You’ve come to the conclusion that your diet could be causing you some problems. Perhaps you saw my last piece, Top 10 Signs Your Diet is Dragging You Down, and found yourself identifying with one or more of those symptoms.
Maybe you’re always tired. Maybe you often wake up hungry in the middle of the night. Perhaps your bowel habits tend to be all over the place. But why?
Today we are going to discuss some common issues created in large part by a poor diet, and the eating mistakes you may not even know you’re making which are frequently the culprit behind these problems.
I’m constantly fatigued despite adequate sleep.
Although there are many reasons an athlete or active person may feel fatigued which are not related to food (hello, electronics before bed!), the biggest nutrition culprits are poor hydration, undiagnosed food allergies/sensitivities and caffeine intake.
Let’s start with hydration. Are you drinking enough fluid throughout the day to support your activity level? Sadly, many of us are not, and this can undoubtedly play a role in daily fatigue. If overall fluid intake is not meeting estimated needs, nutrients struggle to make their way into our cells, therefore making brain and muscle function sub-optimal. As a reference point, members of the Duke basketball team are instructed to drink a minimum of a half-ounce per pound of body weight per day. Try setting a timer on your phone each hour as a reminder to chug some water! Carrying a refillable water bottle around with you is also a fantastic idea.
Next, undiagnosed food allergies or sensitivities could be causing a problem. It’s 2019 and gut health is at an all-time low. Much of human health depends solely upon gut barrier integrity. What disrupts this barrier is stress, over-training, overuse of medications, infections and junk food. When our gut barrier is no longer fully intact, our immune system starts to decline. As a result, sometimes food particles begin to seep through that wall and our body starts to confuse these food particles for foreign invaders. The reaction is known as a food allergy or sensitivity. Suddenly foods that you once tolerated are now making you feel fatigued. A great way to help you narrow down the causes is to keep a food and symptom journal. Make notes of what you eat and when you eat it, and also make notes of how you feel throughout the day. Do this for a couple weeks and see if there are any recurring patterns.
Finally, caffeine intake can be causing fatigue. That may sound counterintuitive, as caffeine can be an ergogenic aid that provides a bolt of energy for athletes. However, relying on caffeine day in and day out in order to function can greatly impact sleep quality. You may be falling asleep easily at night, but your caffeine could be preventing you from reaching a deep state of sleep depending upon your ability to process caffeine. I actually work with several athletes who, from a genetic standpoint, cannot tolerate caffeine. Even one cup of decaf leaves them feeling groggy the next day!
If you think this could be you, consider gradually weaning off caffeine until you have strictly removed it for three weeks straight. Take note of any changes in sleep quality, energy during the day, cognition and food cravings.
I am always hungry and often wake up starving in the middle of the night.
The obvious answer here is ensuring that your overall calorie intake is meeting your training demands. However, if you have already made sure that is not the issue, take a look at your dietary fat intake.
Not consuming enough quality, plant-based fat is one of the biggest pitfalls I see when working with athletes. Because guess what? The old mantra “eating fat makes you fat” could not be further from the truth.
Incorporating the right kind of fat throughout the day can prevent hunger, decrease sugar cravings, regulate hormones and improve brain health. Try adding a scoop of peanut butter to your oatmeal, a few tablespoons of frozen avocado to your recovery smoothie, and drizzle your salad with olive oil. Bonus Fact: A loss of menstruation in female athletes is often a result of inadequate calorie and or inadequate dietary fat intake.
I’m constantly sore and seeing little improvement in my body composition.
So, you’ve met your macros and you’re still not pleased with your progress.
The next step is to analyze your gut health. Are you bloated or fatigued after meals? Do you experience at least one daily bowel movement? Is diarrhea more common than it should be? Do you see pieces of food in your stool? Is flatulence your middle name? These are signs that you may not actually be properly digesting and utilizing the nutrients you are consuming. What good is a perfectly balanced diet if your body is not even breaking down your food? It is nearly impossible to fully recover from workouts and change your body composition if digestion is poor.
There are many reasons why your digestion may be suffering. My recommendation is to find a health care provider who is trained in integrative and functional nutrition and is well versed in sports nutrition to help you resolve any potential gastrointestinal issues. They have the expertise needed to evaluate the potential causes of your digestion woes and draw up a game pan to overcome it.
Pro Tip: if muscle fatigue or cramping is your only issue and you do not have any gastrointestinal complaints, inadequate sodium intake might be to blame! Consider incorporating a high-sodium snack or beverage 60 minutes prior to your workout. Pickle juice and bone broth are favorites among my athletes.
At the end of the day, you should always feel your very best both on and off the field. Never stop practicing your nutrition game as honing this skill will help you live well, years beyond your athletic prime. For more free nutrition tips that can help you raise your game, follow me on Instagram @FWDFuel!
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