Sports nutrition – also called eating for performance – is a topic near and dear to my heart. As a competitive Olympic weightlifter, coach, and holistic nutritionist, I frequently work with athletes to tweak their food to fit a paleo or real food template.
Sometimes, to boost performance, it may be beneficial to get a bit more specific with your nutrition according to a plan. It’s not for everyone, but if you have specific performance goals, it can help you to dial things in.
To prepare for some big weightlifting meets in the last two years, I’ve gone through two different 12-week programs. (Even coaches need coaches.) By far, my favorite of the two and the one I recommend to fellow athletes is Renaissance Periodization (RP).
Here’s why I like it as a short-term strategy:
I was able to fully customize it to the foods that worked best with my body (ex: I used coconut water for my during-workout carbs), and I never had to log my food.
Today, I’ve invited RP owner Nick Shaw on the blog to dispel some common sports nutrition myths for you. These are things that we hear all the time when it comes to eating for performance.
Take it away, Nick!
Sports Nutrition Myth #1: You have to log macros in MFP (My Fitness Pal) to lose body fat.
Absolutely a myth!!
I have never once used MFP in my entire life and have been able to do many successful cut phases. MFP is a great tool that helps a lot of folks, but we actually designed our templates to NOT need MFP. (To save 10% on RP templates use the code steph10). You can know that certain foods will have trace amounts of “crossover calories” – ex: the amount of protein in say beans or nuts – and when you take the averages of most food sources you can get a pretty good idea of where those numbers will fall.
Ultimately, you want cutting or massing to be easy and sustainable in the long run – with dedicated phases of NOT dieting in there of course. Having to log every single meal and every single thing you eat into an app can really become a burden for a lot of folks. If you can take that out of the equation and reduce the math and time spent thinking about cutting or massing, chances are that will help make it easier for folks out there.
Simple = easy. Easy = greater chances of diet consistency. Consistency = better results. Better results = more likely to transition into a lifestyle, not just a one-time diet.
Sports Nutrition Myth #2: You can’t get leaner and perform well at the same time.
Absolutely a myth!
I’ve worked with and seen literally thousands of clients that are able to lose weight/fat and see strength improvements. A good way to help busy this myth is to lose weight at a slow and steady rate – think 1-2 lbs/week for most people or maybe 1% of their weight per week.
You also have to set limits on the amount of time spent cutting, think 12 weeks or so, tops. After that you may see diminishing returns in the amount of calories you have to pull out to see further weight loss vs. performance dropping. You can also help this by NOT cutting carbs first in a diet. Keeping carbs up longer over the course of a plan should help most folks sustain – or improve – performance while in a hypocaloric state.
It should also be noted that the more new you are to diet and/or training, your chances of seeing PRs while cutting goes up as well.
Sports Nutrition Myth #3: You need several hundred grams of carbs a day for performance.
Very likely a myth.
Certainly having more carbs in your diet will help you perform better, but there will certainly be cases where outliers can and will occur. The first example that would jump out to me would be a very small female athlete – think a 48kg lifter – that might only weigh 100 pounds or so. If she’s having about 1 g carbs/lb of bodyweight on a lower volume training day, she could be eating 100g (roughly) worth of carbs and could still easily hit PRs. That’s a lot different than several hundred grams! I’m sure there are also examples of some athletes using keto – higher fat/protein while keeping calories up – that could also see performance increases due to calories being such a powerful overall tool.
[Steph’s note: I asked Nick to address this myth because I hear it a lot from the endurance community where carb-loading and carb-heavy diets still persist. The 48kg athlete likely does not need 300+ grams of carbs a day to perform well.]
Sports Nutrition Myth #4: If you cheated on your diet and the next day, you gained weight…you added fat.
TOTAL myth!! 🙂
When you “cheat” on your diet, chances are you’re eating delicious foods filled with lots of carbs/fats and sodium. All of these things can cause water retention. Unless you’re eating thousands of calories in your cheat meal, chances are you are not gaining actual tissue and your body is just holding onto water for a variety of reasons. Chances are if you track your bodyweight after having a cheat meal, you’ll see a spike in weight for a day or two and then it comes RIGHT back on down so long as you get back on track.
Sports Nutrition Myth #5: For performance, it doesn’t matter when you eat, as long as you get enough calories.
This is somewhat true and not necessarily a myth. Having said that, it’s important to note that nailing your calories and overall macros for the day is by far the biggest piece of the puzzle to nutrition, it’s not the ENTIRE puzzle and leaves a little bit missing. The more advanced you get in athletics, the bigger role nutrient timing can have and thus timing your food intake around training, practices, etc can yield even better outcomes. If you have longer workouts (think over 1-2 hours) or have multiple workouts a day, the role of timing your food around training goes up even more.
Thanks again Nick for addressing these common sports nutrition myths! If you’re curious about using RP’s templates for your performance, head over to Renaissance Periodization and use my code to save 10%: steph10.
Here at Stupid Easy Paleo, I cover special topics on occasion that won’t apply to every reader. I truly believe that making long-term change that sticks depends on customizing a real food paleo template to your context instead of following it dogmatically.