It’s not enough that we get up super early, and regularly perform chlorinated and Herculean feats of training. There is also the battle in the kitchen. Here are the two things you need to stick to an awesome diet this season according to research.
That’s usually where the blame falls when we slip on our dietary choices…
- If only I had more willpower, I wouldn’t have rubbed my face in that large, pepperoni pizza.
- If I’d had more willpower I wouldn’t have gone back for seconds, thirds, and fourths.
- If I had more willpower I probably wouldn’t have this Cheesey’s moustache right now.
And so on.
We blame willpower because a lack of it makes it feel like it’s out of our control, and therefore not our fault. (We can creatively rationalize just about anything given the opportunity!)
If I reaaally wanted to eat better I would, but I’m not, so clearly I don’t reeaally want it, so I better go eat another six-pack of doughnuts to prove myself right. Nomnomnom.
And while willpower does play a huge role in our actions, there are things we can be doing in order to make eating better less agonizing, and in turn, reap the benefits of those healthier food decisions. (Faster swimming, ahem.)
Over and over we have been told by our coaches the importance of eating well and getting lots of sleep, and typically reply with– “Yeah, yeah, I know!” and keep on truckin’, never getting the full performance benefits of mastering either.
For some swimmers, it’s not having the understanding of how well—or not well, as is almost always the case—they are actually eating. While for others, they feel as though their food choices have them under lock and key, and find that they are unable to break free from a history of bad dietary habits.
A recent meta-analysis of weight loss and diet papers looked at research done over the span of a decade, encompassing 27 studies, to see what interventions worked best for sticking to good nutritional choices.
And the winners are:
1. We do better with supervision and accountability.
Seems obvious, right? Of course being supervised means we are going to adhere to something.
After all, you’re more likely to do the whole swim practice if coach is standing over you at the end of the lane line, just like you know that you are more likely to complete your homework if your teacher expects you to have it done.
This need for supervision doesn’t make you a lazy or terrible person–it’s human nature that when left to our own devices we will almost always take the easy or most convenient route. It’s not laziness, necessarily, we are simply built to be efficient with effort (I get the sense a couple of you will quote that to your teachers/parents/coaches over the next few days…).
Anyways, here are a few different ways that you can use this knowledge to help clean up your nutrition:
Talk to a dietitian.
Seriously, this is the best couple hundred of dollars you will ever spend in your life. For that kind of money you can get a custom-tailored diet plan that is specific to your age, sex, height/weight, and most importantly, your activity level in the water.
Talking to a dietitian will cut one of the biggest excuses from the equation—ignorance. With so much conflicting science and bad science telling you what is good and not good for you it can be paralyzing when it comes to trying to eat well.
A sports dietitian will give you a meal plan that is tailored to what you like to eat (important!) and also to how much you train (doubly important!).
Keep a food journal.
Maybe you already understand the benefits of logging your workouts, and so you do it, dutifully, each night at the end of another long day of training. And maybe you also keep a gratitude journal each night to stay optimistic and sleep better.
So why not go one step further and start writing out your food intake each day?
The power of doing so is astonishing:
- It forces you to come to terms with what you are actually eating, removing the ability to shrug off bouts of poor eating as “not that bad.” Seeing it on paper shows you that it actually can be “that bad.”
- A food journal will show you that eating isn’t always something that happens because of hunger. You’d be surprised how often you stuff your face because you are stressed, you are bored, or because of some other external cue that you hadn’t considered.
Don’t go completely in-depth if you don’t want to–over-reporting your food intake with detailed calorie counts and so on is counter-productive if it starts to feel like work.
Prep your meals.
While this doesn’t really fall under supervision or accountability, it does go a long way to battle the convenience factor that most of today’s poor food choices present us with.
When I come home after a brutal workout if there is nothing that is convenient it gets really easy to rope myself into an “Ah, whatever it’s only one meal” kind of moment where I dial up the local pizza place. (Rationalized with: “But I worked really, really hard today at practice and deserve this!”)
Prepping your meals ahead of time means that the right meal is the convenient choice. (This and two other nutrition strategies were discussed in this post as well.)
2. Build a support system that promotes your nutrition goals.
The environment you build around you plays a massive factor in how you perform both in the pool and in the kitchen.
Surround yourself with people who eat pizza and assorted colas all day long, and inevitably some of those sugar-coated devil crumbs are gonna find its way into your mouth-hole.
We like to think that “monkey see, monkey do” applies only to, you know, monkeys, but we are far more susceptible to the influence of others and our environment than we realize.
How to fix this:
- Buddy system. Partner up with someone else who is working on developing cleaner eating habits. It’s a common struggle, and I doubt you’d have a hard time finding someone in your trust circle who is also keen on cleaning up their nutrition. This will also give you an added layer of accountability.
- Talk to your team. Work with family/roommates/spouse/pets to help clean up the environment at home. Talk to the people in your life about your nutrition goals and getting them on board. Things are easier when you have people in your life rooting for your success, and the first step is telling them what your goals are in the kitchen.
- Only “see” good food choices. Prime your home and fridge for success by making good choices the convenient choices. When it comes to food, we quite literally will eat what we see. Want to eat less Doritos? Throw out the bulk-sized bag from the cupboard. Want to eat more bananas? Leave them out on the counter so you have to walk past them to get to the fridge.
Eating well, and learning to master the fork and plate go beyond just becoming a faster swimmer and a better athlete. It also gives you the foundation for being a healthier human long after you hang up the goggles and suit.
Here are some more resources to help you conquer your nutrition:
Nutrition for Swimmers: The Ultimate Guide to Better Eating and Faster Swimming. This is the home base of all of our nutrition-related articles, from dealing with muscle cramps to supplements.
5 Quick Nutrition Tips for Competitive Swimmers. Here is a quick list of tips from Dr. Doug Kalman, a two-time dietitian for the US Olympic swim team.
Do You Sweat When You Swim? Short answer–yes. Here is what you need to know about staying hydrated in the pool.