Thursday, 5 September 2013

Week 36 Nutrition Habit: The Best Option

What do you do if a fast food joint
is your only option?
When it comes to performance nutrition, many situations in life are less than ideal. You have a goal to improve your performance or body composition, but will often find yourself in situations that make it hard to eat in a way that is appropriate for that goal. Many situations such as travel, parties, restaurants, family dinners, school cafeterias and busy schedules make high-performance nutrition a huge challenge. In week 36 of the 52 Weeks to Better Nutrition and a New You Series, it is time to learn how you can best deal with this challenge.



One of the fundamental nutrition guidelines I give people is to get in the habit of stopping in each non-ideal situation and asking, "what is best option I can choose in this situation?" Then, once you have selected that option, relax and enjoy your food.

2 Big Mistakes
You need to find something
decent to eat
Unfortunately, when it comes to these difficult, non-ideal situations, too many people make one of two mistakes. One is to just eat nothing. This is obviously a bad idea for athletes or anyone doing a lot of hard training. You need calories, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals, so you want to do your best to get them. The second mistake people make is to take a helpless victim mindset, throw up their hands in surrender and then eat something downright awful (from a performance nutrition perspective).

Selecting the Best Option
Here are some tips to helping you pick the best option in these difficult situations:

Keep your goal in mind. 
Remember the training/performance/body composition goal that you are going for and ask yourself, "What is the best and most appropriate option at this meal?"

Start with a basic meal template
Start planning your meal around protein and vegetables. These are two essential elements of a high performance meal so your first job is to get these in your meal. If your goal is fat loss, you will likely be fine with these two for your meal (with the possible addition of some raw nuts). If your goal is muscle gain, you need to find the best carb choices. This can be tricky as healthy carbs can be very hard to find in these situations. Fresh fruit is one option. Potatoes, rice and possibly whole grains (if you are lucky enough them and tolerate grains well) can help as well. If your goal is athletic performance, you will likely be looking to add some carbs, but perhaps not as much as with muscle gain. For more information, check out my post on How to Individualize Your Carb Intake.

Because of the difficulty with finding good carbs, it is also important to consider the timing. If you have just exercised, extra carbs can be helpful (note: go easy on this if fat loss is your goal). If not, you may want to go the meat and vegetable route and move your carbs to after your next training session.

Restaurants
Restaurants can pose a challenge to optimal nutrition. For more information on dealing with this challenge, click HERE.

Cafeterias
If you are a student living on campus, I would encourage you stock up on food when possible to keep in your dorm. Set a goal to not eat things from the cafeteria that you can easily have in your room (e.g. apples). Then, for meals you do eat in the cafeteria, follow the same guidelines I gave for restaurants.

If you have a kitchen where you live, but are in the habit of regularly eating at cafeterias, then I would encourage you to take the next step and start doing meal prep and bringing your own food with you when possible. Remember Chris Shugart's quote: the more you cook, the better you look.

In short, use cafeterias and restaurants when needed or (in the case of a nice restaurant) as a special treat and plan to cook your own food as much as possible.

Parties and Other Special Events that Involve Food
As I mentioned above, it is important to keep the goal in mind and decide before you get there if you will be sticking to your goal or allowing yourself to have a treat/cheat meal. If it is the former, follow the guideline I gave above and emphasize meats and vegetables. Also, make water your beverage of choice.

Unless this is a rare cheat meal, I would pass on dessert. It may be awkward at first, but after a while people will get used to it. My friends and family know that I don't eat dessert, so now they don't even bother offering it to me. 

Healthy Eating Gone too Far
The second part of this habit is equally important. Once you have made the best choice, then it is important to not stress about it. 

When it comes to eating disorders, many people are familiar with disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. However there is another eating disorder that seems to be growing in popularity - especially now with many of our current nutritional fads. This eating disorder is called orthorexia and it is an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. Now, I am all for healthy eating. However, if you take healthy eating too far, it becomes unhealthy. Orthorexia can usually cause problems such excessive, unnecessary stress, malnutrition and/or causing you to withdraw from normal social situations (e.g. will not go out to eat with friends, decline wedding receptions). Like other eating disorders, orthorexia can be very destructive to your physical, mental, emotional and social health.

This Week's Habit
This week, get in the habit of asking the question, what is the best and most appropriate choice I can make in this situation? Once you have asked that question, go ahead, sit down and enjoy a guilt-free meal.

As a bonus habit, I would also encourage you to keep track of how often you find yourself in one of these un-ideal situations. If it is quite frequently, you may need to look at your meal planning and scheduling a bit more.

Below are the links to the other weekly habits in this series:

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