Performance Nutrition for Busy Professionals
By Dr. Kristin Lander, DC, CISSN
Since the explosion of strength sports we’re seeing people from all walks of life focus on their performance in the gym. Yay!!!! One of the largest places I’ve seen growth as a nutrition coach is with lifters in their 30s-50s who are busy professionals with mentally taxing jobs and tons of life responsibilities.
In fact, it was the explosion in my business with this group of people where I really began to hone in on recovery tactics beyond nutrition. I quickly saw that even the best laid nutrition plan performed so-so if the athlete’s recovery was failing in other ways.
But I digress, what I really want to talk to you about is how to make nutrition work for a chaotic and busy life.
Here are a 5 tips that can make things easier for you:
1 - If you track your food, engage in flexible tracking. The premise is simple: meet your protein goals + calorie goals for each day, and allow fats and carb numbers to be flexible (just make sure tip #2 is dialed in if you go that route).
2 - Focus on your pre/post-training meals (grab my free guide if you’re not sure what to do). I know this is the exact opposite of what a lot of experts say. They often say “forget your pre/post-training meals when life gets nuts. Total calories matter more.”
To be honest, I tried that method for a lot of years with busy athletes and it failed them. Here’s why: that advice works pretty well for someone who is working out for the sake of health and/or body composition. But that’s not you. You’re a lifter who wants to be the best and strongest version of yourself and it has to fit into the framework of your life. Your life is busy, it’s going to be busy for the foreseeable future.
To ignore your pre/post-training meals means you’re not as fueled or recovered for training sessions as you should be and you WILL be leaving massive strength gains in the squat rack. Allow the pre/post-training meals to provide more structure and rhythm to your day. Doing so can actually eliminate a lot of stress. In addition, being better recovered means your capacity to handle more stress is growing each day.
3 - Just as you look at your calendar a few days or a week ahead to plan your work meetings, projects, and other important work items, look ahead a few days or a week to see what threats or obstacles may exist that will make hitting your nutrition goals difficult and make a plan for them.
For example, I start work at 6am and finish by 5:30pm every day so that I have time to make dinner and relax with my husband before I fall asleep on the couch at 7:30pm while trying to watch a Netflix show with him (he’s slightly unimpressed but accepting, ha). Since my business operates all over the world, I sometimes have to have later meetings than I would like. On those days, I either hand off cooking dinner to my husband and let him know when I’ll be available to come to the table, plan to have leftovers from the night before, or go to my stash of emergency prepped meals in the freezer. I know a lot of people who order pre-made meal prep for exactly these occasions, too.
Knowing days in advance this is going to be the scenario keeps me from panicking at the last minute and turning into a hangry gremlin who starts devouring anything I can find in the pantry while trying to put together a meal last minute. A little bit of planning and forethought can go a long way here!
4 - Prep meals or ingredients for quick assembly of meals. For those of you who work in an office, you're probably pretty used to bringing your lunch or other meals with you. If you’re not, and you’re relying on eating out each day, this is an area where you could make massive improvements. 1-2 days/week, batch cook your lunches (and any other meals you want) so you just have to grab them when it’s time. Alternatively, you could prepare ingredients such as plain shredded chicken, ground beef, grilled steak or fish, rice, potatoes, quinoa, veggies, keep them in your fridge, and simply assemble meals in whatever combination sounds good to you. Bonus tip, I rely heavily on frozen veggies and canned beans for additions to meals, as well.
For the work from home crowd like myself, do yourself a favor and treat yourself exactly as I described above. I used to try to make every meal at home from scratch and what that usually resulted in was a waste of energy and resources each day. I now plan what I will have for lunch for the whole week and make it on one day when I have the energy and capacity to do so, usually on the weekends. This makes my work-week SO MUCH simpler and stress free. I’ve found I also like to have these meals on the weekends because it feels like the nicest gift I could give myself… the gift of a stress-free, hassle-free meal that I didn’t have to take the time to cook when I was already hungry.
5 - Understand that some days are just going to be more challenging than others. That is normal and okay. Remember that what you do most of the time is far more important than what you do some of the time. Sometimes you will get caught in a meeting, forget to bring your food to work, or accidentally spill your meal prep on the floor. In those instances, make the best choices you can make but don’t stress yourself out about things not being perfect.
Hopefully that gives you a little perspective and helps with how to fit being a lifter with goals into your busy work life. Don’t forget to grab my pre/post-training meals guide to help you crush your goals and provide some framework to your nutrition.