Intuitive eating is an approach to eating that promotes trusting and listening to the body. While intuitive eating centers around the premise of eating when hungry and stopping when full, this is an oversimplification. Becoming an intuitive eater is a process that takes extensive practice and unlearning a lifetime of diet culture. There are 10 principles of intuitive eating. If you would like to find out more I would suggest clicking here or reading the book “Intuitive Eating” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.
I am a huge fan of intuitive eating and the healthy attitude towards food and body that it promotes. However, for athletes, hunger and fullness cues can be misleading. This is because exercise can influence the level of hormones that make us feel hungry or full. As a result of these changes in hormones, athletes often do not feel hungry despite the need to fuel. An example of this is on days when athletes workout hard. Often, athletes have reduced hunger after finishing exercise despite the significant number of calories expended throughout exercise and the obvious need to refuel. Another example is before a competition. Many athletes do not feel like eating due to nerves despite the need to fuel for the upcoming competition. In either case, listening to hunger and fullness cues could lead to under-fuelling that impacts performance and health.
In some situations, rather than listening to hunger and fullness cues, athletes should have a pre-determined nutrition plan to follow. For instance, plan to have a mixture of protein and carbs to aid in the recovery process after a hard workout, such as a fruit smoothie or protein bar and piece of fruit. The same goes for competition day nutrition. By practicing your pre-exercise fuelling strategy during training, it can be used prior to competition regardless of nerves that may be impacting hunger.
While there are occasions when fuelling is necessary despite not feeling hungry, feelings of hunger should never be ignored. If you are feeling hungry, then it is important to honour this hunger, even if you just ate, or it is a rest day. It is completely normal to feel different levels of hunger from day to day. Listening to these hunger cues by eating is important to prevent a primal drive to overeat.
Yes, athletes can apply many of the principles of intuitive eating to their approach to food and body. However, some modifications are needed to account for the impact of exercise on hormones that may make feelings of hunger and fullness misleading. Having a pre-planned nutrition strategy can help ensure fuelling occurs so that recovery and performance are optimized.
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