An Athlete’s Approach to Optimal Eating
I’ve had a great run of weekly guest posts from various people in the fitness world as of late, and I wanted to keep the streak going with another one from Nate Miyaki.
For those unfamiliar, Nate is a regular contributor at T-Nation and generally leans more on the nutrition side of things. I’ve grown to really respect his body of work and appreciate his simple, minimalist (yet very effective) approach to nutrition. In addition, I KNOW he walks the walk and doesn’t just talk a big game. My man is shredded!
I hate to say it, but there are A LOT of people out there that seem (maybe prefer?) to make things waaaaaaay more complicated than they have to be, and the topic of what to eat and when ranks right up there.
Is it better to eat low carb or high carb? Is it okay to eat past 6 PM? Because fruit contains fructose, we should avoid it at all costs, right? Is 1.0 grams of protein per lb of bodyweight best for optimal results or is 1.376 a better number to shoot for? And since everyone and their Little League coach is doing it, what’s the deal with Intermittent Fasting?
You would think, based off how some people dissect every nook and cranny of their diet, that they’re performing rocket science or trying to figure out why it is women are drawn to the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon.
Nonetheless, in today’s post Nate dives into how athlete’s should strive to eat, and offers a sorta pre-game speech to set people straight. His sentiments mirror much of mine, and I think many of you will appreciate it.
From the moment you put on that jersey, grab a bat, strap on the gloves, buckle up the chin strap, climb under the bar, or lace up a pair of sneakers, cleats, or skates; the sands of time start ticking away.
Most athletes only get a relatively short window within which to accomplish something great. That’s a gift in itself, because the majority of people were just not born with the natural talents or skills to even get a chance.
If you’re one of the lucky few, you need to take advantage of that privilege. For once its gone, it’s gone forever. Don’t wake up one morning wishing you had done more when you had the chance. You have the rest of your life to kick back, follow the crowd, and be mediocre.
But while your opportunity is here, right now in this moment, why not do everything possible to give yourself the best chance of succeeding? Why not use every weapon at your disposal to maximize your true athletic potential?
Dietary Discipline & Maximizing Your Potential
One of the most important weapons is your diet. Unfortunately, it is often the most overlooked by performance athletes, because the truth is you can perform decently on a suboptimal diet. Anecdotally, there is no arguing that given some of the sh*t lists I’ve seen from some of my own athletes. Do you even know what a caramel dumpling is?
But you certainly are not maximizing your true potential and performing at your genetic peak with this approach.
Our generation has lost something. We’ve become a bunch of entitled whiners expecting something for nothing, always looking for that quick fix. We’ve lost that ability to strive, to sacrifice, to set goals, to do everything possible to achieve them, and to never waver in their pursuit.
We’ll take short cuts and cheat the system any chance we can get; yet we shy away from the day-to-day grind that is really necessary to climb to the top. We’ll take a pill, but won’t change our daily habits.
So before we spend time getting into dietary details, which we will, we need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. If we don’t solve this riddle first, all subsequent nutrition articles will be meaningless.
Athlete or Average?
You have to decide right now whether you consider yourself an athlete or an average dude (or girl). One gets more leeway, sympathy, and handholding. The other gets a swift kick in the nuts (or female equivalent, metaphorically speaking) when they show up to a training session with a bagel in hand, sipping on a latte.
Are you preparing to fuel your body for battle, or are you, in stealing a line from the great Dan John, “eating like a child” that needs a bag of Skittles to much on while sending your BFF texts about the Twilight Saga?
The average dude comes in for a few workouts a week, then goes and hangs out at Applebee’s. An athlete lives like one 24/7, whether their coach is watching over them or not, whether its “hard” and “inconvenient” or not.
Which are you? There’s no right or wrong answer. But as a coach, I need to know. Because you talk to guys on the field a lot different than the ones sitting in the stands.
It amazes me to see guys and gals train like madmen, then go out and eat pizza and ice cream. They have the discipline of a warrior within the lines, but a bullsh*t excuse-maker outside of it.
You’re saying you have dreams and want to be the best, but your actions are screaming something very different.
