Nutrition Questionnaire

In the past, I used to just “tell” our players about health and nutrition.  “Here’s a good healthy snack option, here’s something that’s good to eat after a workout, here’s a handout on vitamin D.”  Honestly, the players who respond to this are the ones who want to get healthier anyway, and the players who don’t really care- or aren’t confident enough to care, are going to respond to this by zoning out or throwing my handouts in the trash.

(once you see three yawns in a row, stop telling them about nutrition)

 

Starting this summer, I’ve tried something different based on some change psychology research and what other successful nutrition coaches are doing.  Lets face it- eating is a habit done so regularly, it’s something most of us do not think much about.  Nor should we!  One of the best ways to counteract the benefits of healthy eating is to worry and stress about every bite.  The most sustainable and healthy way to change is by building better habits.  The only thing that separates myself nutritionally from an athlete who eats one meal a day…of McDonald’s, is our habits.  It’s second nature for me to wake up and eat a good breakfast.  It’s second nature for that athlete to skip breakfast.  It’s second nature for me to prepare a shake if I know I’ll be busy.  It’s second nature for that athlete to surf Facebook until the last minute.  It’s second nature for me to cook veggies with my dinner…you get the picture.  Once people change their habits, the results come on their own (better recovery, body composition, better focus/energy, better sleep, etc.).

So the nutrition theme for me this summer with our athletes is building healthy habits.  Everyone will be at a different spot on the spectrum of “good” nutrition.  An athlete who drinks pop and energy drinks all day will have different habits to change than an athlete who is eating very well and can start to focus on post-workout recovery nutrition.  With that said, how do you figure where each athlete is?  Well one easy way is a questionnaire.  The following are questions that I believe are prioritized on what’s most necessary first.  The first question that the athlete answers “no” to, is the first habit I will have them start working on.

 

1. Do you drink near 100 oz. of water or more each day (a “standard” small Gatorade bottle is 16 oz, so 6-7 of those throughout the day)? YES NO

2. Do you consistently sleep at least 7 hours each night (i.e. not 5, then 9, then 11, then 3)? YES NO

3. Do you eat breakfast every day (or a meal within 30 minutes or so upon waking)? YES NO

4. Do you take a Vitamin D pill daily (or a multivitamin with at least 800 IU of Vitamin D)? YES NO

5. Do you avoid pop and energy drinks, and limit juices, other sugary drinks, and alcohol? YES NO

6. Do you eat a meal immediately after a workout/practice? YES NO

7. Do you eat at least one serving of fruits and/or vegetables with every meal (1 serving = around the size of your fist)? YES NO

8. Do you take a fish oil supplement daily? YES NO

9. Do you eat often enough to sustain your high level of activity (i.e. at least 4 times per day)? YES NO

10. Do you eat a meal within 1-2 hours before a practice/workout? YES NO

11. Do your meals consist of mostly whole foods (i.e. minimally processed whole grains, fruits & vegetables, and minimally processed protein such as meats, nuts, dairy, etc.)? YES NO

*I could probably write a post on each habit’s importance and why I’ve included them, their order, etc., however there is a lot of good research out there and everyone does have their own opinion.  These are what I feel are best throughout my researching, experience, coaching, reading, learning, and unbiased observation.

 

Now how do we start working on these?  As with any type of change, the athlete needs to figure it out on their own.  They need to tell me how they will change.  If I tell them, we are getting nowhere.  If it becomes a lecture or if it’s MY goal and not theirs, the chances that they will change become slim.  I am there as a resource for suggestions and for information that they want to know.  This is where the art of communication is so great to master (which believe me, I still have a long way)!  If I get a read that they don’t think a certain habit is important, I’ll share with them some information in a non-confrontational way or ask them certain questions to lead them to realize the importance of that habit.  If an athlete isn’t even sleeping 7 hours a night, there is no need to talk about getting minimally processed whole foods with every meal, because their biggest window of adaptation for energy/recovery/blood sugar regulation/strength (plus a whole host of other benefits) is sleep.  Change psychology shows us that one thing at a time is hard enough to master when it comes to engrained habits, so unless an athlete is adamant on trying multiple habits, I want them to show me that they’ve nailed down the current one before we move on.

