The world of nutrition can seem fuzzy and mysterious to us sometimes. It tends to get wrapped up and conflated with dieting and weight loss, when, in fact, nutrition is much more about the science of how food affects the body. There’s a lot more to it than simply watching your caloric intake.
Nutrition, instead, is about feeding your body with the right fuels, vitamins, and minerals that will give you the energy and benefits to be your best self.
As an endurance runner, I’m always acutely aware of how what I put in my body affects not only how I feel, but how I perform. If the same is true of a runner, the same is also true of the average person. If we believe that nutrition is wildly different between people, we might think we have nothing to glean from the wisdom of sports nutrition—but not so.
Sports nutrition can give your overall health a big boost once you incorporate these key principles.
7 Principles from Sports Nutrition to Adopt Right Now
1) Trust the real deal.
When it comes to nutrition, you can try to pack in nutrients with powders and gels that have been engineered in a lab, but nothing beats the real deal. For the average person, you won't often encounter nutrient-rich powders and gels, but instead, processed foods. Processed foods are usually made to have an addictive quality (think potato chips) while offering minimal nutritional value. People eat more than they need, consuming excessive calories, while not getting much in the way of nutrition.
Instead, athletes rely on whole foods for fuel. They want to eat food purposefully—food that will give them energy and strength. Even sports-specific engineered foods may not match real nuts, proteins, and vegetables in terms of nutritional value when it comes to a head-to-head match. Trust the whole food. It is better for your body in the long run.
2) Eat 80/20.
Deprivation is never a good strategy. Even athletes know that it is wise to allow some wiggle room in their diet for small indulgences once in a blue moon, whether it be a cookie or a small serving of ice cream. Depriving yourself leads to an inevitable binge. The 80/20 rule is a good place to start. Allow yourself to enjoy what you eat! Don’t be too restrictive, especially as you try to adapt to healthier eating habits.
3) Focus on your immune system.
For endurance runners, immunity is critical. A cold or other malady can take you right out of practice and ruin your best numbers. Your nutritional health plays a huge role in your immune system. It’s not just about drinking your daily glass of orange juice or having that apple a day, either.
Eat probiotic foods for gut health such as kimchi, Greek yogurt, and kombucha. Fermented foods are great for immunity.
4) Eat with function in mind.
While many of us eat for pleasure or because we feel pangs of hunger, athletes eat with purpose. They need quality fuel for their activities. How is the quality of the fuel you’re putting in your body? You can eat foods that support muscle strength and repair, foods to reduce blood pressure, encourage sleep regularity, and even to help inflamed joints and muscles. Eating attentively—not just tracking calories, but knowing the function of the food—can help you better decide what to eat in a more strategic way.
5) Don’t skip your H2O.
Most of us are familiar with the benefits of drinking water, but most of us still don’t drink enough. Being dehydrated causes fatigue (among other problems), while being adequately hydrated regulates the body’s systems and can even help you lose weight.
6) Minimize added sugars.
Added sugars are a nutritional nightmare. They’re one of the most dangerous things for your health, especially in high quantities. They’re linked to a number of dangerous diseases, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer. Not to mention its effects on the skin, like causing acne and accelerating skin aging. Then there are effects on your mood, such as depression and a lack of energy.
And a big problem? Added sugars are everywhere in our highly-processed, instant food world. Avoid added sugars by focusing on whole foods and skipping the pre-packaged junk as much as possible.
7) Spice up your diet.
Herbs and spices aren’t just for adding flavor. Depending on what you’re putting in your meals, you can be getting massive health benefits to your body. Ginger and turmeric, for example, are great anti-inflammatories and are full of antioxidants. Cinnamon can lower blood sugar levels and help prevent heart disease. While most of these herbs and spices only offer up their vast benefits at high quantities, over time, even small amounts can help. Try adding them to shakes, smoothies, and meals. You can even take many in capsule form.
At the end of the day, sports nutrition isn't that far off from normal, average everyday nutrition. What it comes down to is being intentional about what you are putting in your body and understanding that everything you consume will affect how you feel and perform.
Once you begin to understand how the food you eat affects your body, you can take slowly but surely take charge of your health and your life.
What's been your go-to food when you want to eat well? Share your favorites in the comments.