Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Eat this

I've received a few emails lately asking about "Sports Performance Diets." To sum up my philosophy on food for sports: You are what you eat, but the human body is amazing at processing just about anything. Here are some free-form thoughts:

-Unless you are truly "Elite," and by this I mean actually in the top one percent or so of a sport and not just claiming to be elite because you can do a workout that makes you gasp then what you eat is relevant only in that you have enough decent calories in your diet, but not way too many or you'll be too fat. Some body fat is OK; if you've been 12 percent your entire life then it's probably not worth the effort to drop to six percent, nor is it a realistic goal that will actually improve your performance as much as an extra few hours of training a week.

-The classic story about sports nutrition comes from my wife, Kim, who actually was an elite athlete--we know this because she got a scholarship to go to University as a nordic ski racer, along with some Americans and a few Norwegians. The Norwegians would win or place high in the ski race, eat a couple of boxes of Oreos for post-race recovery, have a beer, eat another huge dinner, and sleep 10 hours a night. The Americans would place mid-pack, recover with sports drinks, eat a "Pritikin" (very little fat) dinner, sleep poorly, and not improve. The Americans would also obsess about vitamins, body fat, etc. The Norwegians won races, the Americans worried about their diets... Chris Sharma does not eat Paleo/Zone/WTF. In fact, I can't think of one truly elite athlete that follows any incredibly strict diet. I would bet they are conscious of what they eat because they know their bodies, but not religious about it. Yet there are legions of people out there trying to improve their amateur sports performance through bizzare diets. I would call them idiots, but it's really a form of gullibility brought on by wishful thinking.

-Eat today as you will for the rest of your life. Radical exclusion diets of any kind eventually fail, every single one of them. There are no exceptions unless your diet kills you before you "fail" at it, which in a way anorexia or malnutrition can...

-The "Paleo/Pritikin/Atkins/Zone/Hollywood/Sports/WTF" diet are all doomed to eventual "failure;" I'd guess that optimistically maybe 1 in 10,000 people following them today will be following them in 20 years. That's the history of every diet ever, so why exactly does anyone think the latest "Best Ever For Sports Performance!!!" plans are any different? Diets and Ponzi schemes all end the same: the people who bought in either quit or are taken for a ride. It doesn't matter if it's real estate, investments or diets, it's never truly "different this time."

-Once you realize that the entire "diet" industry, even the "sports" version of it is somewhere between a scam and a religion (many religions have dietary prescriptions come to think of it) then you're on your way to decent nutrition, sports or otherwise.

-Generally eat food that's pretty close to the form it grew or lived in. Eat less when you don't need much energy (sitting at a desk). Eat more calorie-dense foods when you need calories (ski touring, etc.). If you're burning calories like mad ski touring then sugar is great. If you're sitting at a desk then it's not in general.

-Too much of anything for too long is a bad idea. One slice of cheesecake just doesn't matter. One hundred pieces do.

-Read up on insulin, the glycemic index, and listen to your body for what different foods make you feel like. Eat more vegetables for a week. What does that do? Drink less alcohol, drink more alcohol, take some notes, listen. Without the roar of the diet industry in your ears you might be surprised by what you find.

-Exercise hard, regularly. Exercise easily for long periods of time, like walking, regularly. Do sports that require serious effort at least once a week. Set aside one hour every single day to go out and breath hard, outside if at all possible, but at least breathing doing something fun.

-Spend way less time thinking about food than you do enjoying it. If you're spending more time thinking about what to eat than you are eating it then you have an eating disorder. I've seen a lot of athletes spend more time worrying about what they eat than actually training.

-There are no magic bullets, no metabolic master blasters, etc. etc. Sorry, the guy who trains 30 hours a week and eats at McDonalds will destroy the guy who trains five hours a week and eats a perfect Paleo diet. If Paleo boy steps his training up to 30 hours a week then he may be able to compete with McDonald's boy, but even then I'd bet that the skills, quality training time and attitude would still kick Paleo Boy's ass...

-Accept some fluctuation in your body. When you're training really hard and consistently you'll be leaner, stronger and generally "fitter." When you're only training two hours or less a week because of work, family, whatever, your body will change. This is OK, it's normal, either change life or accept it.

Yeah! Now I gotta go train, it's been a lousy two months due to all kinds of great stuff. I traded some fitness for some life stuff for a while, now the stoke is high again, time to get after it!