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  • Kate Mihevc Edwards PT, DPT

Re-Framing Food as Fuel: The Real Facts About Sports Nutrition

By: Leda McDaniel

What if you were literally leaving much of your performance and health needs ‘on the table’ as an endurance athlete? The barrage of nutrition advice from advertising and social media sources can be overwhelming. Knowing what is best to eat given so many recommendations for the best diet plan or new super food can be challenging. How can you tell what is actually most healthy for your body and your increased nutrition demands as an athlete? If you have ever struggled with knowing what types of foods are best to eat and timing of fueling for your sport, read on!

In Episode #21 of the More Than Miles Podcast, physical therapists Dr. Kate Mihevc Edwards and Dr. Kacy Seynders interview registered dietician and owner of Meteor Nutrition, Kelsey Beckmann. Kelsey has the academic, clinical, and sports background to answer some of these questions regarding optimum nutrition for endurance athletes. She is no stranger to the nutrition demands of an athlete as she played NCAA Division I soccer before transitioning to distance running and qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Marathon trials. She also undertook significant schooling and worked in various clinical settings as a dietician before opening her own business to follow her passion working in sports nutrition. As Kelsey says, “I think a lot of people are confused about what to eat and when to eat.”

In the podcast interview, these women discuss some of the common myths surrounding nutrition for endurance athletes as well as some positive changes that can drastically improve health and performance. As mentioned above, one of the hardest factors in distilling what is most healthy in terms of nutrition choices is the HUGE amount of nutrition information out there. Knowing what sources you can trust for quality advice is paramount to making good informed choices about nutrition as an athlete. Did you know that anybody can call themselves a nutritionist, but only those who go through significant schooling and training can call themselves a registered dietician? No wonder there is so much misinformation out there on nutrition!

See the table below for some common myths regarding nutrition for athletes. Also shown are the REAL FACTS regarding better nutrition choices for athletes guided by Kelsey’s recommendations:

Nutrition MYTH!

Nutrition FACT!

As an endurance athlete, I don’t need to eat as much protein

  • Endurance athletes still need adequate protein to maintain muscle mass and perform optimally!

  • Kelsey recommended daily protein intake for endurance athletes is roughly 1.5-2grams of protein per kilogram of body weight

If I’m not getting my period, it means that I am training hard enough

  • Not getting your menstrual cycle (if related to disordered eating) is a sign from your body that something is wrong!

If I’m lighter (i.e., lose weight), then I will run faster

  • Overly focusing on weight as the ONLY variable in performance can be dangerous

  • Restricting food to much as a runner can lead to increased risk for injury as well as dangerous changes to reproductive function and bone health.

If I’m not playing my sport due to injury, I don’t need to eat carbohydrates and should eat fewer calories overall so I don’t gain weight.

  • Even when injured, your body still needs carbohydrate for energy!

  • When healing an injury your body is in an “anabolic” state (rebuilding) and so you still need food as fuel!

  • Kelsey says that when healing an injury your “Basal Metabolic Rate” (how much energy you burn before factoring in your activity level) can go up by 20%!

I don’t need to eat more often than “3 meals per day” for my sport.

  • Kelsey recommends athletes eat every 3-4 hours (or more frequently!)

  • If not eating nutrient dense foods consistently throughout the day, there is potential to overeat on “survival foods” or unhealthy choices like junk food because your body thinks it needs these calorie dense foods in a “survival” or “starvation” environment

Re-framing “Food as Fuel” and the importance of language and mindset

Just as in many other areas of our lives, the language that we use to describe food, eating, and nutrition can influence our thoughts and beliefs on these topics. Also, our thoughts and beliefs (influenced by language!) drive a lot of our behaviors in this area; like food choices of what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat. For this reason, a lot of what Kelsey works on with her athlete clients is not only behavior changes related to nutrition, but also a “re-framing” of the thoughts and beliefs surrounding food and what we view as “healthy.” Some of these positive changes are best remembered by the phrases that Kelsey uses with her clients.

See below for some of the phrases that Kelsey uses with her athletes to describe important principles of sports nutrition:

  • “Food as Fuel”: Your body needs the proper food to provide the energy (fuel) for your sport and training demands

  • “Nourishment Over Numbers”: A focus on choosing foods that “nourish” and support overall body health and athletic performance is often much more healthy and productive than overly obsessing about the “numbers” of food like calorie counting for foods and calories burned, body weight etc.

  • “Performance Plates”: This idea refers to a concept that Kelsey reinforces with her athletes and that is to try to get a balanced “plate” of macronutrients (fat, protein, carbohydrate), colors (can mean adding different types of fruits/vegetables etc.), and flavors (we want food to taste good! Not feel deprived) at each meal.

As you can see, there are many factors to take into consideration and if this is still overwhelming for you and your eating choices as an athlete it could help to work with a professional such as a registered dietician (like Kelsey) or even a sports psychologist (if mindset around eating and body image are a barrier to good nutrition). For more information on maximizing your performance with nutrition in mind please check out the full interview here: Episode #21 of the More Than Miles Podcast with Kelsey Beckmann.

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