Nutrition: A key component of your personal peak performance

The food you eat impacts a variety of body functions, changes your moods and affects performance. Eating better will help you feel and move better.

Apr 1, 2021
Jaclyn Weiner, M.Ed

Our bodies are complex machines; if one thing goes wrong, it affects the rest of the system. Some issues are easily fixed — feeling tired? Maybe you need more sleep. Experiencing knee pain? You may need physical therapy. However, there are many other issues or challenges your body faces that are not simple to address. Notably, nutrition can impact a variety of body functions, change your moods and affect performance. A poor diet can lead to unhealthy weight loss or gain, decrease energy, cause brain fog and more. A healthy diet, on the other hand, can improve athletic performance, increase energy and enhance productivity. Eating better will help you feel and move better, and can solve issues you may have previously struggled to address.

An athlete's journey

Take my friend Lindsay, for example. She considered herself a healthy, well-rounded individual and was a star athlete in many town sports leagues in her early years. As a typical adolescent, she believed she had a healthy relationship with food and nutrition. However, the truth was that she never truly understood the connection of athletic performance with proper nutritional intake.

Lindsay thought her overall health and BMI (body mass index) was within a healthy range. Therefore, she believed she had a positive relationship with food. But in high school, Lindsay's overall self-image started to change. At this time, she became obsessed with her body image and stopped eating: she was trying to fit in the perfect teenager's ideal. Soon enough, Lindsay started exhibiting a fast drop-off in her top-tier positions — from the soccer fields to the tennis courts.

The effects of not fueling her body properly

Subsequently, Lindsay, a member of a junior varsity tennis team, was running on zero fuel. She was consuming under one thousand calories a day and was showing signs of being nutritionally depleted. Lindsay’s BMI started to borderline underweight and her overall health and natural athletic traits began to fade. She had a difficult time running both short and long-distances without getting out of breath. Because Lindsay lost her stamina and inner core strength, and matches that would generally be wins turned into constant losses. Without taking care of her body, how could she expect to ace the game?

The food we eat turns into glucose, which provides energy for our brain and body to stay active and aware. When a person does not consume enough food, they begin to lack energy and focus. But the solution is not to eat just anything — not all food is processed efficiently. If you lead a diet that subsists off fast food or sugar and carbohydrates, your body will have a difficult time processing that food. Not only will you feel too full, bloated or slow, but this kind of food can also give you a quick “high” of energy that leads to a crash. Instead, a balanced diet that incorporates protein, healthy fats, minimally processed carbohydrates and fruit is the way to go. Additionally, snacking throughout the day, rather than binging when you feel the most hungry, will allow you to sustain a steady level of energy throughout the day.

Getting back on her feet

With much introspection and family guidance, Lindsay finally understood and appreciated the relationship between health, nutrition and athletic performance. She began to finally accept that her body was her engine. In order to perform at the highest level, she had to consume the proper amount and quality of fuel — food. Good fuel is an integral component to success, from the high school athlete to the everyday weekend warrior or professional athlete. Adequate food intake is a building block for overall health in our daily lives and on playing fields.

Lindsay stopped calorie counting, focused on proper nutrition and started to think of ways to challenge herself to become healthier every day. Nutritional well-being became her new way of life. Lindsay researched the topic and learned that a well-balanced diet was key to an overall healthy lifestyle. She started to eat well again, and her stamina started to come back. Challenging herself, she was once again able to run more vigorously than ever. Lindsay went on to play varsity tennis with a winning record and led her soccer team to the league championship.

Today, Lindsay is a young professional mother who runs every day and enjoys many sports. She lives a balanced nutritional lifestyle and even became an excellent cook, dedicated to incorporating organic produce and other nutritionally sound foods in her recipes. She wants to provide for both herself and her kids’, ensuring they have the fuel they need to grow and stay healthy.

A holistic approach to health turns into success

Nowadays, many of the most successful professional athletes attribute their success to having a team of varied multidisciplinary professionals. The support staff, ranging from cooks to psychologists to athletic and physical therapy trainers, work together to provide a holistic approach to health. There is a clear understanding that your body, mind, and soul work together for peak performance. Tom Brady, the football quarterback, is the perfect example of following a strict nutritional lifestyle. His dietary regimen allows the 43-year-old to perform like a 25-year-old and win yet another Super Bowl. Tom recognizes that his food intake, which is interestingly mostly plant-based, is a crucial component to his longevity and illustrious sports career.

I hope to see more articles, documentaries, and books written on professional sports figures who live a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Not everyone realizes the connection between nutrition and improving performance. That’s why education is so important. Whether you learn from your friends, family, trainer, therapist or nutritionist, learning more about the food you eat is integral to leading a healthy life.

I personally hope to influence the people around me to live healthier, more sustainable lives through proper nutrition and exercise. Although Lindsay doesn't play competitive sports, she continues to educate herself in all aspects of a healthy balanced lifestyle. Personally, I cannot wait for my daily morning run, absorbing nature's beauty and listening to my music. I am also looking forward to my homemade kale shake — while a small aspect of my daily regimen, it still makes a difference. Each aspect and component of one’s daily regimen, big or small, helps improve peak personal performance.

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