If you’re not hitting the same marks in performance during training sessions and feel more tired than usual during the day, you may want to reevaluate what you're putting into your body. Nutrition plays a pivotal role in regulating your mood and energy levels, as well as in building or weakening your muscular strength.
So, if you’re not getting in the right set of macro and micronutrients or are regularly eating too many unhealthy foods, you’re going to put your training and results in jeopardy. Here are a few signs to look out for to determine whether you might want to check back in with what’s on your plate.
The Potential Costs of Poor Nutrition
1. You Have Weight Gain or Bloating
They say that abs are made in the kitchen, and while that may be an exaggeration, it’s actually not so far off.
“If you have particular weight or body composition goals, about 80% of your results come from your diet,” Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, and author of The Everything Easy Pre-Diabetes Cookbook, says. “It's also easy to overcompensate for calories burned during exercise by eating more, so pay attention to your hunger and fullness cues and choose nutrient-dense, protein-, and fiber-rich foods instead."
Plus, the type of food that you're overeating is likely going to be more high-fat or high-sugar — like chips or fast food — since those are foods your body will start to crave. Ultimately, however, this can lead to weight gain and water retention.
2. You’re Losing Muscle Mass and Are Nutrient Deficient
While most people do consume enough protein per day, they generally don't know how to maximize its effect.
“You can only use about 25–35 grams at a time for muscle growth and repair, so it's important to spread that protein out over all your meals and snacks, especially breakfast, where many of us don't hit that goal,” Harris-Pincus says.
Spreading in those grams of protein throughout the day is the best plan, as well as first thing in the morning for that immediate brain boost.
“Research shows that at least 20 grams of protein at breakfast can help to prevent muscle loss as we age,” she says.
To hit that goal, choose a few eggs, a high-protein smoothie, or Greek yogurt — all of which are rich in protein.
3. You’re Sluggish During Workouts
To eat or not eat before a workout is a personal choice, but if you’re feeling drained, then grab something to eat before training hard. (And consider your workout too, since your body will need some fuel if it’s going to be heavily taxed for energy stores.)
“Depending on the timing and intensity of the workout, you may need a light meal or snack to provide the energy that your muscles need to perform,” she says. “Since everyone has a different tolerance for eating to fuel exercise, start playing with different options to see how your body reacts."
4. You Feel Chronically Sore
It's a good idea to switch up your workouts regularly to avoid overworking the same areas. Sometimes we can even help out our bodies by properly refueling.
“After exercise, we need a combination of protein and carbs to allow the protein to enter the muscle cells with the help of insulin,” Harris-Pincus says. “That carb-free protein shake with water or unsweetened nut milk isn't going to cut it. Be sure to replenish electrolytes as well if you've had a long, strenuous sweat session."
Eating foods with sodium and potassium, such as a peanut butter and banana sandwich with some milk, will take care of that without any fancy sports drinks.
5. Your Sleep Schedule Is Off
Sleep is also the key to having adequate energy for a solid workout (and on race day, especially). Adults need seven to nine hours of restful sleep to function, so if you’re skipping out on that time too often, you may notice sleep disruptions such as stomach aches, stimulation, or lethargy in the morning.
Your dinner and late-night snacking habits may be a cause, since eating too large of a meal or too much of specific foods that contain caffeine or have been known to cause acid reflux symptoms might make it harder to snooze soundly.
“Eat a protein-rich dinner, try to avoid eating within a couple of hours of bedtime, skip any caffeinated beverages after lunchtime, and try to shut off screens at least an hour before sleep to allow your brain to prepare,” Harris-Pincus advises.