The fitness industry is rife with fad diets promising incredible results and presenting a false dichotomy; Lose pounds or be fat. The very idea that body weight in pounds equals fat irks me to no end. I would like to propose a new dichotomy as it applies to diet and nutrition for athletes. The question you should ask yourself when planning meals is, will it make the boat go faster?
This is a title of a book written by Ben Hunt-Davis & Harriet Beveridge. I was recently introduced to it by recommendation of Joe De Sena of Spartan Race while he was being interviewed by the hosts of a terrific Podcast, Barbell Shrugged (ep 116). The story chronicles the daily choices of a Rowing team preparing to compete in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The simple question, ‘Will the boat go faster?’ was a consistent mantra to keep the team focused on the end goal. By simplifying their goal, they were able to keep the team on target by constantly choosing to win.
Applying the message, I immediately noticed the majority of daily choices involving my athletic and fitness goals involved an interaction with food. I was eating 3 full meals a day, 3 snacks, and supplementing during pre-workout and post workout. 6+ food/fuel interactions a day, 7 days a week, 31 days in a month. That’s 186 choices that directly impact performance, versus 20 decisions to get in the gym and do my program as written in the same time frame. Anything with a weight of 9:1 should be looked at carefully and, for me, the easy part has always been putting in the training. It’s more fun than eating right.
Even with a proper meal plan and ready made food at your convenience, you still have to make a choice. Do I eat what I’m supposed to? Do I finish my meal and refuel with all the needed nutrients? There are other temptations. Friendly invitations to have a beer, the convenience of fast food, and even the comfort level of good home cook’n are a constant companion. Let’s do the math. If you eat 1 cheat meal a week, you’re following your meal plan 98% of the time. Notice I said cheat meal, not cheat day. That’s pretty good. Now let’s say you get tired on Tuesday night and hit the burger place down the road on the way home and skip your third snack of the day. On Friday you agree to meet with friends for a beer, that leads to three more. Saturday you have a birthday party to attend with nothing much to eat except cake and carbs. Sunday you’re just so tired from the week that you go and eat pancakes for breakfast. 6 times out of 42 meal interactions you chose to not make the boat go faster. That’s 86% adherence to diet. What’s 86% of your best Clean and Jerk or long jump? What’s a 24% slower mile? What’s 86% of a point scored?… zero. Even with a B average, you fall behind your competition. Not to mention the opportunity cost. Maybe you didn’t recover as much as you could’ve and now the next day’s training is running at a deficit. Or maybe that lack of recovery results in an injury. Now we’re wasting the finite resource of time. There is only so much of it. Know that your competition is preparing and you should be too.
Set your goal, simplify your goal, and stoke the fire. Don’t skip training, drive past fast food restaurants. Despite McDonald’s endorsement of the Olympics, they don’t really care who wins as long as they’re selling burgers and fries. Identify the threats to your goal. Stay on track with your constant mantra. Your friends will not understand. They will try to make you feel guilty for never hanging out. Plan your meals in advance, proper nutrition is an integral part of training. The pain of short term sacrifice will pass, the pain of missing the olympic team, the varsity team, or losing in the finals will haunt you forever. Every day you have choices to make. Will you make the boat go faster, or watch the others go by?
– Aaron Martin
Nashville Barbell Club Head Coach