Whenever I talk to amateur athletes, and some professionals, I am amazed by how bad some of them eat. Runners, fighters, obstacle course racers, power lifters, and many others fall into these conversations. Their diet literally starts while they are getting ready for an event and ends right after. This means they adhere to a strict diet leading up to the competition, then eat horribly the rest of the time. They all put a lot of effort into their training and skill building for their individual sport, but they don’t give their bodies the correct nutrients to rebuild and grow. This means that they will become better at their sport, but their progress will be stifled by their fitness. They may get stronger and faster; they may also gain some endurance between competitions. They may even win their competition on a crappy diet, but they will not perform their best. As an athlete, they should be getting more efficient at their sport with every competition, not performing sub-optimally.
When it comes to sports performance, every little detail can be either an advantage or a liability. “Will this cookie make me lose?” Probably not, but this is the wrong question. The right question is, “Will this cookie help me win?” That’s a definite no. Once we begin to change the way we look at food, we begin to see it as a fuel source, not just a pleasure. Athletes put in a lot of hours for their sports and often endure tough training sessions multiple times a week. With this output, they must eat more than the average person, so it is easy to work in some crap meals in the greater scheme of things and still claim to maintain a healthy diet.
One of the best S&C Coaches in the world is Dan John. I am a huge fan of his work and training philosophies. He talks about the 90/10 system of eating. While it is a pretty detailed system, the simple version is that 90% of the diet should be towards the goal and 10% is whatever you want. If an athlete eats three meals a day, then that works out to two bad meals a week. Barring a couple restrictions, I can get behind this method. I think two earned meals a week (for more information about Earned Meals, check out my blog No Cheat Meals - https://www.savagebodyacademy.com/blog-1/no-cheat-meals) is a great way to stay on track and work in a little indulgence occasionally. The restrictions would be those new to a diet and those who are on a therapeutically restricted diet.
An earned meal should be enjoyable, not one an athlete must recover from.