Optimizing Performance Through Your Relationship with Food

  Aug 24, 2020  |  #Sports Nutrition

Hi there!

I’m still over here enjoying all the newborn cuddles but I wanted to share a little interview I did with Sarah Turner recently. I thought it was a great write up, and may of the questions she asked are very much in line with what I write about here normally, anyway.

Here is what she wrote: 

Runners need food and enough of it to fuel their training and to optimize their performance. However, due to diet culture, such a simple statement has been bent and blurred to suggest that a lower body composition is the ticket to faster race times in place of muscular strength, cardiovascular endurance, and skill, leading athletes to years of restricted eating and injury.

sweet potato nachos in blue serving bowl topped with avocado and sour cream | Bucket List Tummy

Through her business and other media outlets, Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RD, dedicates her career to helping runners reject diet culture and instead learn to have a positive relationship with food to optimize their performance.

“People are so conditioned to fear food based on the culture we live in,” Sarah says. “It’s scary and hard to learn to trust themselves again. There’s also the pressure that people face, whether from friends and family, teammates, coworkers, or just the culture we live in to look a certain way that may not be sustainable for our body types. We really have to learn body trust to overcome this process.”

Through 1:1 nutrition counseling, Sarah teaches her clients to learn what an “adequate amount” of food looks like. She also teaches them to avoid seeing certain foods as “good” or “bad” and instead as “tasty, satisfying, juicy, crunchy, etc.”

This helps her clients learn to let their body’s natural senses guide their nutrition choices instead of an outside influence.

Athletes may fear the intuitive eating approach as they assume that their natural eating patterns may fail to provide the nutrient density that comes with a hyper focus on food and nutrition, but with a little awareness, the human body is a superior feedback system to base food choices on.

“Our bodies do want to eat nutrient-dense foods too,” Sarah says. “They make us feel good. There’s usually a natural balance once we get out of our own way.”

girl wearing orange tank top and eating ice cream

For example, you may crave a cold fruit-based smoothie or a cookie post-run (depleted glycogen – body needs carbohydrate) or salty chips and salsa (depleted electrolytes due to sweat loss – body needs sodium), or both!

Your cravings are a good indicator of your needs, and over time, athletes who practice intuitive eating will also gain perspective on what foods make them feel good and which ones to avoid at certain times.

With that said, sometimes calorie density is just as important as nutrient density. As Sarah described, “All food, whether an apple or a slice of cake, can provide some nourishment and value to our bodies.”

At the end of the day, food choices should be based on the athlete and what makes them feel the strongest during training.

That said, athletes shouldn’t feel the need to cut out individual food items and certainly not an entire macronutrient group; however, between Keto and fad-diets, carbohydrates have taken an unnecessary hit from diet culture.

Sweet Potato Mac and Cheese in white serving dish

Carbohydrate is the primary food source to fuel your training. Endurance athletes can celebrate carbohydrates rather than fear them. In fact, depending on the athlete, a focus to significantly increase carbohydrate intake could greatly improve their training and race performance.

By allowing carbohydrate foods that the athlete once restricted, enjoyment during training and eating are heightened. It’s a win-win!

“From hydrating fruits and veggies, to whole grains, dairy products, sweets and more, carbohydrates encompass a wide variety of foods,” Sarah says. “Many of these foods are pleasurable. I encourage athletes to plan pre/post workout snacks around carbohydrates, and really focus in on what foods they actually enjoy. 

This may mean what foods they enjoyed as a child/family, what foods are nostalgic for them, and what foods they may have cut out in the past due to restrictive food rules. All snacks should have a carbohydrate in them!”

There are lots of sports nutrition myths out there. 

In addition to helping her clients develop a better understanding of adequate intake and trusting their cravings, she also works with them to utilize their built-in nutrition guides such as their hunger and fullness cues to help the athlete know when to eat and when to stop.

empty plate with pie crumbs left

“There’s a lot of therapy involved alongside my work, and some handholding in the beginning,” Sarah says. “I ask clients to trust me and acknowledge that the process will be hard and winding, but it’s worth it in the end.”

Sarah is a wonderful dietitian to turn to for athletes who may have struggled with diets and restrictive eating in the past. She not only works with clients who need her on an individual basis, but she also co-hosts the “Nail Your Nutrition” podcast to continue her quest to spread evidence-based nutrition information to provide athletes with a sound resource for nutrition information.

girl running on the C&O Canal

Athletes can often fall subject to trusting a poor source for nutrition guidance which at best can affect their performance, or worse, lead them to injury or a flawed relationship with food.

“More often than not, there are influencers without any schooling in nutrition or credentials preaching taking out entire food groups, and if people don’t know any better, they think that’s the route to success.”

In addition to her podcast, Sarah shares nutrition information via her blog, Bucket List Tummy, and she is also working on an eBook that helps athletes merge sports nutrition with being intuitive. 

 

Quick Splits with Sarah:

Favorite undergraduate course: Sports Law (My undergraduate major was Sports Management)

Favorite cookbook: Run Fast Eat Slow

Kitchen utensil you couldn’t live without: Blender

Favorite running workout: Pyramid workouts

Most memorable race: Ogden Marathon, where I qualified for Boston

Pre-race meal: Pizza

Favorite on-the-run fuel: Dried mango or Sour Raisins

Marathon PR: 3:31

Favorite running gear: Running belt, Oiselle Pocket Jogger Shorts (A full list of favorites here)

Road to RDN and more pro-tips from Sarah

Completed undergrad at: University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Completed Dietetic Internship at: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (Coordinated Program)

Completed MPH at: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

 

What led you to pursue a degree in dietetics? I am a career changer dietitian and really realized that I had an interest in health and nutrition. After working a few years after college and not feeling fulfilled in the jobs I had, I decided to make a change and go back to school for nutrition and dietetics.

What was your timeline like from choosing a degree in dietetics to completing your internship to getting your MPH to starting your career as an RDN? It was about 3.5-4 years, from start to finish from deciding to go back to school and earning my MPH, including taking necessary prereqs. Fortunately, some of the science based prereqs transferred from my undergraduate degree, which saved me some time. Once I got my MPH and passed the RD exam, I started working pretty soon after.

Could you describe a day in the life as a dietitian? My days are quite different and unstructured right now, trying to work at home with a toddler. I do try to sequence my days with different tasks. For example, one day I may prewrite a bunch of blog and social media posts, while other days I may be focused on recipe development or freelance writing. I usually see clients in the afternoon or at night, and work around other tasks. It’s not perfect by any means!

What are your thoughts on investing in yourself by creating your own support system? I truly think investing in ourselves is the best thing we can do professionally, and will allow us to continue to grow. We all have time commitments and limitations, so sometimes, outsourcing is necessary so you can focus on what you do best to continue to grow a business and do what you enjoy. And if no one had taken a chance on me or invested in my talent, I wouldn’t be where I am today!

Anything else you’d like to share about nutrition or your profession? I truly love being a dietitian and am so glad I went back to school and found my calling. There are so many job opportunities within nutrition, and you can basically create your own based on your interests and passions. Challenge yourself, find a good mentor and seek to accomplish whatever it is you love and enjoy.

Registered Dietitian holding up orange in front of eye

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