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Fueling Your Body: The Athlete's Starter Guide to Nutrition, With or Without a Professional

Updated: Jan 6

Let's talk about food and fueling. Working out and training creates the need for athletes to fuel our bodies, but sometimes we have this distorted view of being "ripped" instead of being fueled. Each of our bodies, familial history, and mental psychology around food will make picking a plan individual and unique. One size here does not fit all.

I found my first nutritionist online after reading an article about the best athlete in women's CrossFit, Tia Toomey.

The nutritionist was great and listened to me. She helped me navigate from a year-long deficit diet with only 1800 calories to a fueling menu to help me reach 2000-2200 calories to feel more awake and stronger.

Mentally the adjustment from trying to be skinny and strong to being fueled, fast, bouncy, and strong was hard for me because of the mental picture I had in my head comparing myself to other athletes. After working with the nutritionist for 9 months, I had a much better understanding of food, but I still needed to work on the mental side of eating.

Kayla Bushey, track athlete in full track spikes, buns and sports bra on a red track training posing with hands on hips for triple jump.
After a year of eating keto, mentally drained and exhausted each workout. I decided to reach out to a nutritionst.

If you've ever wondered if having a nutritionist is the secret sauce to peak performance or trying to clean up your diet alone? Well, let's dive into the world of athlete nutrition questions, breaking down whether you need a pro and some nifty ways to upgrade your nutrition game – even if you're flying solo.


Question 1. Do You Need a Nutritionist?

Having a nutritionist is like having a personal food wizard. They tailor a plan that aligns with your training and goals. If you're juggling intense schedules or aiming for elite performance and you have some money to invest in this, a nutritionist could be your MVP. You can find a nutritionist online. I like to work with nutritionists who understand the demands of my sport and in the past have worked with athletes. A quick Google search will help you find the right fit.


Question 2. Can You Do It Solo?

Fear not if you're going solo. Start with the basics:

Counting Calories vs. Calories In, Calories Out: As an athlete, the calories put in need not only fuel your workout but also fuel your mental processing and recovery after your workouts. Most likely your calories will be higher than when you are not training or working out. That means tracking calories can help you determine if you are getting enough food to power your workouts.

Calories vs. Macros: You might have heard of macros and if not, don't worry. We will break it down. Calories are like the energy in your food, and macronutrients (carbs, proteins, and fats) are the parts of food that give you that energy.

Each type of macronutrient has a specific amount of calories: carbs and proteins give you 4 calories per gram, and fats give you 9 calories per gram. Keeping an eye on both calories and macronutrients helps you eat in a way that suits your health and fitness goals.

Hydration: Sometimes hydration is forgotten about when talking about food and fueling your body. As athletes, we often see sports drinks emphasizing electrolytes and taking protein shakes and water, but what do we need? During training, you want to drink water and it can help to put something that has salt, carbs, and sugar in it (like a sports drink) to keep you fueled during your workout. But water alone is amazing too! After workouts, you can get some quick protein in your body through a protein shake to help with the repair of your muscles.

Keeping It Simple With Balanced Plates: Aim for a mix of protein, carbs, and healthy fats in every meal, and keep a variety of colors on your plate. Try to stay away from your plate looking too brown or tan.

Smart Snacking: Remember that snacking can add up calories. It's a great way to fuel your body between meals but can also lead to overconsuming if you don't realize how often you are snacking. Fuel up with nutrient-packed snacks like nuts, yogurt, or fruit.

Mental Shift: Start to view eating as fuel to your workouts and aid recovery.


Question 3. Where To Start?

Food Journal Magic

Ever tried a food journal? It's not just for calorie counting. Track what you eat, how it makes you feel, and when you eat. A little self-awareness goes a long way. If you are starting to see where your calories are and macros, don't change any of your eating habits yet. Take 5 days and write out each thing you eat, what time it was, what you cooked with or where did you eat out, and also how it makes you feel after you eat it. Do you feel energized? Heavy? Light? Awake? Sleepy?

After you have it written out, go in and track the calories and macros for each day and keep a log of it.

This will give you a nutritional guideline of where you are currently at. Then you can start to make adjustments to get closer to your goal of feeling energized, fueled, and strong in your workouts.

If a journal feels too intense to look up the calories and nutrition facts, download an app lke myfitnesspal (use the free version), and it will do the work for you, but still journal about hwo you feel after the meals. Then you can play in the app and adjust the calories if you want to shed some weight, gain muscle mass, and maintain your weight but switch up your body composition.


Question 4. Does it have to be complicated?

At first, this can feel overwhelming, but it comes down to testing what works for you. But, here are some main things to do to get a head start.

Nutrient-Rich Swaps: Upgrade your meals with nutrient-rich swaps. Think whole grains instead of refined, lean proteins over-processed, and loads of colorful veggies. So instead of fries, think of a baked potato. Instead of a beef jerky, a steak. You want to have the least amount of processing so it is easier for your body to break down and turn into fuel.

Educate Yourself: Become a nutrition ninja. Read up on sports nutrition basics. Understanding what your body needs fuels smarter choices.

App Adventures: As mentioned before, dive into nutrition apps. From tracking your meals to finding recipes tailored to your needs, they're like a digital sidekick for your food journey.

Experiment with Meal Prep: Meal prepping isn't just a trend; it can be a game-changer. Personally, spending an entire day meal prepping doesn't work for me, but making 2-3 times what I would eat per meal, gives meal prepping without eating the same thing for 7 days in a row. Experiment and see what works for you.

Listen to Your Body: Your body is the ultimate guide. Pay attention to how it responds to different foods. Craving veggies? Your body might be onto something.


Question 5. Is It Expensive To Eat Healthy?

It can be. But what makes it expensive, honestly is making it taste great. You can have some pretty boring healthy meals that taste pretty bland. Starting to experiment with recipes, the additional items to create sauces without additives, having variety, and mixing at home cooking while also going out occasionally can become expensive.

You can also have simple meals that taste great, but it seems like we all go through the bland chicken breast and broccoli phase until you realize more foods are available that fuel you and also taste good. Aka put down the chicken breast and find some dark meat.

But it is completely possible to eat better while remaining on a budget even if you don't change anything except adding something simple like your meal timing without changing any of the foods. If you choose to eat fast food, it'll still be better to work on your food timing for right after you workout, rather than at 2am in the morning. Take this process step by step. No stress. This is all for your benefit.

So, whether you are team DIY or considering a nutritionist, remember: Your plate is your power, and your food choices can be your secret weapon. Here's to fueling your victory, one delicious and nutritious bite at a time!

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