How can finding satisfaction in food improve my athletic performance?
Updated: Jan 8
Finding satisfaction in food can have a huge impact on athletic performance. Knowing what you like to eat and believing that you have the right to enjoy food, are key factors in a lifetime of maintaining a healthy relationship with food and your body (Tribole & Resch). When you are tuned into your body and find satisfaction in food, it will help ensure that your nutritional needs are being met. While there are a few tweaks necessary, such as eating for recovery purposes, athletes can benefit from finding satisfaction in food (Tribole & Resch). For the most part, leaving the table unsatisfied likely means you physically filled your stomach without truly giving your body what it needs. When you ask yourself what you really want to eat and honor your hunger and fullness cues, you will be able to recognize what types of foods feel good in your body before, during and after you train.
Discover the Satisfaction Factor is one of the key principles to intuitive eating. Intuitive eating is characterized as an unconditional permission to eat when hungry, eating for physical rather than emotional reasons, and reliance on internal hunger and satiety cues to determine when and how much to eat (Tribole & Resch). Intuitive eating is shown to cultivate a healthier relationship with food, better body image, higher self-esteem, and higher interoceptive awareness.
Interoceptive awareness is crucial to becoming a good athlete. Interoceptive awareness is a powerful and innate ability, which includes perceiving the physical cues of hunger and satiety, bodily states such as rapid heartbeat and a full bladder, and the physical sensations produced by emotions (Tribole & Resch). Being able to tune into your body at any minute is advantageous in many ways. Knowing what food your body needs to be refueled is critical to optimize performance. Instead of being preoccupied with food and how your body looks, your brain can focus what’s happening on the ice at that moment.
If an athlete is consistently settling for unsatisfying food or an unappetizing eating experience, satisfaction will not be the outcome (Tribole & Resch). Enjoying food and indulging in satisfying food promotes strong feelings of guilt and wrongdoing for many athletes. When someone is stuck in the diet mentality, it’s hard to indulge in “bad food.” Athletes are prone to high stress and anxiety. For some, this triggers undereating and loss of appetite, while for others it leads to overeating as a coping mechanism (Benson). By allowing all foods, athletes avoid a sense of deprivation and food preoccupation while also acquiring adequate nutrition and energy intake. As well, being able to check in with what one is feeling and assess what is needed is crucial to managing emotions during high stress and anxiety levels during both training and competition (Benson).
When you are able to take your mind off food, you can focus on your training and recovery. With increased focus and attention, from being physically and mentally satisfied with food, your performance will be enhanced. We often overlook the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in eating experiences. Food is meant to be pleasurable. Enjoying food mindfully helps ensure you are getting enough of all kinds of food. In addition to consuming enough fuel throughout the day, enjoying foods that were previously viewed as “off limits” on a regular basis can leave athletes feeling more mentally satisfied.
Increasing your interoceptive awareness around hunger and fullness will also help increase your awareness in other areas of your life. Interoceptive awareness is needed to execute jumps, know where your body is in the air, make tiny changes to technique and know how to protect yourself when you fall. Not to mention, ignoring body cues can be dangerous to athletes because it increases the risk of injury.
So, how does someone discover the satisfaction factor?
Start asking yourself, “What do I really want to eat?” Consider taste qualities: savory, sweet, salty, buttery, rich, bitter, tart, smoky, hot, spicy, bland or mild. It is also important to ask yourself what textures sound appealing. Food can offer a variety of textures: smooth, creamy, crunchy, chewy, crispy, crumbly, hard, soft, flaky, gooey, mushy, sticky, greasy, dry, moist, thick, thin, heavy, light, or lumpy. By discovering the pleasures of the palate, it allows you the freedom to pick just the right food for your taste buds what makes your eating experiences more enjoyable (Tribole & Resch).
Throughout your meal, check in with yourself and ask, “Does this still taste good?” As you are eating, Sensory Specific Satiety (SSS) can set in. SSS encompasses the proposition that by evaluating the sensual qualities of food, you can determine when the pleasantness of the food decrease (Tribole & Resch). With this focus, one will naturally come to just the right amount of food to give you the most satisfaction (Tribole & Resch).
Benson, L. (2018, July 01). Intuitive Eating. Retrieved from https://www.leanbeannutrition.com/blog-1/2018/7/1/intuitive-eating
Tribole, E. & Resche, E. (2017). The Intuitive Eating Workbook. Ney Harbinger Publications, Inc.