It’s Not Just How You Lift, It’s How You Live
Don’t you need to junk-load to increase calories and support your training? No. Never. Do you want to follow plans based on marketing material or plans based on science, or just pure common sense?
What do you think a dietary induced, chronically inflamed body is doing to your ability to recover from your training sessions, or for your nagging knee and shoulder pain?
That pastry sounds like sh*ts and giggles to the average, but its not if you have elite goals.
Cellular integrity, insulin sensitivity, and optimal nutrient partitioning can all degrade over time with a poor diet. What do you think that does to your ability to put on functional muscle that makes you faster and more powerful vs. non-functional fat that makes you slower and less explosive?
And sure, you may be able get away with whatever you want nutritionally in your 20’s. But the small percentage who extend their careers into their latter years are the ones who took care of their bodies and followed an informed path right from the beginning.
You call yourself an athlete, than live like an athlete — on the field, in the gym, and in the kitchen.
Start With the Simple – Optimize Food Choices
I don’t want this article to be just about philosophy, psychology, pontification, and rah-rah ramblings. You need some practicality as well.
So how should an athlete nutritionally support their competition and training demands? Do it through quality, nutrient dense foods that serve a physiological and metabolic purpose.
So hit those high quality animal proteins for the essential amino acids necessary to build lean muscle mass, and for the essential fatty acids and good fats necessary to support optimum hormone production.
We’re talking grass-fed beef, wild fish, free-range poultry, and eggs — all hormone and anti-biotic free, of course.
Don’t eat fast food, salami slices, or candy bars with protein added to it to justify “getting your protein in”. The #5 combo will be waiting for you when you’re trying to grow some chins, not be fast and powerful enough to land that knockout punch on your opponent’s chin.
Include some plant foods like vegetables and whole fruits for a variety of micronutrients and phytonutrients, not a bunch of empty calories combined with randomly shot-gunning a bunch of pills to try and make up for the nutrient deficiencies.
Maybe your mama thinks eating a bowl of cornflakes and chewing on a Flintstones vitamin is the Athlete’s Way. I don’t.
And carbs? I love Paleo nutrition as a baseline template. It automatically gets rid of many of the problematic compounds in the modern Y2K diet. That’s why 80% of my dietary recommendations are based off of it.
But as a high performance athlete, you can’t follow it all the way down the rabbit hole and end up in some dietary cult. You’re not a sedentary, pre-diabetic, insulin resistant office worker. And you are certainly not a frickin’ caveman. You’re a modern athlete with modern performance goals.
The game is different. You need to understand a thing or two about exercise physiology, and integrate some modern, researched, Sports Nutrition principles to properly fuel and recover from your training sessions.
Many athletes get caught up in following the universal, dogmatic proclamations of carbophobic academics whose only sport has ever been jogging (Ron Burgundy pronounces it Yogging). But high intensity strength and intermittent sprint sports are fueled by anaerobic metabolism, which can only run on glucose/glycogen.
That doesn’t mean loading up on bologne sandwiches and fruit roll ups. You want starches without the toxic compounds, potential food allergens, or “anti-nutrients” that can wreck the digestive system, impair nutrient absorption, and leave you tired and lethargic.
So cut the sugar, refined flour, and gluten-based starches. Stick with starchy tubers (yams, sweet potatoes, white potatoes) and white rice to support your training.
Drink some high quality H20 like the Water Boy recommends, not Diet Coke.
I get it. It’s easy to watch highlights of your favorite athlete, or film on your next opponent, or just flip through the pages of Playboy, crank up some AC/DC, and get amped up like a madman to train.
When the adrenaline subsides, and some semblance of a normal human being returns, however, it is a lot harder to get fired up to eat a grass-fed steak and potato instead of pizza and fries. But I believe it’s equally important to your long-term athletic success.
For every one genetically gifted or drug enhanced athlete that can get away with a crappy diet, there are ten that can’t. Everything you put into your body makes a difference. It’s up to you whether that difference is positive or negative.
Nate Miyaki is a fitness author, athlete, and coach. He is the author of the new book “Intermittent Feast: An Evolutionary & Scientific Approach to Slashing Fat”. Visit his site at www.NateMiyaki.com.