Many people chase the perfect diet based on optimal performance with their health being a distant second. Which is great if you are of an Olympic standard and only want to perform for a short amount of time. If you think of the average Olympic athlete in sports like swimming, running or any other endurance based sport, their window of opportunity is generally no more than 10 years, so they have their priorities.
But have you seen what happens to them a few years after they finish competing and no longer train? Most of them due to their poor “high energy diet” will eventually suffer for all their sins against their body and start developing issues like metabolic syndrome which can lead to diabetes and weight gain.
Australian Olympic swimmer Jeff Huegill recently made a comeback from retirement after gaining a bit too much weight and was tipping the scales at around 130kg’s. The eating patterns he had during his career was a recipe for this and it make me wonder if he ate for health rather than pure performance, would he have ended up going down this road. He did end up qualifying for the Olympics and did reasonably well, no medals though, but will he just end up 130kg again and unhappy? Maybe, unless he changes his eating patterns.
Michael Phelps is a great example of this. Although he has only just retired and my claims still remain to be seen, but his 12000 calorie a day diet is enough to make the average person sick, very sick. Have a read of this –
Breakfast: Three fried-egg sandwiches loaded with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise. Two cups of coffee. One five-egg omelet. One bowl of grits. Three slices of French toast topped with powdered sugar. Three chocolate-chip pancakes.
Lunch: One pound of enriched pasta. Two large ham and cheese sandwiches with mayo on white bread. Energy drinks packing 1,000 calories.
Dinner: One pound of pasta. An entire pizza. More energy drinks.
No, he does not choose one or two of these options, he has them all! I will be very interested to see his health after a few years of not training.
Now us runners tend to stay in the game for far longer than the average swimmer, maybe because it’s more fun, but the danger of developing metabolic syndrome and all the negative health effects of a poor diet are still a real threat. Timothy Noakes a world famous runner, author (The Lore of Running) and sports scientist who was a big supporter of high energy diets is now a diabetic and has done a complete turnaround of his opinions. He now follows a diet based on health, not performance.
My opinion on if you should eat for performance or health is a no brainer. Health will win for me every time. Why? Because a diet is created to help you recover from all the hard training you do, not to only give you the energy to go out and run another 20k the following day. If you can eat to give your body all the nutrients to recover fully from your previous session, the energy will come naturally as your body will be working at its peak. I would definitely argue that a healthy body will outperform and outlast a body fuelled only for performance.
Sometimes I think many athletes are great despite their diet, not because of it.
Just my two cents worth…