Some of you may have seen my Instagram posts this last weekend and thought, "What? Isn't she a sports and wellness dietitian? How does this match up? How is she talking about nutrition for sports and health but then her posts show pictures of eating BBQ mac & cheese and chocolate strawberry cupcakes?"
I thought I would take this opportunity to write a non-recipe post because I do think this topic should be brought to light. As a young or adult athlete, it's important to surround yourself with mostly nutrient-dense fueling foods to support your workouts and training. However, it does not mean that you have to eat "perfectly" all the time. What does "eating perfectly" really mean anyway? A sports or fitness "diet" (and I use the word "diet" here to define a way of eating - not as a means of restriction) still makes room for food that you love that may provide nothing more than satisfaction and a smile.
Like you have probably heard many other dietitians say, strict restriction, whether in the form of calories or of certain foods, only leads to eventual feelings of deprivation and then overeating those foods later on. In the end that is counterproductive for the athlete or exerciser.
As a young competitive athlete, I probably took this too seriously in the beginning, being overly rigid on when I allowed myself "treats" or those foods I really loved but didn't think were "good" foods for my sport. Later on, after I had changed my food and meal mentality and was eating more, eating on a semi-structured schedule to support my training and allowing myself those favorite foods when I really wanted them, that is when I actually started seeing improvements in my performances. No, I didn't eat french fries or chicken tenders before I went out on the ice, but I may have included them later on when it wouldn't be a pre-event meal. I ate my favorite warm chocolate chip cookies when I really wanted one and loved grabbing fro yo with my friends. I was incorporating some of my favorite foods into my regular balanced nutrient - dense meals & snacks and focusing more on the placement of these foods vs elimination.
As athletes and exercisers, we need to remember that it's all about meal and snack timing. When I go in and talk to high school athletes, I'm not telling them "oh, you can never eat a hamburger" or "yeah, you have to drop the ice cream for good". No, I actually never talk about eliminating. What I talk about is placement and what type of foods our bodies need for the best workouts and performances. I talk about what those pre and post event meals and snacks should consist of to give us the most energy and the best recovery so performance can improve and injury can be prevented. I have the same overall message for adult exercisers. I ask them to think about and create their plan. I ask them to write down their nutrition plan to support training and performance, which includes pre and post exercise meals and snacks. This sets the base and then other foods that may not normally be in your plan can be added when the occasion arrives.
So, back to Cupcakes and BBQ. I love fresh, simple meals. I think that's pretty clear from my Instagram account. I have learned over the years what foods fuel great runs and workouts for me and what I need after to help my feel stronger for future sessions. However, if I'm in a new city then I'm going to be curious and try new foods or, if I'm in an old familiar city like Memphis, I'm going to enjoy those foods that bring back memories. When you go to Memphis, you've gotta have BBQ. I have a goal of taking my husband to a different top BBQ place in Memphis on each visit, so this past trip was to The Commissary. I'm not a huge sweets person, but when in Memphis, I have to take a trip to Muddy's. It's the best cupcake shop local to Memphis and it was started by a girl who graduated from my high school. It was a fun, relaxing and delicious trip to Memphis mixed with reading, running, resting and eating at all of my local favorites. So, no, I don't eat a cupcake or big plate of BBQ before a long run and I certainly didn't eat them before an ice skating training session, but I will enjoy it on a trip home to Memphis where I want to soak up all of my familiar favorites.
Whether you are a competitive or elite athlete or a fitness enthusiast, remember that all foods can still fit into a sports nutrition plan at the right time. Eat to fuel and recover most of the time, but allow yourself to still experience the joy of food and the joy of eating.