We live in a society that is getting incrementally fatter. Statistically, more people are obese than ever before. The general population is sedentary or does a minimal amount of movement every day.
To counter this, there is a dizzying amount of diet advice around. In popular outlets this is mostly targeting the general reader – a person who can be assumed to be relatively sedentary. The current craze for counting steps taken in a day illustrates this. Somehow it has entered popular consciousness that if you take 10,000 steps per day (as measured by an often inaccurate pedometer or fitness tracker), you are “active”. But this is a meaningless measure. 10,000 steps per day is a baseline minimum, especially if these steps are simple walking. Anyway, I digress.
Dietary advice in the general media is aimed at people for whom 10,000 steps per day is an achievement. It is aimed at people whose energy output is minimal. All diets or “lifestyle” changes work by cutting the number of calories consumed. For people who are generally inactive, or whose activity is limited, calorie restriction is the only thing that does work for weight control.
For athletes, the story is rather different. It is vital that an energy balance is established that a) fuels the performance goals of the athlete, and b) maintains a body composition that enhances the athlete’s ability to fulfill those goals. As such, most general dietary advice is hopeless. But it is so difficult to avoid, as there is a constant hum of noise around food, diets, weight loss and misinformation around, especially on social media. The trend for people to share photos of their food is a good example. A small plate of fish and vegetables might be perfect for a sedentary 5’6 woman. An athlete of the same height and gender, who might have expended an additional 1,500 calories over their TDEE, could easily see that and jump to the conclusion that such a portion is correct for them also. Or they might then berate themselves for not being able to survive on a similar portion of food.
In general, most sedentary people probably could do with eating less over the course of a week. In comparison, most athletic people probably could eat smarter than they do, and this could mean eating a total of more calories than they currently do, especially if their performances are suffering or if they often report feeling under fueled or lethargic. Being caught in the swirl of diet talk does not help athletes, as their needs are completely different from those of the modern general population. The sedentary lives and obesity that cause so much suffering among the general population have become a default position when discussing food and diets, and it is hard for an athlete to learn what is normal for them, when their way of life is increasingly abnormal in society. It is a problem.