When Everything Changed: How I Realized the Importance of Nutrition
By Jen Kates, CHC, Pn2
A little more than 8 years ago, I found myself absolutely exhausted in my daily life. I always felt like I was in need of a nap, regardless of whether or not it was a training day. At the time, I was in the midst of a lengthy career in the biotech industry as a desk-bound researcher who was also a road warrior with a full weekly travel schedule. Between my flights to and from Denver, Raleigh, and other cities across North America, I was also trying to maintain a robust training schedule that sometimes even included renting a bike for a local ride in whatever city I was visiting for work.
Concurrently, I was coaching athletes part-time, yet I found myself becoming more and more unwilling to workout regularly, because I was just so… tired. (And moody, I was definitely moody because of my fatigue.) My fear had finally come true: I had become a traveling professional who had lost my zeal for the one thing that had been a huge passion of mine since I was a young kid: fitness.
I wasn’t clear about what I was or wasn’t doing to make me so unbelievably tired. I ate “clean” (whatever that means), and I worked out regularly. My sleep could have been better (since weekly business trips can make sleeping in a hotel bed a challenge), so I figured that could definitely be a part of the problem. But, I still felt like there was something else that I could be doing better.
The glaringly obvious sign was that I kept bonking on my longer bike rides, despite carrying countless snacks and energy drinks with me. I knew what I was eating (or not eating) could have been playing a major role. The frustrating part for me was that I found myself a bit heavier than my normal weight. Who enjoys riding around extra weight on long bike rides? No one. Between the extra weight and all of the snacks I was carrying, I was left winded on my rides, without much energy in the tank.
So, I started to track what I ate regularly. I found that having some extra awareness about what I was eating was key in finding ways to improve my eating to actually work with me instead of against me and my goals. What I quickly started to realize was that I actually wasn’t eating enough, especially enough of the smarter foods that would support my training. I discovered that I was inadvertently restricting my carbs (because, you know, carbs are the devil), not eating nearly enough protein to support my lean mass and recovery, and my fat intake was nearing astronomical levels for my needs. I made some shifts to my eating, but they were short-lived since work travel always seemed like a huge hurdle for me.
Eventually, I became frustrated with my inconsistent progress, so I hired a nutrition coach, and let’s just say the results took me to the next level. Within weeks we worked to increase my lean protein and carbohydrates, while also working to decrease my fat intake to a level my body was actually able to process. (Let’s just say it’s amazing what a good, healthy intestinal tract can do for one’s energy levels.) Within weeks, my energy levels were skyrocketing, and I was sleeping like recovery was my job. I was not only leaner, but I felt properly fueled on my mountain bike rides, and my mood was dramatically improved (for which my partner was grateful).
I started to learn more about what it was like to fuel my body for the demands I placed on it, and even though I technically knew what to do and how to eat, I wasn’t doing it on my own. The difference was that I had a coach walking beside me, leading me to the “better” next step without allowing me to misstep and take longer to find the proper way to fuel myself for my endeavors. Because my coaching experience was so profound, I knew exactly what I needed to do: I needed to help other self-proclaimed “busy” athletes learn the best way for them to fuel their lifestyle and goals. Within a few years, and after spending some time studying more about nutrition, I found myself coaching more athletes on ways they can fuel themselves while also managing their career, lifestyle, and the various challenges that are surely going to cross their path along the way.
What I’ve found through my own journey as well as my experience coaching the hundreds of clients I’ve had over the years is this: we need to keep it simple. Sometimes our nutrition and training protocols don’t need to be “sexy” or heavily evolved; sometimes, we just need to keep it simple and manageable. After all, the more simple and manageable our changes are (including the overall processes involved), the better we will be at managing it and actually sticking with it. Regardless of what approach we use to fuel and train our bodies, it needs to be enjoyable and sustainable. We need to ask ourselves: If we can’t imagine eating or training a certain way now as well as five years from now, then is that method truly sustainable? Or is it full of restriction, denial, and the constant yo-yo’ing?
“Simple and sustainable” is how I best describe my overall approach to nutrition and training. Sure, sometimes it gets a little more in-depth based on the goals being sought, but overall, it’s something that’s manageable in the long-run while also allowing for results on your race calendar as well as in your professional life. So, instead of thinking how much more complex your training and nutrition need to be, perhaps it’s time to pause and think about the ways you can make it easier to manage.