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by Steph Saullo RDN

March 10, 2017

Setting realistic nutrition expectations

At the beginning of every year we’re bombarded with media and opinions telling us to set new goals, be more mindful, and implement behavior changes for what appears to be our own good. As an athlete, you strive to be your best, improve, and get to the next level however possible; so giving the latest and greatest trend a chance is worth it, right? Perhaps not.

We’re often persuaded to think that following the latest fad will vastly improve our performance when in reality, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach and the “latest and greatest” might only hinder your efforts.

What works for you might not work for your training partner and vice versa. It’s important to properly evaluate your own situation before being convinced your nutrition plan needs a complete overhaul or that you need to implement the nutrition headline-of-the-day when it seems like everyone else is doing so.


Before falling for recommendations to cut out sugar, eat more ancient grains at every meal, or whatever it might be, take a step back and evaluate your current status.

  1. Do you feel lethargic? If yes, then perhaps you’re not eating the right foods or the right quantity of foods before, during, or after training.
  2. Are you having trouble recovering from one training session to the next? If yes, then you might not be eating enough at the right times or the quality of the food in your diet might be poor.
  3. Has your weight or body composition changed, and do you feel like it’s negatively impacting your performance? If yes, then you might be eating too much or too little.
  4. Are you currently achieving your goals and making improvements? If no, are your goals realistic? If no to both questions, then you might be more successful by implementing SMART goals (more on that below).
  5. Does your everyday nutrition consist of a solid base of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, good fats, and whole grains? If no, then this is a great place to start to improve your nutrition as part of your overall training plan.

If you answered “yes” to the first three or “no” to the last two, you might benefit from changes to your current approach. If you’re feeling good, achieving what you set out to accomplish, and have set a healthful nutrition foundation, then you might not need to focus on any nutrition resolutions.

So the next time a convincing headline scrolls across your screen that sounds great for you and your training efforts, take a step back to evaluate if it is even applicable, if it will help you to improve, and if it’s a realistic change or just a quick-fix shortcut that really is too good to be true.

Implement SMART Goals

Wherever you fall on the spectrum of needing to implement change, remember that change takes time, especially changes you want to be long-lasting. Altering your dietary habits to achieve weight loss or gain, make adjustments in body composition or strength, and gain endurance are long-term commitments. Strive to implement change over time to achieve more permanent results.

If you’re working on improving your nutrition and your goal is to, “eat before training sessions,” that’s great, but is that goal specific enough to help you to be successful? Ideally you want your goals to be explicit and direct. To do this, SMART goals might help you.

SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based. When you set a goal, you want it to incorporate all of these aspects. By doing so, you’ll be laying the foundation of a plan with actionable steps to successfully achieve your goals.

Going back to the previous example, “eat before training sessions,” instead, a SMART goal might be, “I will eat one piece or one serving of fruit before each of my early morning workouts for the next 30 days.” Notice the difference? The goal is specific, you can measure it, it’s not overly difficult to achieve, it’s relevant to the current situation, it applies to your training efforts, and you’ve set a timeframe in which to achieve the goal.

Be Flexible

Life happens and perfect doesn’t exist. At times your goals will be put on hold by life events, illness, injury, boredom, or fatigue, among other things. If your goal needs to take a backseat to more important things, let it happen and don’t beat yourself up over it. More importantly, recognize that you can always come back to your goal, reassess, update, and attempt again.


  • Health and Nutrition


  • Goal Setting
  • Diets
  • Nutrition