When thinking about professional sports, it's not unusual to think of the talent, dedication, and passion that is required to succeed. However, one of the most overlooked areas amongst fans and athletes alike is nutrition. There is no doubt that an athlete must have talent to get to a certain level of success in a sport, but there comes a stage when talent just isn't enough. Something else is needed to complement the talent and determination; something much more important to any long-term goals as an athlete: nutrition.
It's not easy to transform your nutritional habits, but here are five tips to get you started.
Take baby steps
Any change worth doing is always a process. Developing a quality nutrition plan is on the same wavelength. Instead of looking at the big picture of where you are at and where you think you should be, start with some small changes to your diet. For example, if you like to eat some sort of fast food just about every day of the week, try going one day out of the week without any fast food. One day becomes two days, two becomes three, and then three becomes the entire week, and so on. This is how you build discipline.
Try to cook most of your meals
Yes, going out to eat is always convenient, but it turns out that cooking your own meals or having a cooked meal is healthier for you. Most restaurants use way too much salt and unhealthy fats to make a meal more "tasty." However, the taste they are offering doesn't really help you as much out on the field, or on the court. If you don't know how to cook, now is the time to try learning. Added benefit? Cooking is usually less expensive than eating out.
Healthy doesn't mean tasteless
You can still eat a lot of the foods you like AND have them be healthy. Plenty of foods offer a lot of flavor without the nasty fats. Taste comes from the seasoning and oils used to prepare a meal. Often times healthier substitutes like raisins or honey instead of pure cane sugar allow for the same sweet taste you are craving. To find what works for you, experiment with different substitutes for the usual fatty food you regularly use to enhance your meals with flavor.
Nothing is perfect
Mistakes will happen and you will have more than your fair share of cheat days in the beginning. Just like when you first learned to ride a bike and you got knocked down, you just have to recommit to getting back up and giving it another try. The key to quality nutrition is having the discipline to maintain it. Someone to support you through your journey, especially early on in the process, doesn't hurt either.
Give yourself one day to let loose
When it comes to food, we need to give ourselves a day where we can take a step out of our healthy routine and give your body that sense of freedom. For me, that might mean a day off where I indulge in a guilty pleasure or comfort food (fast food, wings, pizza…). But a day means a day, so be careful not to splurge too much because this is where relapses tend to happen.
So there you have it, five tips to get you on your way to feeling more energized. Nutrition is not the only key to athletic success but it is a major game-changer in helping maintain and excel your performance.
Michael Lahoud is a Midfielder for the Philadelphia Union who is passionate about eating and nutrition.