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3 Ways Better Nutrition Makes You A Better Athlete

May 9th, 2016

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3 Ways Better Nutrition Makes You A Better Athlete

The main difference between most elite and average athletes doesn’t lie in the training, but in their ability to recover efficiently.


But HOW do you speed recovery?


While there’s many different things that can help like getting a massage, stretching/yoga, sleep, decreasing stress in your life,  etc… one of the biggest ways to improve recovery is by honing in on our NUTRITION.


The next question is, what is good nutrition?



Well, there’s 3 concrete ways that show us the principles behind good nutrition and how that impacts our recovery:


Way #1: Good nutrition means absorbing more nutrients per calorie, while decreasing energy wasted in digestion (i.e. higher nutrient net gains).


This means choosing foods that take less energy to digest, but that also have a high nutritional output. Many people assume that eating more calories = more energy. However,  you may have experienced for yourself that eating a bunch of calories of fast food doesn’t give you great energy because it takes the body A LOT of energy to assimilate and digest those foods.

So good nutrition’s focus is NOT on calories or amounts of food, it’s more about high nutrient density: that’s eating foods with a lot of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants. All these things that we need (you can check out more about micronutrients in my last post!)

As a general overview: starchier foods are low in nutrients and take a lot of energy to digest. Highly processed fats and refined oils are also nutrient low, and take a lot of energy to digest.

Foods like fruit, quinoa, grass fed meats, veggies, and sprouted nuts/legumes are all very high in nutrients, and pack a lot of nutrient bang per calories lost due to digestion.

Another added bonus that can happen when switching to high nutrient dense foods is that your hunger signals will decrease (evening cravings, anyone?) and will be satisfied on a chemical level. That’s why it feels like you can eat two or three donuts and then easily be hungry an hour later. While your stomach volume may be FULL, your body is still craving and signaling for more food because it is still needing nutrients.

The main reason americans struggle with their weight is because they overeat foods with low nutrient density (as our bodies tell us to do to keep us alive and functioning as best as possible), and then under eat the foods that would help us feel satiated, fuel our body’s ability to recover and be stable throughout the day.


Way #2: Good nutrition increases sustainable energy, not stimulants or stress.


Stress is stress. Whether it’s from the foods we are eating or from our jobs. And while we can’t always control family/work stress, studies have shown that around 40% of our stress can be attributed to something we can control: nutritional stress! We can decrease our stress through eating higher nutrient foods, and this helps us increase our stress threshold as athletes AND sleep better.

So how does this work?

Often athletes who experience high levels of stress (from food or otherwise) experience what some label, ”hormonal injury” (caused by the stress hormone: cortisol). In fact many athletes and chronic dieters have experienced a strange situation where they will GAIN weight if they are overtraining EVEN IF they are burning much more calories than they are consuming.

Wait, what?

Yes, this goes to show that the old addage, “calories in, calories out” is not quite the right message, nor a good motto to live by when it comes to your nutrition.


Additionally, cortisol spikes can impact our sleep, and when we are not sleeping deeply that also impacts our ability to lose weight, recover, and feel energized throughout our day.


Way #3: Good nutrition is alkaline forming, and decreases the acidity of our blood.

Most foods in the standard american diet, or SAD are acid forming foods: high processed meats, dairy, synthetic drugs & vitamins, starches… these all impact our blood acidity.

When we eat these foods the calcium gets pulled from our bones to help offset the acidity of our blood and keep us at a neutral pH. (Again, our body is trying it’s best to keep us functioning well/alive even when it sometimes backfires). So not only are we depleting our calcium but the acidity of these foods also increases our body’s inflammation.

The good news is that eating whole foods, alkaline forming foods, can reverse that process by reducing inflammation. As a CrossFit athlete, this is important because when you reduce inflammation you increase efficiency — that means that you’re ability to lift heavier weights goes up! And that = strength gains, which I know I can take all the help that I can get.

Well, there you have it. One more reason to venture into the produce aisle, ditch the processed foods (for the most part) and learn how awesome meal prepping can be for not only your time & budget, but also recovery!

Kudos to Brendan Brazier for providing a good summary of these insights on recovery, you can read more about it here:

None of the above is intended to replace or be taken as medical advice. If you have any q’s or feedback please contact Jenny Helms at


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