You don’t find it in any nutrition textbook. No scientific paper or position stand ever said: athletes are not allowed to have a slice of cake or should not enjoy a chocolate cookie. But in reality, there’s this strong belief that athletes are not allowed to have sweets or any kind of “bad, unhealthy foods”.
Why do we think it’s not allowed? What is the reason why so many athletes feel guilty when they eat a chocolate bar or have some ice cream?
When you speak to athletes, they tell you they don’t eat sweets when they are going through an important phase of their season or preparation. “It’s not good for them”, many will tell you. You hear similar stories from former pro athletes. Many, when looking back, tell you that during their career they were not eating certain foods. Some will say they were told to avoid certain foods. Usually it’s those foods we consider bad and unhealthy. When you speak to the public, you get an answer that corresponds fairly well to that. They, too, think athletes are not allowed to eat sweets and snacks.
Taking a moment and thinking about these beliefs, you get to the point were you wonder what made us think like that? Why does professional sports jar with cookies?
One reason for this attitude is for sure that we all know we should eat healthy and well balanced – athlete or not. Every nutrition guide tells us exactly this. Well, sweets are not considered healthy foods. So here’s a good argument as to why athletes should avoid a cookie. Furthermore, we know that a healthy body is very important for athletes….everything around an athlete should be healthy, no? And then there’s the story about avoiding high-calorie, high-fat foods for a healthy weight. That’s, again, sweets (besides a few other foods, of course). It can only seem logical that athletes need to avoid a cookie.
But let us now take a look at the food guide pyramids and recommendations of various dietetic associations. Do they say: no sweets? No cookies? Actually, no….dietetic associations suggest a minimal consumption of sweets. It’s usually the top of the pyramid, representing only very small servings of sweets.
Why do athletes, then, have to avoid sweets?
In many sports where bodyweight is a very important factor, e.g. running, cycling, high jump, it is accepted as normal today, that athletes have to avoid certain foods. When you want to be good, you need to diet and you need to skip the dessert. That’s not true. That’s not “normal” eating. And that’s not a healthy eating behaviour either. Fact is: Sports and its community made this seem normal. The fact that some athletes are obsessed with healthy eating, counting calories and grams of carbohydrates and fats is for many people part of the game. When you want to be an athlete, you’ve to deal with that. Food is an enemy. Food causes anxiety and stress. Food is bad.
This is the real issue. What is not normal and healthy – over the years – became something that is considered normal and right. And this is actually something that I am working on day in day out with my athletes. Food should become their weapon. Food will give them the power to succeed. Most of the time healthy choices, but sometimes also the “bad” ones. Instead if reflecting on every cookie they’ve eaten in secret, they’re enjoying the cookie. They’re in peace with their diet and in peace with food. This, too, is considered health: well-being and happiness, your inner balance.
Should you have that cookie that’s right in front of you on your kitchen table? Of course you should. It’s good for you!