Food and Athletes

Cakes, pies, cookies, gravy, stuffing, cakes, pies, candy, cakes, did I mention cakes? Ah, the joy of Christmas! It’s drawing closer by the day and I’ve got a dreadful feeling of joy and horror in my stomach.

The joy is the obvious part, but why the horror? No, it’s not the Christmas shopping that scares the fecal matter out of me, nor the inevitable “do you really have to train on Christmas Day” comment from the wife. No, it’s much simpler than that, although maybe simple is the wrong word; Food. Such a simple word, such a complicated issue.

In Norway we have a saying “without any oats the horses get weak”. As we all know, this principle applies just as much to us humans. We need fuel to perform. Why then, do we make food and eating into such a complex matter? I’m not going to lie to you, I’ve got just as much of a love/hate relationship to food as the next serious cyclist. At times I worry more about getting fat than a bride does the week before she is about to get married. It’s sad and a bit pathetic actually. The whole thing is completely imagined and a product of one’s subconscious mind.

The development and progress of an athlete consists of 3 basic items: training, eating and resting. All too often do we make the mistake of only focusing on the training bit, although the real progress takes place during the resting and eating phases. Eating sounds so simple, just put food in your mouth. But it’s harder than that – eating has created problems, eating disorders. I pay close attention to what I eat, constantly. The food has to be healthy and rich in energy. Fruit, vegetables, whole wheat products, potatoes and fish makes up the core of my daily diet. A very successful athlete once told me “the more I can eat, the more I can train”. For a guy that tips the scales around 140-150lbs, I eat a lot. Huge amounts actually, but during my hardest weeks I also burn 5000-6000 calories a day or more. That energy must be replenished, with proper food.

Why then, do I worry when I step on the scale in the morning? I know my weight will never climb much above my optimal race weight, year round. But still, I worry. I am working hard at the mental part of this, trying to get rid of this negative thinking. Negative thoughts are a waste of energy, athletes need to focus on positive things, always. In order to perform to the max, an athlete needs to have a healthy, relaxed relationship to his own body. It can be better to be 2 pounds “overweight” and feel good about oneself, rather than spending lots of energy on trying to lose weight.

There is a direct link between the mental state of an athlete and his physical form and performance. We need to be in harmony, both physically and mentally. This is where most top athletes have room for improvement. Not to mention that the hard training requires adequate energy-reserves. If the energy is not there, the body will not be able to respond properly to the high training loads. Of course, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that trying to lose 5-7 lbs before the race-season starts is a bad thing, not at all. But many riders don’t eat enough, once the target weight has been reached, due to the fear of gaining weight again. This can directly, or indirectly, lead to injuries, illness, burn-out, over-training and a general lack of performance.

Patience is very important when you want to lose those extra 5 lbs before the season. Start early and plan to lose small amounts of weight per month. Remember that restricting the caloric intake too much results in a lack of performance during training, simply because your body does not have the energy available to perform. And that does you no good, absolutely no good at all. So do like the horses, dig in and watch your performance increase. Oh, and pass on the cake, it’s over-rated anyways… If you keep telling yourself that, maybe some day you will believe it. Until then, be strong and ride hard.

I am a full-time endurance athlete, working towards the 2012 London Olympics. I maintain a blog, describing my ups and downs of training / racing.

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Author: Uzumaki Naruto

"I want to see this market as a sharing market. Where merchants and customers sincerely support one another."

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