by Margaux Harari, MS, RD, CDN, Teela Nakashian, Dietetic Intern and Kimberly Ha, Dietetic Intern
Do you consider yourself an intuitive eater or a mindful eater? What does that mean? Well, do you passively cook and consume your meals? In other words, do you trust you’re getting enough nutrients when you’re eating most of the time? Maybe when it comes closer to race day or during your workouts/training, you become a little more focused on the foods or macronutrients you are consuming, but don’t want to be hassled with the ins and outs of tracking.
Or, are you someone who is relentlessly tracking every macro and micronutrient you consume, spending countless hours a week meal prepping and planning, and are starting to free like food is a chore?
Well… guess what? You don’t have to be one or the other. You can be someone who eats intuitively while understanding what you need to properly fuel your body’s needs.
Let’s first breakdown what mindful eating and intuitive eating look like. Mindful eating is considered a process of paying purposeful attention to what you are eating (1). Comparatively, intuitive eating is defined more as a philosophy that includes eating for physical needs, unconditional permission to eat and listening to hunger and satiety cues (1). Intuitive eating is essentially an anti-diet approach to food that should be practiced as a foundation to sports nutrition, rather than a set of rules. This is because athletes need much more energy than the average person, so understanding how practical hunger and gentle nutrition works within training sessions is key to incorporating intuitive eating practices.
Here are some tips:
1. Structure your meals & snacks around training - Scheduling your meals and snacks around what time you typically train will help support your athletic goals while maintaining your health. This means fueling before, during and/or after a session to incorporate practical hunger practices within your workouts. This could be 3 regular meals and 2 snacks per day, or several small meals per day depending on what your schedule looks like.
2. Know what your plate should look like - Think rule of thirds! Your plate should generally be ⅓ carbs, ⅓ veggies, and ⅓ protein (2). Note that these recommendations may vary a bit from the USDA guidelines for athletes.
3. Add your snacks - After having your balanced meals, remember when you’re training you probably need more fuel than the average person. When choosing your snacks, try to mix macros, i.e., always pair a protein with a fat and/or a carb.
4. Lastly, Listen! Listen to your body before and after each meal - Are you eating enough to support your physical health and your training? Analyze your eating behaviors/patterns, training and lifestyle to ensure you are getting enough fuel to not only maximize your performance during training, but sustain your well being outside of your sessions. This might look like adding some more veggies or healthy fats. Or you might need to include an additional snack, especially if you’re feeling ravenous before mealtime or completely depleted after a workout. If you’re feeling full before the meal ends, that’s okay too. As long as you’re getting in some veggies and protein at your meal, you probably don’t need to finish your meal. Your body is telling you it’s had enough. It may mean you just might need an extra snack later on instead!
Again, intuitively eating as an athlete may look a little different than the average person. You don’t always need to finish your plate, so in this way you can honor your body’s cues. As long as you’re filling your plate with nutrient-dense foods, mixing in healthy fats, complex carbs, and lean proteins, you don’t need to count calories or macros, and you’ll be properly fueling your body for your next race or performance.