To make a machine run efficiently you need to do a number of things: maintain it in working order, run it occasionally or often, and provide the optimal power or fuel source. Our bodies are really no different. We need to build strength and stretch, build endurance and fuel accordingly. Depending on your level of athletic commitment, your support team may have some different players:
- The internet - a wealth of general information (and misinformation) from training plans to self-medical diagnosis
- A training partner - personal knowledge and experience to share
- A team/club - a wealth of personal experience and perhaps some professional expertise
- A coach - professional expertise and experience specific to your sport
- A sports doctor - professional expertise on the body and possibly your specific sport
- A therapist: physio or massage - specialists in recovery and likely injury prevention
- A sports psychologist - expert on motivation, visioning, stress and all aspects of the mental game
- A dietitian or nutritionist - expertise on fueling your training and performance
For some reason, for most athletes, a nutritional expert is way down at the bottom of the list of priorities. Perhaps that is because of costs - many other members of your support team are covered by government or private health plans. Perhaps it is because many of the other team members have some basic nutrition knowledge. However, study after study shows sports performance is enhanced by well-chosen nutrition strategies. Whether it is a few appointments to set up a basic nutritional plan or an ongoing support relationship, an expert in nutrition will benefit your long-term performance. It is a far better investment in your performance to book a session or two with an expert than to spend money on supplements you might not need.
- A “nutritionist”- no training. In Canada anyone can call themselves a nutritionist.
- A “Registered Holistic Nutritionist”- completed a program at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition, a board exam and a practicum.
- A “Registered Dietitian” - completed a minimum bachelor's degree, an internship and a licensing exam.
Six reasons to work with an expert
Training isn’t static, neither is nutrition
As we train for a season or a specific performance, our training program ebbs and flows, challenges and recovers. Likewise nutrition has to follow the cycles of training. If nutrition doesn’t keep pace with all the peaks and valleys of training you are missing out on optimal performance. Your body isn’t like anyone else's If you are serious about your performance, you don’t hesitate to work with a coach to create a plan that is specific to your body and goals. Pulling a plan from the internet won’t cut it. An individualized nutrition plan will account for your training and your specific health, dietary history and preferences.
A individualized plan can help your reach metabolic efficiency in training and lead you to access fuel stores in competition. It will create a plan that fuels both the physical and cognitive requirements of sport performance. If you are underfueling this can lead to loss of performance, injury and mental stress.
Adapting to improvements
Just as you need to revisit and revise your training plan as you improve, your diet needs to progress with your training. Without qualified support to guide that process you risk underfueling. The ongoing physical stress of training needs to be counteracted with adequate nutritional support to prevent injury.
Research is continuous and sports nutrition guidelines are updated frequently. You want to make decisions based on evidence. Knowing what nutrients are needed, when and how much varies greatly between athletes, depending on size, physical makeup, health and goals. Something as simple as timing specific foods can impact how the body absorbs the nutrients. Many micro-nutrients needs are based on body type and weight ratios - that is why it is best to consult an expert to create your plan.