With some exceptions training makes up a small part of most athletes’ day. Commitment does not begin and end with a good workout, proper nutrition and sleep are just as important. Lacking proper rest and nutrition will lead to fatigue for training and prevent realization of peak performance in addition to increasing vulnerability to injury and illness.
The need to rest increases after taxing physical exertion. This includes additional sleep over the standard 8 hours and reduced activity in our waking hours to guarantee recovery. High impact activity such as running should be followed up by lounging around and getting off our feet. Social and economic considerations don’t always allow for proper rest and sleep but it is something to strive for.
Proper nutrition means different things to different people and can and does reflect ideological beliefs. The full spectrum ranges from Vegan to Paleolithic with much debate on the inclusion of various classes of foods, alcohol, and supplements. To a large extent proper nutrition is driven by sport specific, environmental, and locality considerations.
My ideal diet consists of striking an even balance between whole grains, fruits & nuts, vegetables (including beans), lean meats, and lean dairy. Minimally processed fresh foods with few ingredients provide the building blocks. Simple grains and processed foods are introduced to offset high calorie burning activities such as a day of cycling, paddling, or multi hour runs. Salts and water are increased during high heat and humidity to stave of electrolyte deficiency. Within this mix are special considerations for fiber, fat, and specific nutrients. Diet variety to include an occasional fish goes a long way in ensuring no vitamin or mineral deficiency exists.
I say ideal because reality and what I strive for don’t always coincide. Social and work considerations have from time to time forced me to turn to convenience, which undermines ideal diets. Supplementing and multivitamins can mitigate these imperfect conditions but don’t substitute for a quality diet. These diet shifts can be gradual and escape the conscious mind's observation. For this reason every so often I engage in calorie and nutrient counting to get an accurate gauge of my current nutritional needs. I apply this tool sparingly two to three times a year because of the overhead. Far better indicators of diet quality exist.
Our bodies are made of what we eat. Our nervous system does an excellent job communicating timely feedback on our diet. It is important to take cues seriously, form a hypothesis, and take action to eliminate any ailments. Fatigue and headaches cued me into a recent sleep and salt deficiency. Getting your shit straight is not only excellent figurative advice but also excellent literal advice. Gross mismatches in calorie intake and outtake can be seen measuring weight using a scale. Nutrient deficiencies are harder to determine. Before treating symptoms by turning to pharmaceutical solutions, while the underlying root cause persists, diet should be examined.