Finally, how do we measure their progress on a particular habit?  Well I’ve got to admit that many of my ideas have stemmed from the company Precision Nutrition (which by the way is one of the best at getting people in shape), and I like using PN’s 90% rule.  I tell each athlete to track via notebook or whatever else, whether they did or didn’t get their habit that day.  If they go 10 days and get the habit on 9 of them, we will move on.  If they go 5 days and have missed twice already, they can start over right then and there and try for another 9 out of 10 days.  If they forget to keep track, or lose interest, hopefully the motivation and pressure to succeed from the leaders on the team (who won’t forget) will keep the others going.  We have weekly goal meetings where players can keep each other accountable.  Additionally, you can bet that the ones who are following your nutrition coaching will get results, and hopefully this helps motivate the others.  Their motivation may be body comp, it may be recovery/energy, it may be sport performance, or it may be to please you (the coach)…but you know what?  I don’t really care what it is, as long as they are succeeding!

Of course, it’s not always this black and white.  If an athlete expresses that they don’t think they can reach 90% on a particular habit, we’ll shoot for 80% or even 70% initially.  Once they can do that, we’ll go for 90%.  Preach small changes at a time, because even little changes are better than no change at all, and they add up in the grand scheme of things.  Remember that everything is relative, and remember that just like you and me, no one is “perfect.”  Perfect depends on each person’s definition and doesn’t exist objectively.  It may be extremely hard for an athlete to get 7 hours of sleep per night not because they are too busy (although that is what they will tell you), but because of their engrained habits.  It might not even cross their mind to spend less than 2 hours per day on Facebook, which is why you need to be there to suggest/inform and get them to figure it out for themselves by telling you their plan of action.  Find their motivation, and run with it!

 

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3 Comments

  1. You really nailed it. Building habits is the building block of all successful journeys.

    Ashamedly, I can only count one or two habits that you listed that I do day in and day out. That really tells you how messed up my eating has become. I have gone backwards instead of forwards.

    Reply
    • No use in feeling guilty or ashamed about it. Sometimes it might not be the priority it once was for you- everything has a trade-off. Just remember, where there’s a will there’s a way. If you really want to make progress, get creative, do what it takes to get where you want and to develop those habits. But accept it if you don’t think it’s worth it. There’s no use living in no-man’s-land.

      Let me give you a good example. Eating the way I was for football years back is not realistic for me anymore, given my goals now. Sure, I would love to be a lean 220 lbs again, and it probably could be done. But I am not willing to sacrifice the energy to get there…I have things that I consider more important, even if it’s just relaxing a bit more, and don’t want my free time to be consumed by eating/cooking/preparing.

      So I am willing to settle, but still won’t compromise my health- that’s where I draw my line. Even if I were to work 15 hours a day, which is 75 hours a week (not counting the weekend), I’d still shoot for 8 hours of sleep at night and about an hour to prepare a meal/shake for the day and sit down and eat. If it got to 16 hours a day, I’d have to either get creative or make the decision of whether the job is worth it or not.

      If I wanted to get up to 220 again, something would have to be sacrificed, and I wouldn’t be willing to make the sacrifice at this point. I am willing however (and do) sacrifice other things to keep my health (time, energy cooking, reading, etc.), but that’s an easy sacrifice for me. Coach Meyer once said “you can have anything you want, but not everything you want.” I interpret that as you can have “many” things you want depending on how efficient or creative you get, but you still can’t have “everything” you want.

      Reply
      • Your right, our goals definitely play a huge role in the decisions we make. I am trying to find that right balance, where I can achieve what I want while living a life that satisfies my physical, spiritual, and emotional needs.

        By the way, I hate to hijack this, but since I just got something new to look forward to I was looking for some advice. At the end of September I am going to be running the Warrior Dash with my cousin. There is a little story behind it, but you can check out my blog for that. If you were to train for this how would you structure your training? It’s not too long (5K), but does include numerous obstacles.

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