Friday, November 23, 2007

Food

A good friend recently sent me a few links about nutrition for sport. He's all fired up on this idea of counting "blocks" of carbs, protein and fat. I wrote the following back to him, then thought it was kinda interesting so here it is...

Don't worry too much about what you eat, but eat simple foods when given a choice. Train hard. Drink water like a drunkard. Drink alcohol in moderation. Direct your mental energy toward performance, not worrying about how many blocks of whatever you eat. I think one of all-time classic training errors is to worry about things that you don't need to, especially food. Your body will respond to hard training and sports as it needs to. When I run a lot I get skinny. When I paddle my kayak or fly a lot I get relatively heavy. I travel a lot and don't always have "perfect" food available, but if I make the "best" choice on the menu it's OK in the long run.

During competition food intake needs to be a slightly more organized as the stress of competing or performing can result in low energy levels, but the rest of the time simply eating good solid food and training hard will produce the body type you need for the sport you do. I would wager that the most successful athletes in the world spend far more time and energy thinking about how to perform and compete than how many scoops of cereal they eat for breakfast, especially in the sports we do. I have trained with some of the best climbers, kayakers and distance athletes on the planet. They did not measure their food. I've also trained with some of the most ripped, fit looking individuals on the planet, yet these same individuals don't win, and don't perform at the highest levels in their sports. The best athletes I've ever trained with worry first and foremost about getting their training done so that it leads to success, and how to organize their lives so they have the best possible chance at success. Food is an important but ultimately relatively minor part of that equation.

Sharma is not counting how many fucking corn flakes he eats. Sharma is kicking ass. Tiger Woods is not counting how many caviar crackers he eats. Tiger Woods is kicking ass. My sport climbing results improved dramatically when I stopped worrying so much about what I ate and started focusing more on how to be a better climber. It's always tempting to focus on things that are relatively easy to control such as food intake, rather than the more complicated but more important "real" goal: performance. Form follows function, focus on the function and kick ass. Eat when hungry. Don't eat when not hungry. Get up from the table feeling slightly less than full and you'll get skinnier. Get up from the table feeling stuffed and you'll likely get fatter. Your body is a finely tuned machine for doing what you want. Don't fuck with it or it will get confused.

When the emphasis on food goes from "I need fuel and enough of it train hard" to, "What does the diet plan say I need?" then things are going to go wrong. If you bonk on a long ski tour and then get back to the car and chow down an entire pizza you've blown it. You should have eaten the pizza before and during the long ski tour, no matter what the current diet rage says.

If you're truly fat and that fat is hindering your performance I'd argue that you're not training well and that you're using food as something other than fuel. Focus on how to change that equation...

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This is aimed at outdoor sports athletes.

7 comments:

Apex Distribution said...

Awesome what you say about the focusing on the easy targets (Well, because its easy) makes a lot of sense, I think people do a similar thing with gear "If I have these tools I can climb a grade harder!" when maybe they (occasionally me) should be saying if I climb more, I can climb a grade harder. - I am off for a turkey sandwich & a chocolate log! ;-)

Kim Graves said...

Hi Will,

Interesting post. I suspect that you, as a world class athlete, have largely internalized the “rules” of nutrition and diet and are more tuned into your body’s needs. As a non-expert I find I need more “guidance.” When I eat the Zone I know when to get up from the table. I assume the longer I eat “the diet” the more I too will internalize that bodily feeling of when it’s time to stop eating – that I really shouldn’t have had that third piece of pecan pie last night at Thanksgiving. Man it was good! ;-)

Butch said...

There was a nutrition study done on Kenyan athletes (ultra long distance runners, some of whom are sub 2:15 marathoners etc). Their diet was basically something like this (in terms of where they got their calories):

-- 15% from refined sugar (!)
-- 10% dairy products
-- 50% vegetables and grains (but mostly grains)
-- 25% everything else, mainly meat, eggs etc.

They also drank alcohol sometimes, used caffeine (in tea), and generally did not take vitamins or other supplements.

So...you can eat well, and kick as..

Lisa Phinn said...

Hi Will

Interesting blog, very intersting about the food...speaking of which did you enjoy yours on Saturday afternoon?! I REALLY enjoyed my climbing, pity you couldn't make it. Dont worry about it, I know how hard it is to be popular!! :) I'm sure you'll be back in sunny Scotland sometime soon. Drop me a line at: lisa-p-85@hotmail.co.uk.

Lisa
Dundee Mountain Film Festival

Lisa Phinn said...

Hi Will

Interesting blog, very intersting about the food...speaking of which did you enjoy yours on Saturday afternoon?! I REALLY enjoyed my climbing, pity you couldn't make it. Dont worry about it, I know how hard it is to be popular!! :) I'm sure you'll be back in sunny Scotland sometime soon. Drop me a line at: lisa-p-85@hotmail.co.uk.

Lisa
Dundee Mountain Film Festival

Will said...

"eat well and kick ass," yeah, I like that!

I don't think I eat perfectly, just well. I see far too many athletes looking at the "symptoms" of non-performance and not enough at how to actually perform. That's a bad sentence, but the idea behind it is true--focus on performance first. After a certain point, endless tweaking of diet is non-productive and in fact takes more mental energy than it's worth. That energy should be directed into figuring out how to PERFORM...

Lisa, sorry I missed you for climbing, thanks for the invite! The lunch (red meat and red wine) on the Discovery was very cool, and I'll be back in Scotland one day. Thanks again!

Best,
WG

Linda Salamone said...

great "food post". i would stress eating food that actually IS food. like as unprocessed as possible and looking like it did originally.