A lot of athletes are fixated on trying to develop and eat the perfect sports diet (no sugar, white flour, red meat, processed foods, etc.).
These are the same athletes who scold themselves for “cheating” when they eat a cookie or “being bad” if they sneak a French fry. But the truth is, you don’t have to have a perfect diet to have a very good diet. Sometimes, athletes let their bodies become ravenously hungry because “there was nothing healthy to eat” at an event. Somehow eating a white bagel might negate all other efforts to choose less processed foods.
As you make changes to your diets in efforts to be healthier and fit for your sport, I suggest you think about enjoying a diet that balances out to be about 90% “quality calories” and 10% “whatever.” And remember: eating anything is better than eating nothing and letting your body become too hungry, especially before a game, race or workout. On that day when you get stuck without your trail mix, I’d rather see you munch on a candy bar for a mid-afternoon snack than abuse your body with lack of fuel.
That’s right, a nutritionist, just gave you permission to eat a candy bar as opposed to eating nothing, especially if you have physical activity of any kind planned for later that afternoon! (Living “too hungry” is abusive, and can really negatively affect your energy levels for your competitions. Don’t do that!) But the better option is to carry wholesome “emergency food” with you — a granola bar, packet of nuts, or energy bar — so you can prevent yourself from getting too hungry in the first place.
Written by: Nancy Clark MS RD, who has a private practice in the Boston-area where she teaches athletes one-on-one how to eat to win. She is author of the best-selling Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook (www.nancyclarkrd.com).