First thing’s first: Nutrition

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If you’re wondering how you’re going to get better at your sport, or how you’re going to start being healthy to begin with, the first step Is nutrition.  I know so many people who are trying so hard to get faster, go harder, stay active longer, and they’re wondering why all of their hard work just isn’t paying off.  You can run every day, but if your BODY is not being nourished correctly, why do you think you’re going to improve?  Or if you’re not active at all, you’ll feel better just improving your nutrition.

If you’re going to actually look at your diet and make some changes, here are a few things to do.

1.  Determine how your diet makes you FEEL.

I enjoy crap as much as the next guy, but once I realized how TERRIBLE I felt running if I ate that way, I completely rearranged my diet.  I try to run at least 5 days a week.  When I know I’m going on a run, I fuel my body with food that will make me feel GOOD.  Now, if I’m going out with friends, sure, I’ll have a beer and some cheese fries, but because it isn’t the norm (and because I’m not going to lace up my running shoes right after) it’s fine.  I don’t believe that you need to eat clean 100% of the time- this idea is what keeps a lot of people from a successful diet; however, a general understanding that food fuels your body and “you are what you eat” is important to knowing how you’ll feel.

I used to drink Diet Coke ALL THE TIME.  I honestly had a can (or preferably a fountain drink from McDonald’s) of Diet Coke on me all the time.  I felt like total crap.  I had headaches all the time, would feel lightheaded often.  When I asked my doctor for medicine for my headaches, she told me she wouldn’t give me anything until I quit the Diet Coke since the aspartame was more than likely what was giving me my killer headaches. I honestly contemplated not stopping.  I loved having my Diet Coke in my hand and it gave me something to do with my hands.  I always had one in the car.  I had something I could order at the ice cream shop instead of ordering ice cream.  I quit a few days later after another headache.  When I stopped, I had a headache for probably a solid month and a half.  It was miserable, but since then, I have felt SO MUCH BETTER.  If I knew how much better I’d feel once stopping, I would have quit a long time before.  I haven’t had one in over a year now.

If you’re feeling pretty terrible pretty often, take a good hard look at your diet.  Maybe your stomachaches are coming from your dairy intake.  Maybe your headaches are caused by aspartame or caffeine.  Just be aware and see if you can fix it.

2.  Determine what your fitness goal is and how nutrition plays into that.

I run, but I am in no way, shape, or form a professional runner.  I am a professional high school teacher.  No one pays me to run.  I spend my money on races and gear and that’s that.  My husband is an Ironman in training and a high ranked triathlete in the area.  His fitness and nutrition goals are different than mine.  I take more liberties in my diet because I’m not training for something as huge as an Ironman.   Are you the type of person who chooses to park far away and get your exercise in by walking to the store?  Or do you take the stairs instead of the elevator?  Good for you!  You’re moving.  If you prefer to walk or go to the occasional Zumba class and have no interest in running, triathlons, work outs at all, then THAT’S FINE- but your nutrition should still be important to you.  It’ll help you be the best you possible and you can excel in whatever it is that you want to do.

I coach a high school dance team.  These girls work really hard and are athletes in and of themselves.  This past year, around Nationals time, we had some snow days and were forced to take a few days off.  I kept telling the girls, “You need to watch what you eat and stay active.  Sure, you’ll be stuck inside, but stretch, do some cardio, and for God’s sake, stay away from the crap food!”  Of course, many of them didn’t listen to me.  Our first practice back was one of the worst ones we’ve ever had and we had a few girls running to the trashcan to throw up throughout practice.  This wasn’t because they didn’t get a run in, it was because they were EATING LIKE TOTAL CRAP.  For these girls to be national champions, they need to eat, sleep, and breathe dance, and they weren’t eating dance, they were eating a bunch of chicken nuggets and Wing Stop.

3.  Ask yourself why you eat the way you eat.

Why do you eat the way you eat?  Is it because you’re in a hurry and end up picking up food at some fast food establishment pretty often?  Are you not able to cook much because of young children?  Are you an emotional eater?  Do you eat pretty healthy, but then need ideas of how to improve what you already eat?

Don’t use your children as an excuse for eating terribly.  I have two young girls myself, so I can see how you’d want to just give them chicken nuggets and mac and cheese and call it a day, but you CAN’T, because then they’ll grow up craving crap and not wanting good, fresh food.  If you are a parent, it is THAT MUCH MORE IMPORTANT to eat well at home so the children have a solid foundation of healthy eating.  Quick meals can be healthy- it shouldn’t be a time issue.  For example, there are many healthy options in the frozen section and in the prepared food section at the grocery store (especially if you have a Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, etc around).  Fresh food is super fast in and of itself.  Why not have a side of berries with your dinner?  Or a fresh salad?  It takes no time to put that together.  We buy rotisserie chickens fairly often when we are pressed for time.

In our house, we grill almost every night.  Whether it is chicken, vegetables, pork loin, Applegate hotdogs (I love these), the grill is fired up probably 5 nights a week.  Along with that, we usually eat some sort of steamed veggie.  At the store, we buy the bags that are steamable, and pop that in the microwave.  Our dinners take 20 minutes and both of my daughters eat what we eat.  We don’t spend that much on our dinners and they’re quick.

Have more questions on our dinners?  Let me know!

4.  Keep crap out of your house.

Do you keep a bunch of chocolate in the house for when you need something to pick you up?  Best advice? Don’t buy it.  Just don’t.  Keep it out of your house.  Are you really going to get into your car at 9 pm to go to the store to get chocolate?  Probably not.  I certainly won’t.  We don’t keep any junky food in our house- it’s not because we don’t eat it sometimes, it’s because we know that if it’s here, then we WILL eat it.   My daughter’s birthday was yesterday and she got cupcakes at school.  She came home with a bunch of them.  My husband, who is usually the cleanest eater I know, ate four cupcakes in a row and then felt terrible.  He yelled that we should never have brought those in the house and then he wouldn’t have eaten them.  Good point.  Keep it out of your house and you’ll be more likely to keep it out of your mouth.

5.  Pick one thing to change at a time.

If you have lots of aspects of your diet that are less than amazing, pick one at a time to fix.  If you try to do them all at the same time, you’ll end up being “hangry” and never accomplishing anything.  Want to stop or cut back on lots of things?  Try doing one at a time.  Quit drinking soda and find an alternative, THEN stop eating so much fried food, or whatever it is that you want to do.  It all links back to #1- determine how your diet makes you FEEL.

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