Guest blogger Richard Chessor, the lead nutritionist for Scottish Rugby, discusses the importance of not getting caught up in the minor nutritional details, but rather to focus on your goal and the process required to get you there.
Focus on the process, not the details.
As a nutritionist I am regularly faced by a lot of technical questions: “What’s the optimal nutrient composition of a meal after this type of training session?“ or “How many milligrams of this vitamin do I need each day?”
I like technical questions and enjoy answering them but when the details dominate the process it’s time to take a step back and readdress.
When it comes to diet and nutrition I see lots of people trying very hard to focus on the details but often at the expense of the process. The details do matter, but they only matter in context. Without taking a wider view and understanding the context there is no chance of getting the details right.
For example, a pre-bed snack is commonplace with athletes to help support overnight recovery and fuel the next morning’s early training session. On the simplest level the snack should provide some carbohydrate to support liver glycogen replenishment and protein to provide amino acids for muscle repair and growth. However, many people get caught up in trying to achieve the perfect balance of nutrients, the optimal timing and avoiding foods that may seem counterproductive at this time.
With all this focus on the details and not the context the value of the process can be lost. The pre-bed snack doesn’t just provide nutrients; it can be the first step in preparing for a restful sleep, it maintains the regular meal structure of the day and it can balance the content of the evening meal by acting as a delayed dessert option.
When viewed in this sense the pre-bed snack is just as valuable a process as it is an opportunity to provide functional nutrients. By taking a step back to assess the context of the snack there is a greater understanding of the process and (if the process is valuable and robust) the subsequent details don’t matter nearly as much.
Another example is the post-training recovery snack:
Content and timing have long been contentious points with the post-training recovery snack. How much protein? How much carbohydrate? What BCAA ratio? How soon after training? How quickly will it be absorbed?….
Lots of details that are rarely (if ever) confirmed by research but are perpetuated by a fitness and supplement industry that markets and promotes new products with “faster absorption rates” or containing “essential muscle building formula”. It’s no surprise that there’s a pressure to conform to the messages.
Focusing on the details of the post-training snack is all fine and well but the remainder of the diet rarely meets this level of attention. For example, a perfectly composed post-training shake providing the optimal balance of nutrients to complement the session and training goals pales into insignificance if the proceeding meal is a junk food meal from the gym café or local fast-food joint. In this case, the post-training snack is a valuable process (and would be considered best practice) but the time spent deliberating on its details would be far better invested in addressing the wider diet.
Away from sport, the detail can also complicate eating in social situations. Following a restrictive diet can be tricky when eating out or when complete control over food choices is not possible. However, when the restrictions come at the cost of enjoying the environment and associated social wealth then the process has been devalued for the details. For example, being unable to select the optimal meal that conforms to the diet’s restrictions should not elicit a stress that prevents the process being enjoyed. Better to relax the dietary choices and achieve the primary outcome of the meal – social interaction with good company over good food.
If the nutrition were the priority you would have stayed at home.
So the next time you are stressing about diet details, challenge yourself to think about the context and ask if the details are worth the hassle. If so, then go for it. If not, then take a step back and readdress the basics. Don’t ignore the details, but don’t let them overshadow the basics.