Written by Josh Thigpen
We humans are fascinating creatures. We will spend tons of money on things we don’t need, but when it comes to the most important thing to spend money on, we more often chose to skimp out on buying quality foods. Strength athletes, and athletes in general are no exception to this rule. We spend money on movies, phone apps, buy a new car that we don’t really need, or house payments to keep up with the Jones’s. We’ll spend money on anything that we don’t need yet when it comes time to go grocery shopping we just don’t have money to buy that quality food. It’s almost as if buying food has become a secondary need. Let’s be clear, of all the expenses you have buying quality food is the single most important. Numero uno. Not just as a strength athlete but for your life in general it is the most important expense. What you put into your body matters. Why do people need to be convinced of this? Because we are distracted with everything else that doesn’t matter.
Now I will be the first to say that finding quality foods is harder and harder. I was disgusted recently as I walked down grocery store aisles, and had a realization. That realization was that 90 percent of the things being sold in the store isn’t real food. The store was filled with non-food!. It was sugar water over here, processed this, flavor that, but no real sustenance. There was no actual nutrients for people to live off of and certainly not thrive off of. I’m reminded of an ex girlfriends kitchen. As I looked in her fridge, pantry, etc., I remember that she had no real food. Some lemon juice here, lipton ice tea packets there, maybe a cereal box or two. Where was the food and how was she still alive? Luckily we broke up and I and the world are better for it, but I digress. Now this is an extreme point, but I believe a lot of athletes aren’t too far off from my ex girlfriends way of eating. Most people have limited recourses so what food you buy is crucial. We need to be buying nutrient dense foods with the money we have.
So we have established the need for buying healthy foods and understand that we must strive and even make sacrifices to make sure that we are buying real food for health, but how does this relate to performance as an athlete? Are healthy eating and performance eating the same? The answer is mostly yes, and sometimes no. How is that for an answer? If you are still with me let me explain. I believe that when at all possible quality foods should be eaten. As a rule of thumb the highest quality foods an athlete can buy is ideal. Quality nutrient dense foods will decrease the chances of having a vitamin or mineral deficiency, thereby improving an athletes performance. Less processed nutrient dense foods often tend to lead to less inflammation. Inflammation in the body, especially chronic inflammation, leads to sickness and disease, but also lowers recovery rates and leads to injury. Does that sound like anything that a strength athlete wants?
So how do we know when it is ok to venture away from really healthy eating as an athlete? Ultimately we must look at what your goal is. I am an all natural kind of guy. I am even an organic kind of guy. I am willing to put money into buying nutrient dense all natural organic foods for my health and my performance. However, if I find myself in a situation where my only option is to eat a hot and ready pizza from little caesars, I’m going to do it. In the case where many hours have gone by and I haven’t had the chance and won’t have the chance to get those calories in any other way, it would be more beneficial as a strength athlete to go ahead and eat that pizza to get the calories. Or take an athlete who had to cut to lose weight before a powerlifting meet. That athlete will be more benefited by slamming whatever is in sight the night before the competition after weigh in’s in order to get back to full weight and strength. Eating a bunch of broccoli isn’t going to cut it. Eating an entire box of pop tarts and half a gallon of milk is acceptable at this point. Let’s take crossfit for example. Many crossfitters, follow the paleo diet. Now if you are just doing crossfit as a means to get in shape 3-4 times a week the paleo diet may be a good option for you, and many have had great results with it. Now if your goal is to go and win the crossfit games, or at least be competitive in the world of crossfit, you are going to need more calories and carbohydrates. Take two time Crossfit Games champion Rich Froning for instance. Rich is training so much that he admitted that he eats whatever it takes to get the calories that he needs in order to recover. Overall is that the healthiest option? Maybe not. But who can argue with his performance? Now its time to make an important distinction. Although Rich may not be eating ultra healthy foods, he is eating nutrient dense foods. He isn’t wasting his time on little skimpy foods that aren’t going to help him reach his goals.
Even if you aren’t buying organic everything, you should still make it a point to make the food you buy just that, food. Whole foods are best. The fewer ingredients the better. No matter what I say most athletes will come back to money, and I will say cut back on other things financially in order to buy real food and around in circles we go. Never the less, if you are truly strapped for cash remember that often times real foods are the least expensive. How much does, a dozen eggs cost? How about Oats, or peanut or almond butter? A pound of ground beef? Some bananas or avocados? These things are real food and they are cheap! They are performance foods, and yet they are cheaper and healthier than most other processed, garbage you are going to buy.
For the most part healthy eating and performance eating are the same. Of course some flexibility must be allowed depending on your specific goals. Cut back on other expenses in your life in order to accommodate putting real quality food in your body. Stay away from all of the processed non-food out there. I go further in depth on just what the specific foods and supplements an athlete should be eating are in my upcoming book the Performance Nutrition Encyclopedia. I am writing this book in conjuction with Zach Mcvey DC, DACBN, CSCS, in order to be an all in one recourse for athletes looking to improve performance through nutrition. Until then Go out and buy some real food!!!Josh Thigpen is one of the top professional strongmen in America and is a 3 time ESPN Worlds strongest man competitor. His career has spanned 11 years with 7 as a pro. He has competed in over 50 competitions in countries all over the world. Josh is the author of the revolutionary training system The Cube Method for Strongman. In addition to this Josh is owner and CEO of Conquest Nutrition, a sports supplement company. Josh is a sought after public speaker where he has used his athletic platform to speak to over a million people world wide with an inspiring message. Website, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter