Eat to Perform

As an athlete, I frequently get asked a variation of two questions:

  1. What supplements do you take?
  2. What does your diet look like?

The answer to the first question is simple, so let’s get that out of the way. I take a 65 mg of iron each day (I permanently live at altitude) and 2-3g of fish oil. That’s it.

The answer to the second question is not really that complex, but it’s not as simple as listing two items. If I were to make a broad generalization, I believe this question is primarily asked in order to find ways to be skinnier. I think the better question might be, “How can I eat better to get faster?”

Athletes who tend to focus on weight as the primary indicator to performance tend to train to eat, instead of eating to train. I see a couple common traits with these kinds of athletes.

  • They tend to always define their current fitness based on their current weight as opposed to their current training.
  • They rarely, if ever, have their best performances (at least in IM racing) when they are their lightest. It usually occurs when they are “heavy.”

This is not to say that body composition and good nutrition are not key components to performance. However, eating for performance is not the same as eating for appearance. Developing a nutrition strategy that allows for the best consistency in training and in recovery is what I try to seek out for myself. This applies to both the types of foods that I eat and the timing of when eat.

In an attempt to answer the second question above, I am going to highlight some of the observations I have made about my own diet. This is not meant to be a guideline for others, just a reflection of myself.

  • I never count calories. I simply try to eat good foods until I am satisfied.
  • I tend to take in more calories during training than others might. This primarily consists of sports nutrition products, similar to what I use when racing. I want to avoid depletion training that might force me to take in a lot more calories when I’m not training.
  • I stack training sessions togethers and eat bigger meals before and after. If there are three sessions it might look like this: Meal, session one, small snack, session two, meal, break, meal, session three, meal. In the past, meals one and three were the biggest, but I have since moved to taking in more in the latter half of the day. While many do the exact opposite, I find this to be the better answer for me.
  • I do not eat a low-fat diet. My diet regularly includes whole eggs, avocados, nuts and nut butters, some cheeses, salmon, dark meat, olive oil and butter.
  • I do not eat a low-carbohydrate diet. While I hardly ever eat pasta or dry cereals, I do eat (white) rice, potatoes, oatmeal and bread on top of regular doses of fruits and vegetables (LOTS of onions and tomatoes).
  • I eat protein at every meal.
  • I weigh myself every morning, but not as a way to avoid weight gain. Instead, I look to see if there are any big fluctuations from a median morning weight. If I see big shifts in weight loss, I might be low on glycogen or possibly a little low on fluid. If its high, its likely from a long day of training before and usually the result of not eating enough throughout the training (but tons afterwards). When I’m training well and eating well, I usually see really consistent numbers every morning.

The list above is not meant to be anything more than a simple observation of a sample size of one (i.e., me). Just remember to ask yourself: “Am I eating in a way that supports the training I am trying to achieve?” If you can answer that question with “yes” then there is no better way to eat for you.