June 24, 2021
Nutrition For Performance vs. General Health
WRITTEN BY Tyler Villarreal

As the fitness industry continues to develop, varied opinions increasingly circulate regarding what one’s nutritional profile should look like. What is all too often forgotten is that every individual’s nutritional profile will understandably look different. At Central Athlete, we believe in a completely individualized approach to all aspects of our clients’ health and fitness. This means their nutritional prescription will be as individualized as their exercise program. Within the levels of nutritional variability, Central Athlete promotes certain key principles to our clients, including how to eat for long-term health, as well as maximum performance.

Live Well & Prosper

The vast majority of people we have the privilege of working with here at Central Athlete share similar goals. Most want to feel better, look better, and live a long, healthy life. While there are other basic lifestyle guidelines outside of one’s nutritional decisions that will aid in the pursuit of a prosperous life, the following principles set the foundation for a lifetime of nourishment and health:

Eat close to the ground

What does “close to the ground” mean? Cereal in the aisles of the store requires more processing to become edible than the fresh blueberries sitting in the produce section. Eating “close to the ground'' implies that one consumes fresh, whole, unprocessed foods.

When we lean into more nutrient-dense food options that have grown, walked, flown, or swam on this planet, we ensure reception of the least adulterated and highest volume of nutrients in our diet. When we elect to source our foods locally, from reputable and regenerative sources, we not only vote for a healthier humanity, but for a healthier planet.

Listen to your body

In any discussion around nutrition, the question of quantity typically follows. How much should one consume in order to achieve maximum health? The answer is much less complicated than one would think.

Simply put, if the goal is a lifetime of health, then one should only eat until they’re satisfied. This actually means eating to the feeling of 80-90% full, as our digestive system lags when sending satiety signals to the brain.

Overeating is not synonymous with lifelong health. Even if the foods eaten en masse are of the highest quality, consistently eating a caloric surplus will lead to continual weight gain, then more fat gain, and potentially end in health problems.

By eating to 80-90% satiety every time, one can ensure they’ll be consuming maintenance calories or less, leading to consistent (or improving) body composition levels.

Be adventurous  

We live on a planet where most of civilization experiences some sort of seasonality. Certain foods are fresh, ripe and readily available during particular times of the year, while others aren’t. By electing to consume foods that are more in season, a dense and varied intake of micronutrients is ensured on a yearly basis. The goal is a lifetime of nutrient density and diversity in one’s diet.

By choosing to “eat the rainbow” (i.e. consuming the widest variety of colorful fruits and vegetables) on a regular basis, consistent nourishment and micronutrient intake will increase over one’s lifespan.

Now that we’ve gained some understanding on how to eat for longevity, let’s go over some general principles on eating for performance, and why eating for performance doesn’t always mean eating for health and wellness.

Maximizing Your Performance

The pursuit of athletic performance still focuses on nourishing your body with high-quality, nutrient-dense foods; however, the main role that food plays in one’s performance-based journey isn’t the development of health, but fueling. Performance-based goals are more specific than health-based goals, and therefore require more complex fine tuning and periodizing.

You are what you digest

When eating for performance, the foods chosen need to be efficient and effective in fueling training. For example, while broccoli is an incredibly nutritious carbohydrate option, it would take five cups of it to deliver just 30 grams of carbohydrates. To put things into perspective, the average broccoli crown is usually three-and-a-half cups. The client with performance-based goals will usually have a higher carbohydrate demand than the client with health-based goals, as their training will likely require harder and more energy-demanding bouts of work. If the client with performance-based goals wants to meet their carbohydrate needs without feeling perpetually bloated from vast quantities of veggies, then they’ll need to lean into faster digesting fuel sources than whole vegetables.

When performance is the priority, recovery needs to follow. The faster someone recovers, the faster they can improve their performance. Electing to implement options like white rice, whey protein, or fruit and berry smoothies will lead to more efficient recovery, as all of these options are digested and processed by the body faster than more complex foods.

As a disclaimer, it is incredibly important to consume a wide variety of nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables and lean proteins. The micronutrients in these foods serve as the basis of the performance-based client’s general health. However, it would be inadvisable to obtain the majority of one's caloric fueling from these options when performance is the goal.  

Macros take precedent

While the guidance behind eating for health surrounds consuming the highest quality foods, performance nutrition requires a very specific, periodized, and consistent level of quantitative intake of the three macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbs.

Since performance-based clients generally operate in and around a competition season depending on their sport, their training and nutritional intake are also more specialized and periodized.

For example, the amateur CrossFitter who wishes to push their placing in the next year’s Open will have different nutritional needs at different points in the season. In the off-season, they’ll typically have more of a health lens on their intake, eating more fat and less carbs than they would pre-comp. During competition time, the priority will shift to fuel performance and recovery as much as possible with as many fast-digesting carbohydrates as they need.

This is one example of how the performance-based client’s macronutrient intake may look in one sport, but this may look vastly different for a client participating in another sport. The point is that each client with performance in mind needs to have greater structure and awareness on how much fuel is coming in and from where that fuel is sourced.

Performance is the driver

The final principle to remember is that performance is the main goal when it comes to eating for competitions. This doesn’t always correlate to optimal levels of leanness, body fat, or even health. The most obvious example of this are the extreme levels of leanness that physique competitors achieve come competition time.

When body fat becomes incredibly scarce in the individual, hormonal function starts to become disrupted. This essentially means that the body is not operating in a state of homeostasis. Being sub-six percent body fat is not equivalent to having better health outcomes. Oftentimes physique competitors can experience dramatic mood swings, dizziness, and serious dehydration issues to achieve the stage-ready physiques they desire.

This is why it’s important to always consider the “why” behind achieving a performance-based goal, along with the “how.” If one doesn’t understand the sacrifice required to achieve peak performance in a given sport or endeavor or the reason why they’re aiming to achieve said performance in the first place, then how responsible or truly necessary is it to create so much order and structure around their nutrition?

Ensuring alignment between the “why” and “how” of the client’s goals is the job of every coach at Central Athlete. Both goals of living a long, health-filled life and reaching peak performance are incredibly admirable. However, both still require an individualized approach. If you’ve been looking for a more personalized approach to your health and fitness, then schedule a FREE strategy session with me or one of my fellow coaches here at Central Athlete today!

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