Diet vs. Exercise: Which Matters More?
How many times have you heard “Just get any kind of food into their bodies – they need calories” when referencing athletes’ need to refuel between workouts and competitions? Many people who train similarly to competing athletes workout to burn calories in order to grant themselves a hall pass to eat more calories of any kind, but how is what we’re eating impacting our training? Is the calorie-in versus calorie-out equation really all we need to know for maintaining our weight? What about our health? And of most importance to athletes, how about for performance? If it’s that simple, shouldn’t 1,000 calories worth of chocolate chunk fudge brownies have the same impact on our bodies as 1,000 calories worth of kale? If that idea isn’t passing your common-sense smell test, then maybe there’s a little bit more to that oversimplified equation.
From the fall day in 3rd grade when our PE teacher explained what the President's Fitness Challenge Test consisted of and then we performed our first of two tests for the year (if you grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, you remember that shuttle run, sit-ups, sit and reach, mile run, and my personal favorite – pull-ups – whatever happened to that test by the way?), I realized that I had six months to practice so I could hit better numbers for the second test in the Spring. So, I convinced my parents that all they had to do was run with me every week at the pace I’d need for the mile and buy a pull-up bar so I could build up my 14 calluses and lats every other day to beat my school record. Looking back, I vividly remember these moments piquing my interest in human performance. I know, you’re thinking this girl has some serious ambitions chasing the Presidential Fitness Challenge Test. Hey, I was a 3rd grader in Iowa whose only experience with sports up to this point in my life involved sitting on my butt watching men’s Iowa football and basketball games or the Olympics on TV. What took me only about 20 more years from that day to figure out, was that optimal human performance not only depends on the right physical training, but also on the right nutrition.
My hope is that this blog series will save you the two decades worth of life I spent over-prioritizing the physical training while simultaneously neglecting the importance nutrition plays into the entire picture of performance – training, recovery, and adaptation – and help clarify some of the confusion that you might or might not hear presented in the mainstream media as well as provide functional applications of how to incorporate it into your training or your family’s routine. I’ve combined knowledge gained from nearly two decades of formal education (University of Iowa’s Bachelors of Science Psychology degree, University of Denver’s Sport and Performance Psychology Masters degree and MBA, NSCA’s Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Nutrition Therapy Institute’s Certified Nutrition Therapy Practitioner, and Barça Innovation Hub – Universitas Certificate in Advanced Sports Nutrition), which also taught me the value of real world experience I gained working with athletes, clients, family, and friends.
While my personal opinion is that everyone can benefit from this knowledge I’m sharing, this blog series won’t be for everyone. Some people are content with underlying low level of fatigue, low motivation, stomach discomfort, slow recovery from workouts, chronic injuries, allergies, multiple colds or respiratory illnesses per season, or a child who is hyperactive, lethargic, uninterested in anything, has poor focus, or a picky eater. For people okay accepting those conditions, this isn’t the blog for them. I happen to have an extremely low tolerance threshold for these symptoms and also have found that we all have much more control than we realize in making them disappear. While many ads or popular magazines “normalize” these symptoms, should the prevalence of them mean we should just blindly accept them because everyone else seems to? It takes having an open mind to increase awareness of our behaviors and our way thinking. It takes accepting responsibility to drive our behavior rather than passively respond to others. It takes discipline to plan and implement changes. These slight shifts in our thinking and behavior allow us to thrive rather than simply survive.
This blog series will dig into the physiology behind training, recovery, and adaptation, and the corresponding role of nutrition. It will scratch the surface of cellular science to understand how DNA impacts our health and in turn how the foods we eat (or don’t) impact the expression of our genes. Not everyone has interest in optimal performance or has experienced enough “pain” to seek out another option, and that’s fine – like I said before, I’m not writing this blog for everyone. But, for people who value optimizing health and performance, who want to read something a little different than our recycled media content, and who want alternatives beyond the status quo, you might want to keep on reading.