As someone who regularly runs marathons and trains six days a week, food not only sustains my training but also fuels it. The need for healthy and delicious foods is important for everyone, but for athletes that need grows even stronger. Even the best athletes are unable to perform without proper nutrition, which got me thinking about my own eating habits.
There are lots of ways to approach eating, but for me focusing on a largely plant-based diet of sustainably grown or raised whole foods is best. As an athlete, I maintain a very active lifestyle, and so I also need my food to be able to fuel me through long training runs and hard workouts. Plus, who wants to do all of that work without a reward? The result is a diet filled with nourishing, delicious foods without any type of deprivation. It took me years to fine tune what works for me; below are my best tips for eating like an athlete.
Fear No Fat
The 80s and 90s drove people away from fat by the masses. As a kid, I grew up learning that the fats in food became fat on your body. But the times have changed, and science has shown that our bodies need healthy fats to function. Athletes in particular require fat to maintain strenuous training and exercise. It was hard at first, but the fear of fat can be overcome. I like to incorporate lots of healthy fats into my diet in the form of avocados, nuts and nut butters, coconut oil, olive oil, and even butter.
Carbs Are King
Chances are if you’re an athlete (or like to exercise a lot), you expend a lot of energy. I personally spend up to 10 hours a week running, and need all of the energy I can get. Enter carbohydrates, a simple form of energy that is present in nearly all types of foods. Carbs have received a bad rap in the last decade or two, but they don’t need to be sworn off. In fact, for endurance athletes, pre- and post-workout snacks should ideally have a four-to-one carb-to-protein ratio to best fuel and repair your body. Of course, not all carbohydrates are equal; I try to focus on whole grains and fruits and vegetables as my primary sources.
Your Body Knows Best
I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I’ve tried lots of different types of diets, and most of them didn’t leave me feeling very good. The truth is, your body knows what it needs best. For years I was a strict vegetarian, but once I started running more frequently I found that I really craved protein, particularly fish. Instead of denying my body, I started to incorporate fish and seafood into my diet and have never felt better. Just because one diet works for one person does not mean that it will be perfect for another. Try different foods, tune into how your body feels, and make food choices based on your own needs. This could mean you try eating gluten-free or dairy-free, for example. But it could also mean that you instead start to eat gluten or dairy. The best advice for eating like an athlete? Eat foods that make your body feel good so that in your workouts you can feel good, too.
Everything in Moderation
If you exercise a lot, you should be rewarding yourself for all of that hard work. Healthy and nutritious foods are important to sustain activity, but the occasional treat is important for sustaining happiness and well-being. One of the many benefits of being an athlete is that you can more or less get away with eating just about anything. To avoid spiraling into a pit of chocolate cake, be sure to reward yourself every now and then with dessert, a glass of wine, or fried foods. It’s true, some foods aren’t very healthy, but I say all things in moderation is key to a healthy and happy food balance.
Every body is different, but for me eating like an athlete has helped me to feel healthy, happy, and satisfied through hard workouts and rest days alike. My hope is that my tips help and inspire you to make good choices for your own body and activity level; best of luck!