As an athlete you need to understand that nutrition is a key pillar of your health and performance. You can not reach your peak potential if your food game is a lost game.
That is why I encourage all athletes (young and old, emerging and set) to be aware of and look for the signs and symptoms of poor nutrition and hydration.
Building awareness around this will enable you to be able to address poor nutrition promptly and metaphorically “nip it in the bud”. Think of it as quality control and risk mitigation so that the machine that is you, is working to it’s full potential.
Today I will reveal to you the 7 key signs of poor nutrition and poor diet strategy. Use this list to audit your current situation as well as to inform ongoing future nutrition optimisation.
The Signs & Symptoms Of Poor Nutrition
Poor diet and nutrition practices will present themselves as symptoms over time - whether that is more acute and short term or manifests itself longer term. There are clear issues that arise from not fuelling and recovering yourself correctly.
Food and nutrition is a fundamental pillar of the an athletes success and therefore it is your duty to audit yourself and identify when nutrition may in fact be slipping up and causing issues in your health and performance.
I have compiled the list of 7 key signs of a bad diet to get you started. So without further ado, here is your starting list of poor nutrition symptoms to look out for.
Signs #1: Tiredness / Reduced Energy Levels
The biggest sign that you are not eating enough or not eating correctly, is that you will notice yourself getting more tired and/or having lower levels of energy. This will typically be noticeable when you are going about your day to day off the court and out of the gym. Perhaps you'll notice you get tired midday during work or class. Maybe you’ll notice yourself feeling sluggish in the morning and never really feel a “pick me up”.
When you are not getting enough calories in your diet or when your diet is unbalanced and not strategically calibrated for fuelling and recovery, then your body will likely function inadequately - leading to reduced energy and increasingly feeling tired.
Signs #2: Reduced Physical Performance
First I shared the fact that poor nutrition can very well lead to you feeling tired and low in energy across the day. However, a more obvious symptom of a bad fuelling strategy relates back to your sport and training directly.
If your nutrition game is not a winner, then you will see your performance diminish or you’ll notice your performance become erratic. Food is fuel. This is a fundamental truth. So if your food game is not matching your fuel requirements, then optimal performance will not be the outcome.
Signs #3: Changes in mood / irritability
Ever been hangry? You know…angry when hungry. Then you would know how food can impact your mood. However, being “hangry” is a normal transient occurrence when you skip a meal or dont get to eat on time.
What I am talking here is consistent irritability and mood issues as a result of chronic undereating or poor fuelling practices. When you don’t eat the right foods, in the right way, and in the right amounts; you will create an environment where your body and mind is not operating efficiently.
Primarily this is because of the increase in deficiencies that can arise, many of which could be linked to mental health such as anxiety and depression. There is a reason you feel good when you are eating good!
Signs #4: Slower recovery/longer DOM
One of the key nutrition goals all athletes should have is optimising recovery. Given that food is the way we recover our bodies for our sports and training, it is no surprise that recovery is one of the first things impacted by poor nutrition.
When you are not eating well, then you will not recover well. This is a fundamental fact that I have seen time and time again working with many different athletes as a Sports Dietitian. There is a reason why I teach athletes the importance and fundamentals of recovery nutrition.
So yes, if your nutrition game is not up to scratch you will see that you recovery poorly - showing up as slower recovery times and longer delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Look out for this as it is one of the first things that become evident when nutrition has taken a hit or been chronically lackluster.
Signs #5: Reduced concentration
Food is brain fuel just as much as it’s body fuel. There is a direct link between good nutrition and improved mental performance and acuity. That is why I always tell my athletes to look out for signs of mental depletion on the field/court/gym as well as during your day (whether you are at work or focusing in the classroom).
If you are not eating the right way, you will notice your concentration will go downhill and your mental sharpness will be blunted. Here are some examples of how this can present itself in athletes such as yourself:
Signs #6: Getting sick more often
Immunity is one aspect of health and wellbeing that many athletes overlook and underestimate. The fact of the matter is that nutrition has a solid influence on your immune system and health - especially for very active people who have increased nutrition needs and stressors.
So if you notice yourself getting sick more often or more severely (espeically all of a sudden without any external risk factors), then there is a chance your nutrition is poorly managed. Therefore, it is worth looking into and addressing because other than the fact it’s never fun being sick…a constantly sick athlete is not a peak athlete. Namely due to having to take time out from training and also not being there for their team.
Signs #7: Low interest in hobbies/family time/clasS
Finally, we have bit of an underrated symptom of inadequate or poorly strategized nutrition. When you are not eating well enough, your body is stressed beyond it’s limit as a result. The cluster of a these symptoms I shared above will combine and potentially lead you to become disinterested in things such as family time, hobbies, and your day to day activities (think class and work).
The reason for this is not easy to pinpoint so that is why it’s likely a combination of things. We all know how low energy, poor mood, being ill more often, and not being able to focus on things as well can lead to no longer being interested in doing things. Just so happens that this impacts those things you previously loved to do or knew you needed to do for your livelihood. So in the end, poor nutrition is very rarely going to only cause one issue. A cluster of issues may very well arise and signal a bit of “Order 66” on your life activities. Don’t let poor nutrition do a “Revenge of the Sith”. Start focusing on your food game today. After all, the best time to focus on it was yesterday.
Now you have the definitive list of key signs and symptoms of poor nutrition so that you are reaily equipped with the knowledge and awareness of what to look for and fix to improve your potential as an athlete.
Food is the fuel that you need to excel and perform at your highest level while also being the driver of good health and wellbeing (because there is more to being your best than what you achieve in competition).
So if you feel it is time to truly start working towards achieving your peak performance and regain your competitive edge, start with identifying when nutrition needs work - then address the gaps and issues!
And if you want to streamline this and get the help to truly maximise your nutrition, keep reading.
Are you feeling stuck and struggling with your nutrition game as an athlete
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Brisbane Sports Dietitian & Nutritionist
Hi there! My name's Aleksa Gagic - i'm a Brisbane Sports Dietitian & Brisbane Sports Nutritionist. I have 7+ years experience in providing professional nutrition consulting and want to help you learn about the power of flexible nutrition.