Don’t say the “D” word!

I hate the word “Diet!” There, I’ve said it.

The word “Diet” has to be one of the most unhelpful words in the English language, or any other language for that matter. Immediately you say that you are on a diet, the brain seems to become a food seeking machine driving you to eat anything and everything in sight!

Many endurance athletes know that there is a link between speed and body fat percentage and weight. As soon as it is higher than they think it should be, they knee jerk into following some ‘fad’ diet to try and shed some extra pounds.

If you go on a diet, the statistics show that on average, 95% fail and 35% of the fat you lose will be re-gained in only ONE YEAR.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, all of the weight you lost, plus extra is regained in 3-5 years!

Why is this?  There are a number of reasons for this including:

  • Your body goes into energy saving mode
  • Reduction in the activity of the Sympathetic Nervous System, this is the system which maintains homeostasis i.e. balance in your body
  • Decrease production of the thyroid hormone which control your metabolism and calories burnt
  • Decrease in the production of hormone leptin which tells us we are full and an increase in the hormone ghrelin which tells us to eat more!
  • The mitochondria which are the ‘powerhouses’ in your cells become more efficient and better at saving energy so they use less

On top of this, as an endurance athlete drastic calorie reduction can be the worst thing you do as it won’t take into account the training you are doing. There will be fat loss but there will also be muscle loss as your body makes up for the calorie deficit by breaking down your muscles…..not what you want at this time of year when you’re getting ready for race season.

When I work with my clients, I ban the “D” word fairly early on and replace it with the phrase “Performance Eating” . As endurance athletes we need to view food as the fuel which nourishes our bodies, helps us stay strong and healthy and gives us energy to perform. If we put C.R.A.P into our bodies, (see an earlier blog to understand this!) then our results will be the same.

So how do you know which foods to eat for Performance? The answer is, it’s really simple, it’s not rocket science. You just have to eat the foods you recognise, which haven’t been messed around with and have names that you can pronounce !

I have a really simple “Performance Eating Score” (PES) matrix I use to help my clients to choose the right foods in the right quantities and ratios to optimise their body composition. When this is combined with listening to what their body is telling you i.e. whether it’s really hungry or not they can then stop worrying about their body fat percentage and weight.

On a daily basis this is what they aim to eat:

Meat and fish 2-3 portions

Vegetables 4-6 portions

Whole Grains 2-3 portions

Nuts and seeds 2-3 portions

Whole milk dairy 2-3 portions

Fruit 2-3 portions


It’s no more complicated than that and after using this framework for a number of weeks, they find that they start to know intuitively what they have missed in a day and they can then compensate for it.

Making sure that you eat all these food groups daily means that you are more likely to optimise your body composition and get all the vital nutrients your body needs to be able to support your training and racing.

How many of these have you eaten today? Are there any gaps?

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