed to the simple fact that they are doing more than they were before: the new and progressive stimulus equates to a new adaptation. However, at some point when one crosses the bridge from beginner to intermediate, progress comes to a halt and the frustration settles in. They push harder and add an additional stimulus (more cardio, extra core work, two-a-days, etc) yet are never able to satisfy their need to match that initial drastic transformation.
Though we can identify the issue at hand by taking a look into their training, intensity, etc…I’d like to keep it short and stay within the realm of nutrition. We are all well aware of the handful of fad diets out there that promise magical shifts in body composition and overall health. So long adherence to the diet is in place, these usually succeed in serving their purpose: shed pounds and improve health. And for that very reason, I applaud the system for making a positive impact. Where the issue lies is when the trainee begins to develop in their knowledge in training, venturing further into the many avenues of fitness. It is at this point that their former restrictive diet is no longer able to serve it’s purpose for the individual. Simply, the food they eat is not fueling them efficiently for their activity.
I feel the need to harp on this subject as this is the majority of people who work me. Being around for a while as a coach, most of my people aren’t on their first rodeo. Whether they have worked with a trainer before who guided them for a short season or have tried numerous angles to reach their goal themselves, these people want to finally cross that bridge from beginner to intermediate or intermediate to advanced. A great challenge for me as a coach is helping them let go of the idea that what formerly helped them succeed will not play much of a role this time around…
The zone diet, Paleo, Atkins, whole 30, etc…they are all generally good diets. Most people who truly follow them lose the weight and notice remarkable changes in their overall health. But it is the realization that the dietary restrictions aren’t sustainable long term that leads many to plummet and feel lost at sea once again. Cutting sugars is an easy way to noticeably eat less calories. Increasing the volume of vegetables or animal fats will certainly help with satiety. Withholding gluten and dairy products can aid in ruling out what may be causing indigestion or inflammation (though this is often due to the fact it had been taken in excess or combined with items that amplify the issue at hand).
So if restrictive diets are so great at improving health, why are they not carrying over to elevating one’s level of performance? The answer is simple: lack of carbohydrates. Adding additional training or cranking up the intensity (a new stimulus/more energy burned) equates to a higher demand in energy. This energy is replenished through carbohydrates and will be broken down and utilized no matter it’s form, glycemic index, etc. I have met hundreds of people who train at the frequency (not to be mistaken for intensity) of a D1 athlete yet have nothing to show for it simply because they are not:
1) sufficiently fueled for the training at hand
2) not able to recover and adapt from the training stimulus.
This is not to say that you cannot succeed at the highest levels of performance following the aforementioned diets. However, you are making it much harder by limiting the resources you are able to pull from. When you reach a certain level, you will be training at different intensities throughout the week. This means that your eating needs to match your training. This may also mean that you will have seasons in which your nutrition will shift for the sake of adaptation. For example: if you want to get stronger over the long term, you will at some point (probably two to three times a year) want to hit a hypertrophy phase to build size. Your nutrition will change as your training and seasonal goal changes. The fad diet and it’s many restrictions is limited in it’s ability to adapt to your training. If you want to cross that bridge, you will at some point need to start fueling like an athlete.
Here is a rough example of a nutrition plan I wrote for an MMA fighter losing weight during fight camp:
Two A Day
6:00 AM- Strength & Conditioning
7:00 AM (Post-Workout)- 25g whey protein + 50g dextrose powder
9:00 AM (Breakfast)- 1 cup oatmeal with 1/2 cup blueberries & 1 tbsp brown sugar, 1 cup greek yogurt
12:00 PM (Pre-workout)- Peanut butter jelly sandwich, 1 large orange
1:00 PM- Skill-work, low intensity training
2:30 PM (Post-Workout)- 32 oz gatorade
3:00 PM (Lunch)- 1 cup pasta with parmesan cheese + condiments of choice + mixed sauteed vegetables + 4 oz italian seasoned grilled chicken breast, 1 large apple
8:00 PM (Dinner)- 4 oz salmon, 1 cup quinoa, 2 servings sauteed vegetables
Regular Training Day
8:00 AM (Breakfast)- Large bagel with cream cheese, 1 cup mixed fruit, 1 cup egg whites
12:00 PM (Pre-workout)- Peanut butter jelly sandwich, 1 large orange
1:00 PM- Sparring, high intensity training
2:30 PM (Post-Workout)- 32 oz gatorade, banana
3:00 PM (Lunch)- 1 cup fried rice+ stir fry vegetables + 4 oz teriyaki marinated grilled chicken breast, 1 cup pineapple
8:00 PM (Dinner)- 4 oz skirt steak, 1 large baked sweet potato, medium salad with mixed vegetables + condiments of choice
If your goal is performance driven, an adequate carb intake will help you train at the intensities needed to get to that next level while also recover in between sessions. Even if your goal is just aesthetically based, a moderate intake won’t do you harm so long you stay within the necessary calorie deficit to put you on a thermogenic state. If anything, it will help you train harder, not feel so sluggish, and keep you from hitting the wall mid workout. With all that said, eat your carbs and keep training hard!
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