What All Good Sports Nutrition Programs Should Accomplish
An important question to ask whenever discussing nutritional intake, for any desired outcome, is the following: “what do I hope to accomplish with my nutrition plan?” If, in response to this question, your answer is of the following: weight loss, muscle gain, a boost in performance, or improved health – I hate to break it to you – but your answer is incomplete, maybe even dangerous.
I know what you’re thinking: “again with the dramatics?” Think again. Better yet, ask a young female athlete whose bone density is diminishing by the day and will likely suffer from a broken hip at a comparatively early age. Or ask a man in line for bypass surgery in his mid 40’s who, after years of starvation diets designed to help him make weight for wrestling competition, has ended up fat with a depressed metabolism, diabetes, and heart disease. If you think these problems aren’t nutrition related, you’re fooling yourself. And if you think you’re too young to concern yourself with these things, consider the following statistics:
In the 1950’s the U.S. military performed autopsies on casualties during the Korean War. Nearly 77% of the young men age 18 to 24 had significant occlusion of their coronary arteries.
Recent studies demonstrated that over half the children aged 10 to 14 had fatty streaks in their blood vessels and in 8% of them those streaks were beginning to look similar to the atherosclerotic plaque found in adults.
Atherosclerotic plaque occurs in nearly 90% of all adult men and women over the age of 45 and is responsible for a large percentage of heart disease related deaths.
Also, consider this story.
Greg and Ozzy were brothers, one year apart in age, and were competing in high school wrestling at 112lbs (Greg) and 119lbs (Ozzy). Coming into the season, it was clear that Greg would not make his weight of 112lbs. So Ozzy stepped up for his brother and decided to cut the weight. Ozzy would wrestle at 112lbs and Greg would wrestle at 119lbs. The problem – Ozzie didn’t have much weight to lose (he was already VERY lean), nor did he know how to lose weight safely.
For the next 4 months, Ozzie starved himself. He would take every meal to the weigh-in scale and weigh it. He’d also weigh himself before and after eating to see how each meal affected his weight. In the end, he spent a miserable year trying to maintain a weight much too low for his body type.
However here’s the lasting one. Today Ozzy stands at 5’6” tall, 200lbs, and well over 20% body fat. After starving for so long, his metabolism was ruined. Now that his competitive days are over, he’s overweight and can’t do much about it.
So, as hinted at above, a single-minded focus on “performance” or “weight loss” or “health” might actually produce negative consequences. For example, in Ozzy’s case, he was so focused on body composition (weight specifically) that he compromised his performance and his health. That’s what we mean when we say it’s possible to design a nutritional program focused on improving body composition alone that actually reduces both health and athletic performance. Consider low calorie diets. These diets tend to reduce body mass, often desirable in athletes and non-athletes alike, but while dropping body mass, these diets can also reduce bone density (certainly a negative health outcome) and can reduce muscle mass and strength (which, of course, will reduce sport performance markedly).
So, while on a low calorie diet you might “drop weight,” but the outcome still isn’t ideal since this drop in weight is accompanied by health and performance declines. Again, not an ideal outcome since weight loss can be accomplished, along with improvements in health and athletic performance, with a well-designed nutritional program.
Ok, so you’re not going to make the same mistakes Ozzy did. But here’s something else to be cautious of. It’s possible to devise a nutrition program focused on improving health alone that actually reduces athletic performance. Consider low carbohydrate diets. These diets tend to reduce blood sugar, which is generally regarded as “healthy,” but also lead to low muscle glycogen concentrations (muscle carbohydrate stores), which can negatively impact certain types of sport performance. If you’re involved in an intermittent sport (basketball, hockey, grappling, etc) or an endurance activity, low muscle glycogen will absolutely kill your performance; not at all what an you’re after, regardless of the drop in blood sugar, as it’s possible to improve both health and sport performance with a different type of eating plan.
Ok, so very low carb and very low calorie diets are out. What else? Well, it’s also possible to design a nutrition program that improves performance yet actually reduces health and negatively affects body composition. For example, high carbohydrate diets that are full of simple sugars and devoid of fiber and micronutrients can improve muscle glycogen, increasing muscle energy stores, but can also increase body fat and, over time, induce insulin resistance. This outcome is not desirable either, as muscle glycogen concentrations can be maximized without negatively affecting body composition and health.
Ok, we know what you’re thinking “so high carb diets are out too?! Well then what can we eat?” We’ll get to that later in this book. For now, however, it’s important to recognize that all good nutrition programs focus on 3 goals simultaneously:
• Goal #1 – Improved health
• Goal #2 – Improved body composition
• Goal #3 – Improved performance
As indicated above, it’s relatively easy to focus on one of these three goals, and that’s why many nutritionists or athletes just piddling around with their diet tend to only focus on one of the three. Unfortunately, this short sighted approach to nutrition design is never in the athlete’s best interest, it never accomplishes what the athlete really needs.
Athletes must be healthy to compete. Their immune systems must be resilient, their blood vessels must be compliant, and their metabolic, muscular, and nervous systems must be in tip top shape.
An athlete also needs to be the right size for their sport. Not only do they need to be an acceptable competitive weight, they also need to have a good power to weight ratio and a good muscle to fat ratio.
Finally, athletes need to be able to train hard, recover quickly, and compete at the top of their game.
While training plays into all three needs of the athlete, nutrition ensures that the athlete has enough strength, muscle power, and fuel (energy) to successfully compete. Therefore the right nutrition plan meets all three criterion; improving health, improving body composition, and improving performance. Any sports nutrition program simply has to be designed with these goals in mind – all of them. We’ll teach you how to do just that in this book.
- Athletes need to have the right body weight, strength to weight ratios, and muscle to fat ratios to be successful.
- Athletes also have to have enough fuel to compete successfully.
- Athletes must consider health when chasing the previous 2 goals or else
their careers (or even seasons) will be short-lived.
- All great sports nutrition plans accomplish 3 goals at the same time: optimal performance, optimal body composition, and optimal health.
- Any nutrition plan that focuses on only 1 of the 3 goals above is incomplete and even potentially dangerous.
*Excerpt from the “Grapplers Guide” by John Barardi & Michael Fry