The longer I spend in the evidence-based nutrition world, the more similar the advice seems to become. Really, once we get beyond the bullshit pseudoscience, the “big rocks” of nutrition are widely agreed upon–get enough protein (but don’t expect it to be magic), gets lots of fruits and veggies, have sufficient fats and carbs for energy, satiation, and pleasure in eating. This advice is true enough whether you’re a competitive athlete, a recreational athlete, or just someone trying to take care of themselves and eat a balanced diet.
Somehow, however, for those of us with some kind of athletic desires, we can still get pulled into the weeds, micromanaging the details, and I suspect for many this may actually result in poorer health–perhaps superior physical health, but decreased mental/emotional health. Unless we’re heading towards a competition and need specific supports to reach our goals, I would argue, focusing on the big rocks is still the healthier, more productive way to be.
I’m happy to say that this interview with Liam Holmes about nutrition for athletes and others is largely in alignment with my conclusions above. He gives some detailed advice, but mostly he focuses on the importance of eating food rather than focusing on nutrients and practical strategies for making nutrition advice fit into our lives.
I love that Dr. Hazel points the conversation towards sex differences in nutritional advice, and especially how she addresses the unfortunately increased likelihood of low-calorie diets being recommended to female athletes. She also addresses how fasted training might be less beneficial for women, increasing their risk for amenorrhea, a good example of how the male-centric IF “community” discounts individual variation in a particularly sexist way.
Getting onto my soapbox for a moment, the chronic dieting of many female athletes is hobbling us and our potential. We are less strong when our bodies have less mass. This is a measurable relationship. We humans need calories in excess to build muscle. Female athletes need to be in a surplus to grow muscle just like male athletes do, but we send them the message repeatedly that they need to be small. I can’t help but wonder how strong we would be, how fast or how strong or how powerful we could be, if we ate enough consistently over long periods of time while we were training, just like we encourage boys and men to do.
I think diet culture can get us convinced somewhere along the way that we have to focus on the minutia in order to reach our goals, and I appreciate this conversation, and others like them, that point back to the bigger picture of healthy eating, whether we’re an athlete or not. I love the willingness to directly address sex differences in dietary advice, and I suspect Dr. Hazel and Liam Holmes share some of my concerns about chronic underfeeding in female athletes. This is a good conversation to listen to, if you need a reminder of any of these realities.