I read this quote on my Twitter feed a few weeks back and it really reinforced one my philosophies of how to achieve optimal sports performance. It is like the analogy, you would not put diesel fuel in a Formula One car; these cars need an optimum octane fuel blend which is going to keep up with the demands of the finely tuned engine. You must feed the body the right fuel to allow it to work efficiently and effectively. At any level, and especially in an elite setting, all the training in the world is not going to bridge the performance gap for eating foods with poor nutritional value. Sooner rather than later, there will be a plateau in performance, one in which talent cannot overcome, and you will cease to see progressions. If you have athletes who fit this category, this could be the change which could elicit some breakthroughs.
I am a firm believer that nutrition accounts for a high percentage of sporting success. Now, I am not talking about pre-game meals, but about overall nutrition, the foods which athletes consume away from the training setting. This is where the discipline occurs. I often hear about athletes trying a particular supplement yet their body composition is telling me they should be placing their focus in another area. From my experience, and after witnessing the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow, Russia, I am yet to see an elite sportsperson who has been in perhaps the best shape of their career achieve a lifetime best (or win a medal), while looking like an average joe. It just does not happen. Some athletes do not think it makes much of a difference to their performance; I think this is ignorance probably due to lack of education or miseducation on the subject.
Education on diet often needs to be explicitly taught to athletes to make them aware of not only foods which are going to fuel their body effectively, but also specifics regarding nutrient timing in regards to pre, during and post session nutrition. In no way do I profess to be a dietician but I often tell athletes to follow a few simple rules to align their body composition with their commitment level to their sport, event specifics and overall goals. My general rules are simple and common sense:
- Drinks buckets of water each day
- Limit refined sugars (and anything which comes in a packet)
- Monitor levels of complex carbohydrates
- Eat lots of greens (and generally anything which comes out of the ground)
- Eat lean meats
The points above are by no means full proof but I have found these should address many issues which arise in regards to body composition. Some athletes do fit into the category of unknowingly putting less nutritious food in their body, others do it out of convenience or laziness. The discipline is in the details of being prepared and having the right food available to begin with.
Trying to overcome a poor diet by putting in extra sessions is generally counterproductive in several ways because you:
- Increase your overall training load (various risks associated)
- Attempt to complete a greater workload with less efficient fuel
- Reduce your post session physiological recovery window
- Reduce your readiness to compete/train the next day
And, generally those who are eating quick fix meals would not be the ones disciplined enough to be adding sessions to their program. Improving your diet, compared to dieting, is tough as many athletes are attempting to break eating habits which originated from their family household over a sustained period. Like anything new, attempt to start with small changes and go from there. In my opinion, after the initial struggle for acceptance or defiance from these athletes, they will begin to feel and perform better, plus physically see body composition changes which come summer time, will be the biggest sell in itself.
Now all you have to do is get them to buy in! This can often be the hardest part.