February 24, 2014 by Kate Schlag in Opinion with 20 comments
We’re already almost two months into the new year, which means that many of the well-intentioned resolutions to completely change your life have fallen a bit to the wayside. Lots of people, but probably Ultimate players and athletes in particular, look at improved physical performance — either through increased training or a healthier diet — as a worthy year long goal.
Yet completely uprooting your current diet is a bit unrealistic and may even be counter productive; you don’t necessarily want to try a lot of new foods or diet ideas all at once. You’re more likely to have successful and longterm results if you just focus on one or two dietary fixes at a time, improve in those areas, and then build from that foundation with more evidence-based fixes.
The good news it that many of the common dietary mistakes I see Ultimate players making are also relatively easy to fix. I’ve put together a list of some pitfalls and suggestions about how to avoid them in your training and nutrition regime going forward.
1. Relying on the media for your nutritional advice
In the past few years, tons of professional athletes have proclaimed that switching to a gluten-free diet has been the key to their success and performance. Others embrace a Paleo lifestyle, omitting grains, legumes, dairy, and processed foods and sugars from their diet. Some athletes go raw, vegan, clean, or all-organic; and others try a ketogenic diet or an alkaline diet. And, of course, some athletes will eat anything you put in front of them.
And while experts claim that one diet is far superior than another, all we really know right now is that, while there is an ideal diet for athletic performance, we don’t yet know exactly what it is — and it’s affected by so many individual factors that it’s probably different for everybody.
Takeaway message: The newest, trendiest diet probably isn’t the key to winning next year’s Club Championships. Even with a professional athlete’s endorsement, one diet might just not work for you–and it may even lead to health complications.
2. Eating whatever your teammate eats
Many of the ultimate players I know are confused about what to eat before, during, and after playing. And for good reason: as I mentioned above, there’s still so much we don’t know about the optimal diet for athletic performance and, even more specifically, for Ultimate frisbee. So I see many players who eat whatever their teammate eats, just because it’s simpler.
But just because Beau Kittredge likes to eat a big bowl of Cheerios and a sandwich before a tournament doesn’t mean that you’ll turn into the next World Champion. Remember that anecdotal evidence, while undoubtedly compelling when it comes from an admired teammate, player, or athlete, is just that — anecdotal. That individual may be successful in spite of their diet or might just have entirely different dietary needs and preferences. You don’t want to overly assume that what works for him or her will work for you.
Takeaway message: Figure out what foods work for you: do you need a lot of protein in the morning, or are you better off with a high-carbohydrate breakfast? If I had my choice, I’d have every player on my team go to the grocery store before a tournament and pick out the foods that work for them. For some, that’ll mean eggs; for others, it might mean oatmeal.
3. Not eating enough good fats
Most athletes are eating enough fat–but they’re not necessarily eating the right types of fat. Experts recommend getting between 15 and 30% of your calories from fat (that number varies considerably according to an athlete’s chosen sport as well as physical factors like age, lean muscle mass, and gender).
But what matters more than the amount of fat you eat is the type of fat you eat. Most of the fats in your diet should come from unsaturated fats, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, as opposed to saturated fats, like those found in fried or processed foods. Omega-3 fatty acids, a family of polyunsaturated acids, are especially important to athletes because they can help reduce post-exercise inflammation and soreness without any of the harmful side effects of over-the-counter drugs and because they boost cardiovascular health.
Takeaway message: Think about the places in your diet where you could replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats. Spread avocado on your sandwich instead of mayo; snack on nuts and seeds instead of a candy bar; and every so often, pick the grilled salmon instead of the bacon double cheeseburger.
4. Eating too many nutrient-void calories
Limiting calorie intake is not usually a problem for most ultimate players–in fact, eating enough calories is often the problem. But when an athlete has to eat upwards of 4,000 calories just to maintain his weight, it can be difficult — both financially and physically — to eat that much.
Often, athletes resort to inexpensive, hypercaloric, and nutrient-void foods to fill that gap: whole frozen pizzas, bowls of ice cream, bags of chips. And while these athletes are no doubt burning off all those calories with rigorous track workouts, practices, and tournaments, they’re still taking in excess saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium that contribute to chronic disease. Compounding this matter is that there’s inconclusive evidence regarding the micronutrient needs of an elite athlete. Micronutrient intakes are largely defined in terms of preventing micronutrient deficiency, not in terms of optimal intake for athletes.
Takeaway message: No matter how many calories you’re eating each day — 2,000 or 4,000 or somewhere in between — aim to get those calories from quality, nutrient-dense sources. For the most part, that means a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, grains, meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs.
Quick Hits – Other Common Mistakes:
-Trying new foods before a tournament. You should already know which foods help you perform your best.
– Not balancing macronutrients at meals. Try to get carbs, protein and fat at each meal to stay energized for your next workout.
– Not getting enough variety. Many athletes don’t have time to cook, stick to what they know, and potentially miss out on key nutrients. Especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables, variety helps.
– Inadequate post-workout nutrition, meaning that your body isn’t recovering optimally; read more here.
– Not staying hydrated when it’s cool; even though you’re less thirsty, drink as much water as you would if it were hot.
– Over reliance on engineered food (i.e. protein shakes, gels, drinks) as opposed to real food. You don’t want to only eat gels during tournament play.
– Not bringing snacks to practices and tournaments. Stop relying on your team or the TDs. It’s amazing how I’ve seen other players show up without any food of their own and, of course, their performance falters.