A great partnership between training and eating comes about when an athlete weans off food habits that are corrosive and replaces them with ones that scream out top performance.
The three biggest negative food habits that I come across in my coaching are poor drink choices, sugar being used as food and high taste snacks. Let me explain each of these and how to eliminate them.
Athletes need fluids and a lot of them. That is one of the most critical parts of having a body in balance that is trying to work at peak capacity. What liquid is going to be at the top of that list? You can probably guess. It’s pure water.
But what’s on the unsupportive end of the fluid list? One is fruit juice of any kind. I don’t care how organic or natural it is. I don’t care how much you were told as a kid to drink your orange juice. It’s basically just sugar. I’ll go into that one in more depth in the sugar topic in the next section.
The easiest way to eliminate this one is to just avoid have any drinks in the house with fruit juice in them. This includes fruit juice itself (orange, apple, etc) but also natural sodas with fruit juice as an ingredient. Even the amount in those can end up being like the appetizer that taunts you to go for more of the same. If you are craving taste, then get it from a food, not from your big glass of fruit juice.
These are at the top of the “don’t drink” list. They include diet drinks as well as ones with “natural” no calorie sweeteners like stevia. These can make having a body in balance nearly impossible.
When a drink is sweetened with something that has no calories, it tricks your brain into thinking food itself doesn’t have calories. That can lead to overeating. It can cause someone to gain body fat rather than lose it. It makes it tough to even hear your body’s signals about what it is really craving. You may being hearing “I need another Diet Coke” when in reality it is telling you it needs rest or more protein or just pure water. But you’ll never know what that real need is when it gets masked with the no calorie sweeteners.
It’s fairly easy to nip this habit. Most drinks with no calorie sweeteners are carbonated. The solution? Start by having sparkling water with no flavor when you want to reach for your favorite no-cal sweetened drink. The bubbles do something that satisfies, and there’s not the downside of tricking your body into thinking food as a whole has no calories. Over time you won’t even crave the sparkling water.
If it’s the caffeine in your favorite diet drink that you are looking for midafternoon, replace it with the real deal. Have a cup of tea or a small coffee, both without adding sugar. Which leads us to the next big food addition!
Cutting out sugar can be the biggest challenge to having a body in balance. Sugar has an incredibly strong ability to disguise the signals a person’s body is giving them. Yes, you may need more carbohydrates. But the amount you think that is will be skewed if simple sugar is talking. I’m not talking about the sugar in your sports drink that you take in during training. This is about what you eat in your meals, your snacks and any other time when you are not at a heart rate of 150 beats per minute.
A sugar addiction could be from really obvious stuff like sodas. It might be from less obvious things like fruit juice as I mentioned earlier. Maybe it’s your “well earned desert” every night or a blast of syrup on your pancakes before a long ride. Whatever it is, it’s making it difficult to have a body in balance that performs at its peak.
Start with the most habitual simple sugar intake that you do on a regular basis. If it’s desert, then begin with that. Maybe it’s something you always have mid-afternoon to make it through the rest of the day. Whatever it is, that’s the first target.
When you feel the craving don’t ignore it! But feed it an alternative food. Make it something solid with high caloric density but without any refined sugar. What are those options? Think almonds or walnuts. Eat hummus on a hard wholegrain cracker with avocado spread on top. Maybe it’s a hard cheese on a slice of apple.
This starts to short circuit your sugar craving. It says that you will give it something, but nothing that will give you the buzz of sugar. Remember, we are all Pavlov’s dog. Over time as the craving for a sugar high gets met with a low-grade satisfaction, that craving will eliminate itself from your life. It will be a huge step toward having a body in balance!
Nature has a lot of taste for sure. Think ginger or turmeric, onions or garlic. But what it doesn’t have are flavorings that are so concentrated or altered that they become the food version of an addictive drug.
These are foods that hit the pleasure center in your brain like an earthquake. Flavored chips, processed meats, even “healthy alternatives” like tofu franks and seitan products with high taste additives. Here’s the negative to eating these types of foods. High taste foods fuel the appetite rather than curb it. Every one of these can lead to overeating.
The solution is easy. First, throw out anything in your house that fits this description. Second, don’t buy those things again and bring them home. I know you’ll cheat once in a while in your car or on a ride, but that’s okay. Soon you’ll be tuning into your body and what it is really asking for from food.
Have spices at home that upgrade taste naturally. Herbs, spices, even salt will do the trick. Curry powder, onion powder, chili powder and pepper can help. Use super healthy oils, like olive oil, to blast it all off the charts.
Eventually as your high taste craving sees that it’s only going to get some natural alternatives, those will become what you reach for. The shift will fine-tune your ability to know what your body is needing without the static from high taste foods getting in the way.
It could be water. It might be more protein. Maybe it’s even a need for more rest. But whatever it is, you’ll be taking huge leaps toward having a body in balance and getting athletic performances to match.
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I am the Founder and CEO at Mark Allen Coaching. I am proud to have been voted in an ESPN global poll "The Greatest Endurance Athlete Of All Time." During my multi-sport career I won the Ironman Triathlon World Championship six time, the inaugural Triathlon World Championship at the Olympic Distance in Avignon, France, and at one point in my career I won 21 straight races across every derivation and distance. It was a great career, but that's all it would ever be unless I was able to share all of the experience and methodology we invented long before smart watches, power meters, and flashy uniforms. That's why I started Mark Allen Coaching, as a way to return to others at least the part of the gifts I received.