While those of you reading this are likely physically active I would bet the majority of you, just like the majority of my social followers, audience in seminars, and those sitting in classes I teach, would not consider yourself an athlete. However, a large percentage of you likely are, and need to start fueling yourself that way.
Technically an athlete is “anyone who participates in a sport” (according to the text ‘Nutrition for Exercise and Sport’ by Dunford & Doyle). But, what if you’re someone who is doing an hour of group personal training followed by a spin class and then you attend yoga that night? What if you run 20 plus miles per week plus strength train 2-3 days? You may be exercising more and putting your body under more physical stress than someone who is an archer, for example (aka participates in archery in case you’re wondering), and would consider themselves an athlete.
During both my work and personal fitness play at a 12,000 member health club that I’ve created wellness programming for, I encounter women and men who pride themselves in working out multiple times per day or for extended periods of time without a particular fitness goal. Many also do this without an adequate breakfast and with a fear of snacks that contain over 100 calories. I also see this with clients who reach out because they are sick of bouncing from diet to diet, without long term results and with plenty of mental stress inhibiting their ability to live a normal life. Many of these individuals continue to prioritize 2-3 hours of exercise per day, as a busy working mom, for example, and despite their desire to change, keep “saving calories” by turning down nutritious foods to “indulge in” a whole pint of low calorie ice cream, pretending they enjoy it as much as a normal portion of the real stuff.
Similarly, many individuals are referred to me because of athletic injuries due to poor nutrient intake to support their activity level. Still, despite their high level of activity and need to see a sports medicine doc for their injury, their initial reactions are often, “Athlete? Oh no, you must have me mixed up with another client. I don’t race.” Well, if you have a sports injury due to your high level of activity and lack of nutrient intake to support it, I’m 100% sure you need to start fueling your body like an athlete. That means adequate energy and not only sufficient macronutrients, but also a variety of foods to obtain adequate vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. You need more of those than the general population, too!
Often, individuals are done with a competitive athletic period of their life and don’t know how to adjust their training, or are anxious about weight gain. Exercise remains high, but because they aren’t competing, their food intake drops. They often think they’re just “being healthy“. Or, maybe someone was never competitive in a sport, and as an adult their fitness routine that started as a journey to better health turned into an obsession.
Why do you exercise? Are you seeking it out specifically in an effort to manipulate your body, because media, social media, and the gym environment itself, equate achieving a certain body with achieving good health? Are people around you, or maybe you yourself, proud of extreme exercise and dietary restriction? Have you thought you were being healthy by having “willpower” on days you keep calorie intake below the My Fitness Pal rec when not accounting for exercise? If so, you likely don’t understand how dangerous and unhealthy this is, or maybe, mentally just don’t want to admit it.
As a former collegiate athlete who currently loves competing in road races (and triathlons when I have time to train), I have found a sincere love for group exercise classes and team personal training myself. Some days, after a heavy lifting sesh with some other fabulous ladies, I do come back at night for an intense zumba class. Not due to obsession or a need to burn calories, but because it’s fun and relieves stress! Because of my frequency of and variety in exercise, I continue to fuel my body like an athlete.
It hasn’t always been this way. I was one of those people who had a hard time exercising just for enjoyment and would never skip a scheduled run or bike ride to do an acitivity that sounded better in the moment. I’d get anxiety on vacation if I didn’t do something “intense enough” and laughed at the thought that Zumba was a real workout (OMG was I wrong!). I also spent a lot of time restricting essential nutrients as a student athlete, before I was knowledgeable enough as a registered dietitian.
I didn’t just gain essential knowledge from dietetics education, my mandatory internship, career and desire to keep learning. I also gained the knowledge of the healthy way to eat to support activity by screwing up myself! This is what drives me to educate others – so they don’t make the same mistakes that I did, or at least so they can stop making those mistakes and save themselves from a lifetime of restriction, and essential nutrient deprivation.
If you love exercise, but are sick of obsessing over it and food, the Fit Fueling course may be perfect for you! We’re giving away one free spot in the course (a $120 value). The course merges science-based sports nutrition information with the principles of intuitive eating so that you learn and practice what your body needs, versus what your friend from spin class should be eating. Tell her about the course too, though. Chances are, she feels the same way you do about diets and just like you wants to be mentally free while having tons of energy to feel like a badass in every workout, and still have energy for real life after.