4 Mindsets Holding you back from Smashing your Performance Goals
Updated: Oct 17
I work with athletes of all levels, from my next door neighbor training for her first marathon, to the local high school rowing club guys & gals, to the international elite athlete. Regardless of competition or competence level of the athlete that I'm working with, there are four mindsets I consistently encounter, when it comes to making supportive nutritional changes, that greatly hinder the sustainability and longevity of an athlete's performance. Many athletes are so hyper focused on their training that they don't view nutrition as something vital to the success of their physical training, or don't see the interplay between nutrition, their recovery, and their performance. Having a solid nutrition foundation that keeps an athlete healthy year-round; helping to prevent injuries, creating a robust immune system, supporting recovery..etc. is an essential part of the process to becoming a consistently successful athlete. Good sports nutrition is not only fueling for a specific event, it's fueling for daily performance, recovery, and longevity season after season, year after year. Having a solid nutrition foundation and healthy relationship with food is crucial to supporting the longterm health of an athlete- something which I think is often overlooked in the pursuit of short term performance.
1. Making it too hard by having an all or nothing mentality. I call this negative obsession. Thinking in absolutes doesn't allow room for flexibility, nor developing a growth mindset around the change. Having an all or nothing mindset is taking the easy way out and it assumes a short term timeframe from the get-go. You can only go zero to one hundred in the pursuit change for so long before you burn out from the effort and land back at ground zero. Change is hard. Establishing new habits is hard. You have important evolutionary mechanisms within your body that prevent sudden and quick changes, as such you have to work with your body and not against your body to create changes and habits that will last longterm. There is a huge disconnect in our society between what we think longterm means and what longterm actually is. It takes a long time to create a change that will last. You have to develop systems, you have to create a new part of your identity, you have to create an environment where making the change is easier...all of which takes TIME. You have to slow way down and likely take it slower than you'd like. It is in this slowing down where I see athletes struggle the most. Athletes are stubborn, and tend to want to hit their goals as quickly as possible. For one reason or another, the time and patience that is required to build a physical foundation for their sport through various training modalities seems an easier concept to grasp than applying that same time and patience towards building a strong nutrition foundation. By not slowing down enough to make a change habitual, by not taking the the time to set up appropriate systems, and by not understanding what a realistic timeline actually looks like to establish a change or habit as long lasting, this yo-yo pendulum effect of an all or nothing mindset comes creeping in. It's the "I'm all in" or "I give up" with nothing in between. Having an "all in" mindset is great, but it means being all in for the process of slowing down and having the patience to do so. Consistently good is better than occasionally great. This is true in all things, but especially when it comes to nutrition where much of the change takes place internally, where the timeline of change is very slow, and the effects of which are often indirectly seen or felt. All of which makes it more difficult to associate cause with effect.
2. Making it too easy by outsourcing what we think we should be feeling. Newsflash, you are the only one living inside your body at all times. If you aren't, please seek a medical professional... or maybe an exorcist. Unfortunately no one teaches us how to listen to our bodies. Couple this with a society and diet industry that tells us how we should be feeling at all times and that then comes up with "solutions" to fix these feelings, and it's really no wonder that we outsource what we think is going on in our bodies. You are the only one with intimate knowledge about that what is occurring within your body. While we can seek advice from people who can take very educated guesses about what's happening in our bodies, we can't rely on those same people to tell us how exactly we are feeling in our bodies. The problem is that we often ignore when something feels off or unusual, we don't take the time to figure out what our bodies are telling us. We easily give this up to a crazy diet industry, peer pressure, various diet trends...you name it. Consequently, when it comes to making nutritional changes to fuel performance, recovery, and longterm health, many athletes have difficulty gaging their internal state. Recognizing the body's physiological needs for fuel for performance, recovery, and longterm health is critical to becoming a better athlete and being able to sustain a high level of performance repeatedly. While this is the reason that I have a job (athletes outsourcing their nutritional needs to my advice) I do not live inside their bodies. This is why I focus on helping athletes to build a solid foundation so that they have the tools they need to better understand what their bodies need during all stages of their career, whether they are in season or not.
3. "I just need more willpower." This one I come across often and I chalk it up to the Hustle Porn culture that we live in. It's sexy to grind. What's not sexy? Slowing down and figuring out your internal state. Do you have brain fog? Do you have trouble sleeping? Do you have anxiety? Are you chronically stressed? Are you consistently inflamed, beyond what is brought on by training stressors? Is your microbiome off? Are your hormones out of whack? To be able to grind harder and be able to find that willpower, you have to figure out the root cause of why you don't have it. In vary few cases, is it actually due to laziness or a lack of motivation. Especially when it comes to high-caliber athletes. Of course it takes a small amount of willpower to want to make a change in the first place and to start down the path of making a change. But when it comes to creating/maintaining habits, and especially nutritional changes, just trying harder isn't going to do you many favors. If your internal state is off and if you're experiencing any of the above symptoms, until you fix the root cause of those symptoms, that "grind" is not only going to harder to achieve, but you'll likely exacerbate these symptoms and make finding that "willpower" nearly impossible. When the internal state of the body is happy and healthy, finding this "willpower" is a whole lot easier. The body is complex. Just "trying harder," whatever that means (the most common one that I see is cutting down calories at a more severe rate to make a weight class quickly), is likely to have harmful implications on your health, recovery, and performance down the line. Going balls to the wall with discipline, motivation, willpower without bringing balance to your body can cause hormonal imbalances, easily preventable injuries, impair the immune system, damage the gut..etc. You cannot bypass thousands of years of biochemical adaptations with "willpower." Athletes are stubborn, which is great when it comes to the pursuit of excellence. Unfortunately, when it comes to the complexity of the human body and making nutritional changes that will last, being stubborn doesn't do you many favors. Unless you're stubbornly patient.
4. The Comparison Game. Unless used for inspirational purposes, as in "wow I aspire to be like that person," the comparison game is sh*t. You can't compare your chapter one to someone else's chapter twenty. It really doesn't make any sense in the first place, but we all do it. We all want to be that special snowflake that launches out of a clown cannon in a perfect linear upward projection at rocket speed toward our goals. When making any changes, it is vital to be realistic about where you are starting from. Everyone starts from somewhere different. Whether that's simply someone started on their goals earlier than you, or whether that's the fact that you from a completely different background and environment with different stressors, different traumas, and different things to overcome than someone else. It makes no logical sense to compare your progress against another person's progress, unless they are your identical twin in every sense of the word. It really only makes sense to compare yourself to who you were yesterday. Are you growing a little each day? It doesn't have to be leaps and bounds (and for things to stick around longterm, it shouldn't), just a steady 1% better each day overall. That may mean five steps forward and four steps back, but that's still one step further than you where you started.
Growth is not linear. Period. End of Story. Thank you for coming to by condensed Ted Talk :)
As athletes progress throughout their careers and compete at more demanding levels of competition, developing and maintaining a strong nutrition foundation is vital to support sustained performance. And yet, often it's overlooked in pursuit of in-season, short term performance. Too many times do I see athletes transition out of their careers with metabolic health issues and imbalanced hormones. I don't want that. I want athletes to be healthy and happy throughout all stages of their athletic endeavors.