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Build Healthier Habits: Nutrition

Take simple steps to build healthier nutritional habits.

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First: Read the background on the psychology of how habits are formed and what it takes to create (or break) “the habit loop” of trigger, action, reward, repeat. We also laid out the steps to building healthy habits:

  1. Take stock of your habits and what you want to change—examine the rewards and internal emotions associated with your habits
  2. Take action and create a plan for working on one small change at a time
  3. Cement new habits by building on your existing habitual actions and creating rewards that feed those existing habit loops
  4. Reward yourself along the way for achieving micro-goals and targets
  5. Adjust your plan of action if you misjudged the reward for a particular habit or need to change your goals—repeat until it sticks!

We’ll now lay out these steps in a particular area that athletes commonly want to build better habits in: mental skills, nutrition, recovery and sleep, and time management. Here’s how to take these steps over several weeks—doing one step per week every day. Work on just one area of focus at a time.

Here, nutritionist Scott Tindal laid out some guidelines for good nutrition and we’ve broken it down into the steps you need to work on better nutritional habits.

Take Stock: Create a food diary and log what you consume for at least 10 days. MyFitnessPal is one of the easiest way to track what you’re really taking in. A food diary lets you see what you’re consuming and if there are certain foods that stand out. It can create an “aha moment.”

Take Action: Most people know what they need to do, but the action part is where they get stuck. Eating better—whatever specific goal you have–is one of those things where you have to literally buy the foods and stock your fridge or you won’t succeed. What you have in your kitchen, your pantry, your fridge is what you’re going to eat.

After you asses your diet, get educated and start to learn about macronutrients and how many grams of protein, carbs, and sugars you should be consuming. The basic guidelines are: whatever you weigh in pounds, consume that in grams of protein per day; whatever you weigh in kilograms, consumer that in grams of fat every day; the rest of your diet is made up of carbohydrates.

Cement Habits: To get your goals to stick, whatever they are, it helps to commit and make the rules you plan to follow public. Maybe that’s just putting them on your fridge. The rules don’t need to be complicated for good nutrition—eat food from the ground, have six servings of vegetables per day—but you just have to solidify them and stick to them.

Reward Yourself: It’s important to link your goals to your “why.” Why do you want to have a six-pack? Why do you care about getting healthier or eating less processed food? Keep asking why until you hit at the underlying reason and motivation. Link the why and the process together.

Adjust, Repeat: Maybe you just start with something simple, like “I will eat in the recovery window after a workout,” and then once you nail that down you can build from there. So many athletes have terrible basic nutritional habits, and you can’t build on a foundation of sand. It’s important to get the basics right—the macronutrients, six handfuls of vegetables, and likely increase your protein intake. Then worry about the sprinkles on top of that, like high-quality electrolytes and supplements.

Because high-fat and high-sugar foods hit all of our desire buttons, nutrition is one of those things where the more you adapt, the more you’ll actually really swear kale is delicious.

Scott Tindal is a performance nutrition coach with 20 years of experience working with pro and amateur athletes. He has a Masters degree in sports medicine and a post-graduate diploma in performance nutrition. He is the co-founder of FuelIn, an app-based personalized nutrition coaching program.