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Is eating for performance and health the same thing?

Spoiler, eating for performance and eating for health are not the same thing.


Obviously being healthy will transfer over to good performance, but diet performance and health related goals are totally different... with shades of grey.


In short, performance centric diets are primarily focused on consuming enough calories and the right energy sources to meet the demands of the individual's physical activity, utilising higher ranges of certain food groups (macro/micros) to promote a beneficial response to activity.


This means constructing a diet which considers eating practices prior, during, and post exercise to adapt optimally to the goals of any given training session or competition. Further considering recovery protocols, such as protein and carbohydrate feedings and the quality/amount of each, along with other intricacies around supplementation.


A health centered diet focuses only on essential nutrition components of a diet (fluid, balanced macronutrients, micronutrients), consuming enough energy to maintain a body composition adequate for the individuals daily requirements. For example cycling to work, playing with the kids, or walking 18 holes at the weekend.


The foundational practices of a healthy diet should still be incorporated to the best of an athletes ability, i.e. individual recommendations for vitamin and mineral consumption, #eatyourvegetables.


The quantity of food a full time athlete has to consume on a daily basis is obscene, and is likely difficult to plan for, or to physically consume.


In this case diets relating to athlete performance will generally incorporate more calorie dense foods, often processed, to reduce food volume, alongside consuming supplementation to cover increased macronutrient, vitamin and mineral requirements from the high amounts of physical activity.


Depending on the sport total body mass can be advantageous, and on the flip side a higher total body mass can be a hindrance.


For example, if we were to take sumo wrestlers or strong man competitors then higher amounts of body mass gives them the ability to move more weight. However, holding a significantly higher body fat percentage is not optimal for good health and could cause issues further down the line, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, increased chance of injury, and a multitude of joint problems.


In order to get to a body size that replicates peak performance in these sports competitors will likely have to force feed themselves every single day for years at a time. Imagine how you would feel both mentally and physically having to walk around and work out with such a huge amount of body mass (both muscle and fat mass).


Fighters, gymnasts and long distance, ultra endurance sports are encouraged to compete with a lower body mass. Whether it’s governed by regulations, stereotypes or performance practices, athletes are constantly battling with eating enough food for performance, and restricting food to reach a lower body weight.


Eating for health is much simpler in a way, as you don’t have to plan extensively or spend hours in the kitchen. You are more likely to enjoy your food rather than just eating for the sake of consuming high amounts of energy to fuel performance goals.


So eating for a performance goal can be both healthy and unhealthy depending on whether or not it requires huge or minimal amounts of body mass, and also whether or not athletes are able to recover and incorporate sufficient vitamins and mineral levels for their needs.


Professional athletes are less likely to be at risk from unhealthy eating behaviours simply because of the professional coaches and nutritional teams behind them. However, for the recreational or aspiring athlete who don't have the support or expertise, they are at greater risk from injury or nutritional deficiencies, often leading to burnout and ill recovery.


Health should always be your number diet priority before applying any nutritional approach for performance purposes.


If you want to find out more on how to improve your performance through nutrition on the pitch or in the gym feel free to drop me a message.


All the best


Craig



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