Is ‘Healthy Eating’ Damaging Your Performance?
The relationship between nutrition and sporting performance is broadly understood by many people. Athletic performance often pushes your body to its limits and the correct nutrition is required for both fuel and recovery. But what happens when the drive to eat healthy to improve performance goes too far? Could this ultimately be having a negative effect on your ability to perform at your best?
Many athletes, both professional and recreational, are often told that the quality of their diet will have a significant impact on their performance. And whilst this is technically true, when taken to the extreme it can begin to impede performance rather than improve it. Excessively healthy, or clean eating unfortunately isn’t a new phenomenon. This behaviour often stems from a good place with a genuine desire to eat healthy, however for some this can evolve into something more obsessive. This can then begin to have negative impacts on the body such as lower immune function, malnutrition and bone degeneration. Even if your diet isn’t at the extreme end but you focus on eating a 100% whole foods diet you could still be negatively impacting your athletic performance.
Processed foods, simple carbohydrates and highly palatable, energy dense foods are not inherently considered healthy and yet all of them have a place and a purpose in an athlete's diet. Here are a few reasons why:
Simple carbohydrates are digested and released into the blood quickly; something that is necessary when you're in the middle of racing or competing and in need of quick energy. You could choose a banana to re-fuel in the middle of a race, but the work of chewing and digesting would likely take more time and deliver less fuel to your muscles than consuming simple sugars from dried fruit, sports gel or energy blocks would. Aside from this, consuming simple sugars immediately following a workout helps trigger the necessary insulin response for muscle repletion and repair. This allows more fuel to reach your muscles in a timely manner, which if you have another training session within a short period of time, is crucial for recovery.
Eating only whole foods increases satiation and you may find yourself struggling to meet your energy and macronutrient needs. This may lead to unintentional under-fuelling and inhibiting recovery whilst also putting yourself at risk of fatigue, injury and illness.
Allowing yourself to consume highly palatable, energy dense foods when you are craving them will also help you meet the energy demands of your body and prevent under-fuelling. And in the long run, being chronically under-fuelled is far more harmful to your performance and your body than eating any one food, healthy or not. These energy dense foods also often contain fat, an essential nutrient that when low is associated with greater risk of injury.
Of course, as an athlete, knowing what type of food to eat and when throughout the day can be extremely helpful for recovery. The desire to eat nutrient rich whole foods is not inherently a bad thing. But it is important to ask yourself, is you healthy eating behaviour really helping your performance or is it holding you back from being the best that you can be?
If you're serious about fuelling your body for better performance but you need some support in improving your relationship with food, please get in touch with the team via our Contact Us page.