Health and performance are two terms commonly seen coupled together. Many coaches and service providers promote better health and performance or services that can help you achieve these goals. But these two goals are very much different. In reality, preparing for performance can actually be quite detrimental to overall health, if not managed correctly, by a qualified professional.
At Elevate Performance, our aim is to provide our clients and subscribers with all of the tools they need to be healthy and perform well in whatever they do. But one thing we must make clear is that training, mentally preparing, and eating for health and performance, have some distinct differences. Training for general health is something we touched on in a previous article on the meaning of fitness. If you haven’t read this already, we’d recommend it. We explain that every human must endeavour to be healthy and fit for purpose/requirements of their lives. Generally, the physical requirement of a person is to navigate their daily tasks comfortably and effectively, but sometimes their requirement is to perform at an almost inconceivable level to achieve an external goal. This is where it can become costly to health.
Preparing for health and performance is about priorities. Although it can be very healthy process for some, physically & mentally preparing for performance doesn’t place health and wellbeing high on that list of priorities. Preparing for performance may require some pretty unhealthy tasks and yield some pretty unhealthy results. Below we explain how training, psychology and diet can all differ when our goal is health versus performance.
Training for general health involves conditioning your body regularly in a range of areas including the cardiovascular and neuromuscular systems, to be physically functional for life’s tasks, to maintain a strong immune system, and to avoid lifestyle related diseases, such as obesity and heart disease. With overall health being the goal, training doesn’t exhaust any particular area, this is where it differs for performance.
Training for performance involves exhausting certain systems in the body to achieve a certain external goal, with very little consideration to systems in the body that aren’t conducive to this. An example of this would be a competitive cyclist, they will maximise the ability of the cardiovascular and energy systems, sometimes with very little regard for the physical and mental side effects. In the case of the cyclist the athlete may push themselves so far, but risk loss of bone mineral density, which may present problems in the form of osteopenia or arthritis.
When conditioning highly specific systems in the body to a high level, we are robbing Peter to pay Paul. For one system’s performance to be maximised, the ability of other systems in the body will be sacrificed. Some of the most elite athletes in the world, would be viewed as very unhealthy, depending on what lens they’re viewed through. If you’re looking for a pro cyclist to carry your weekly shopping up a flight of stairs, you may think they’re quite non-elite.
Just like routine physical training and exercise, individuals must incorporate practices that meet our psychological and social needs for balanced and overall health. Exercising the mind as well as the body, in a complete approach, is key in training for areas of general health. To maintain positive mental health, in a general sense, we must have a balanced approach to stress & resilience, understand ourselves deeply, keep our ego in check, and maintain a solid social support structure. Practices such as meditation, breathwork, journaling and talking can all play a role in the process to maintain a healthy mindset.
In preparation for performance, training is often specific to the task at hand, and can have a cost on anything that doesn’t directly influence that task. As we begin to push our limitations, we begin to disjoint or alter the body’s natural states of alignment, aka health. The body and mind are a complete entity yet, when we begin to exert the body to meet performance demands physically, we concurrently begin to exert or over compromise the mind, mentally and emotionally. When our mental and emotional states are depleted in meeting the demands of performance, our ability to regulate and process information effectively is significantly diminished, as all available resources are deployed to restore and fix the effects of such performance demands.
When the goal is performance, similar to physically, we may neglect or sacrifice certain aspects of our balanced and healthy mindset. Preparing for performance can have some negative effects on ego, self-esteem/confidence and on relationships with those around us. These can be amplified in individual sports. This underlines the importance of having a structured and well-managed mental approach to performance, to maintain positive and effective mental health and thus to optimize performance. Neglecting mental health is like building a house on shoddy foundations – it will eventually collapse.
‘’Our mind makes everything else work.’’
– Kareem Abdul Jabbar
As mentioned previously, we must know our priorities. If your goal is to be healthy your priority must be to eat plenty fruit and vegetables, high quality protein, and healthy fat with a moderate exercise routine, to stay balanced. Sleep and adequate hydration are also to be placed high up on that priority list.
Athletes on the other hand have to do whatever it takes to be competitive. Overall, an athlete’s diet is not much different than that of any person striving to be healthy. However, when optimal performance is the goal, athletes have more to consider.
Athletes may need to eat more or less of certain foods, depending upon:
The energy demands of the sport
So, the approach to performance nutrition differs from that of nutrition for overall health, which can confuse people sometimes. While athlete’s nutrition for the most part is largely based on a balanced diet of nutritious whole foods, there are times when simple sugars or high calorie foods can have their benefits for performance outcomes. Whether it’s a GAA player having a fist of jellies at half-time or a soccer player devouring a slice of pizza post-match, an athlete consuming a so-called “unhealthy” food or beverage can leave people somewhat perplexed.
Recognizing and understanding that eating for health and performance are two different things is key to devising our your own nutrition strategy. For more on athlete’s nutrition considerations, check this article out!
Preparation is key, whether we aim to be a generally healthy person, ready for a range of general tasks life brings about, or whether we aim to be world class at something very specific, we must prepare correctly.
As explained above, preparation to be healthy is a balanced and considerate approach across the board. Health is about avoiding illness and being well rounded, physically, mentally and spiritually.
Preparation for elite performance involves maximising & exhausting specific abilities and pushing towards one’s absolute limits. As shown above, this pursuit may neglect areas of overall health, if not cared for properly.
Whether it’s general health or elite performance, defining our goals clearly, listening to ourselves along the way and adjusting the process is key to being healthy, performing optimally, and being the best individual we can be.
Thanks for reading 🙂
If you require some guidance on your training, don’t hesitate to give us a shout.
Elevate Performance Team