Think about your favorite food. Got it? Okay, think about how you feel during and after you eat it. I’m assuming that you’re feeling pretty good, huh? Whether it be a meal or a snack, if you like what you’re eating and know how it is going to make you feel then you are more likely to turn to that food when you are in any situation.
Food confidence is something that has truly helped me in my elite swimming career and in life in general. What do I mean by food confidence? The ability to have faith in foods that you know are going to deliver the right nutrients at the right time, taste good, and give you the appropriate calories that you need to perform or be at your best. The confidence that we get from food can eliminate that stress during a competition, tough training blocks, or during a stressful time in life.
How do we gain food confidence? I would like to note that this is a tool that is developed over time and not an overnight sensation! For me, it went a little something like this…
My relationship with food has been all over the map. I was obsessed with veggies as a kid. I ate balanced meals that my mom would make for our family until I left the house for college. In college, I did my best to continue to eat what I thought I needed in order to make it through practice and competitions. The problem, however, was that I was not taking the time to understand what I was putting in my body. For example, I would eat a sandwich for lunch, but never stopped to understand how I then felt at practice. Did I feel bloated? Did I feel like I had enough energy to finish the practice? There were so many things I missed when eating and performing at meets as well. I never thought about what I was eating leading up to the meet, and even between each session.
During heavy training and competition, I have many variables that need to be kept in check so that I can perform at my best. Sleep, nutrition, mental health, time management, etc. The best thing I can do for myself is to control as many variables as possible. I started gaining food confidence by keeping a food diary. So that it wouldn’t be overwhelming, I started off with just a week and would review afterwards. I made a plan of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks that I enjoyed that also delivered the right nutrition. During the week I increased my mental awareness and kept a mental (sometimes physical) note of how I felt after each meal. After a week, I would review some notes about foods I would keep the same or change. For example: I would have sausage and egg burritos after practice. I felt like these made me super full and I felt like I was getting enough calories to carry me into my next meal or workout. So, I made a mental note to continue that breakfast choice. On the other side I was trying cold cut sandwiches for lunch because they took a small amount of time to make. However, every time after I would eat them and go to practice, I would be extremely bloated and feel very out of sync. I had to figure out another option for lunch.
Do you see a trend here? Its all about trial and error. Week by week you build a small menu of options that will be able to benefit you for training, racing, and living. In my elite career, I am proud of the patience I have had (because I AM NOT a patient person) to be able to constantly review what I am putting in my body for not only performance, but peace of mind. I now know that I need to supplement with nitrate rich smoothies twice a week, I swim best when I eat double vegetables with my dinner, and at meets I know that I can only eat chicken, because when I eat beef, I feel very heavy and bloated.
Lastly, I would like to emphasize that this is always going to be a work in progress. Just like in sports and life- things are changing constantly and so you will always have to adjust accordingly. If you wanting to gain weight or lose weight or even intake more of a certain type of nutrient, you will always have to adjust and readjust. So, the next time you eat a meal make sure you give a second thought to how confident it makes you feel!
Natalie Hinds is a 2020 Olympian, bronze medalist, and a 20-time All-American from the University of Florida. After a two-year hiatus from the sport, Natalie returned to the pool with an entirely new perspective and a redefined purpose.