When advising and providing information to athletes, it is often difficult to follow the old coaching adage to “Keep It Simple, Stupid”. As coaches, we often try to prescribe a workout with a dozen different exercises (see Sparta Point 12/21/09) or several different warm-ups that require a variety of equipment and environments. However, the most complicated, and thus confusing, recommendations for athletes are generally in the nutritional realm.
When advising athletes on specific nutrition needs, it is common to provide precise caloric needs, instructing the individual on how much of each portion should be consumed and at what interval during the day. However, cognitive scientists from Indiana University and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin compared the dieting behavior following two radically different diet plans and found that the more complicated people thought their diet plan was, the sooner they were likely to drop it. “For people on a more complex diet that involves keeping track of quantities and items eaten, their subjective impression of the difficulty of the diet can lead them to give up on it,” reported Peter Todd, professor in Indiana University’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.
At Sparta, we work exclusively with athletes, so nutrition is crucial to both fuel their workouts and recover from this exercise. In the last decade of working with hundreds of professional players and Olympic medalists, we have never provided specific caloric needs, mostly to avoid overcomplicating their diet plans to ensure that they remain focused on the actual quality of their food (see Sparta Point 10/7/09).
It would be very inefficient and imprudent to discuss an individual’s specific caloric needs until the basic regeneration requirements are fulfilled; 9 hours of sleep every night and a healthy diet that consists of almost solely vegetables, fruits, and lean protein sources.
But if you’re competing against our athletes, please continue to emphasize both precise caloric intake and the quality of foods to ensure you achieve neither.