Stress & Diet
Many athletes fall into the following trap as it relates to diet and training. Here’s the scenario:
An athlete has a poor diet (low in protein, low in healthy fats, low in antioxidants and vitamins/minerals). They are training at a fairly low level (maybe 8-14 hours per week). They reinforce their poor diet by saying “well, my training is going fine and I feel fine so why change my diet. I’m also training so much that I get to eat anything, right?”. The periodic cold or illness is never blamed on the diet. Rather, its “bad luck” to this athlete.
Let’s say the same athlete now decides to train for the IM. As training volume increases they begin to notice more and more frequency of illness. They may also experience a prolonged period of fatigue and plateaued or declining performance even though they have the best coach in the world writing tailored plans with a very reasonable training approach. What gives? “Why is my luck so bad” is what they say. “It’s just been a bad season for me”. In my mind, this is a year wasted in terms of log term progress.
I’ve seen this happen over and over again where new athletes to IM with very poor diets end up with a major illness requiring antibiotics, or have major physical burnout/fatigue requiring a long lay off. What many athletes (and sadly some coaches) don’t realize is that as training stress increases the quality of the dietary intake must increase as well. If the super compensation cycle is to take form, it must be supported by very, very, sound nutrition (and other restoration methods) as training load increases.
The basic situation is: the athlete was perfectly fine under low training stress given their current diet. They increase training load and they are then in trouble. The amount of training stress one can handle is not a fixed value that can be calculated by all the new gadgets on the market (TSS, CTL, ATL….etc.). It’s greatly influenced by one’s ability to recover well through nutrition and rest. This is why every great training plan must be dove-tailed with an equally great nutrition and restoration strategy. With out one, the other is just not effective at making us go faster.
Although the lime light is always on training methods with nutrition in the shadow, I focus a lot of attention on nutrition/restoration because that’s what I have to do to make my athletes faster. A single pronged approach (training only) is just half as good. Bottom line.