The single most under appreciated aspect of running a successful race is nutrition. Quite literally, the fuel you put in your body can make or break a race day performance. Since nutrition is such a big topic, we’re going to break it down into two blogs. The second half of our nutrition discussion will come in a couple of weeks.
In this first blog, I want to establish some fundamental principles and give you some simple, actionable first steps. The second blog will get into more specific topics and concepts.
First and foremost, we have to establish what nutrition does for an athlete. Its purpose is two-fold: (1) provide energy for performance, and (2) provide nutrients to recover from performance. These two are very much linked as well, since the better you recover, the better you can perform. The harder you push yourself, the more there is to recover from. Notice, I didn’t say the goal of nutrition is to aid in weight loss. As we’ve established in previous blogs, active weight loss should not be goal of your race prep.
Saying that, the next thing to establish is that before you can be a healthy athlete, you have to be a healthy person. Many athletes get too ahead of themselves with this. They focus on pills, powders, potions and all the fancy “stuff” geared toward runners. While all of this is great, if a strong nutrition foundation is not laid, none of these more advanced strategies will help whatsoever.
Here are foundational tips you can use to become a healthier person and athlete:
- Focus on implementing one dietary change at a time. In part 2 of this blog I’ll give you a number of different ways to improve your diet. The biggest mistake people tend to make is trying to implement all those changes at once. You have such a limited amount of energy to focus on yourself as it is (and you’re already training for a race). Don’t try to tackle too many things at once for itis always a recipe for failure. Address one thing first, and then move onto the next. This might seem slow at first, but once you’ve built up momentum, in a couple of months you’ll find you’ve made huge changes.
- Make a list of things you can improve in your diet. You don’t need my help for this; your mom probably taught you everything you need to know about healthy and unhealthy eating habits. Write out a list of things you feel needs to be removed from your diet, and a list of things that need to be added to make your diet healthier. We’ll use these lists in tip #3.
- Pick the item that you have the highest likelihood of successfully implementing. Your list might have 20 or more items on it. In keeping with tip #1, you’re only going to be able to successfully address one thing at time. If that’s the case, let’s pick the one you have the best chance of addressing, take care of it, and move on to the next thing. This assures your success, but also assures you are able to move on quickly to address other things.
- Report your progress daily.. This doesn’t have to a coach or trainer (but it needs to be daily). It could be a running buddy or a friend. We’re really talking about skill-based habit formation here (not dieting). Habit formation requires consistency. Having the accountability of reporting to someone can make all the difference in the world. Regardless of if you were successful that day or not – report it. If you were successful, great. If not, own it, but don’t dwell on it. Report it anyway; the person you’re reporting to will be encouraging and supportive.
Alright, you’ve got your marching orders. Make that list, decide what you’re going to tackle first, and then determine who you’re reporting to. You’ll have two weeks to start developing your first habit before I check back in with more nutritional tips!