- Nutrition coach Dr. Mike Molloy told Insider 3 nutrition lessons we can learn from elite athletes.
- Professional athletes nail the basics, don’t over-restrict, and are focused on performance.
- Crucially, they don’t feel guilty for eating foods like pizza or ice cream.
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Dr. Mike Molloy is a nutrition coach who has worked with professional athletes including Icelandic weightlifter and CrossFit athlete Sara Sigmundsdottir, CrossFitter and UK’s fittest man Zack George, Brazilian goalkeeper Aline Reis, world judo champion An Changrim, 4th fittest woman on earth Haley Adams, and more.
From weight lifters to wake surfers and freeskiers to footballers, Molloy has helped a wide variety of professional athletes nail their nutrition so they can perform at their peak — but also enjoy their lifestyle.
Many of the principles used by elite athletes apply just as much to the rest of us, and by learning from the pros we can all develop healthier eating practices and mindsets around food.
1. Nail the basics
Many people presume elite athletes consume all sorts of supplements and follow peculiar food rules, but this isn’t generally the case.
For the most part, athletes are focused on doing the basics really well: eating a high quality, balanced diet, consuming enough protein, and staying hydrated.
According to Molloy, it’s a misconception that all professional athletes have private chefs (only the biggest stars do), so they’re focused on complementing their training by minimizing processed foods, drinking lots of water, and sleeping well.
“Sleep and hydration might seem tangential to nutrition, but they are incredibly important for driving good nutritional behaviors,” Molloy told Insider.
2. Eat to fuel your life
The difference between athletes and the average person is that their livelihood depends on their physical performance, and although that can be a motivator to eat well, we can all approach our diets that way.
Athletes are focused on eating for performance, rather than aesthetics.
“They aren’t sitting there thinking, ‘How can I be lighter and leaner?’ they’re focused on fueling their life, which is driven by performance,” Molloy said.
And this mindset is a critical component for eating well.
“It’s not restriction-based, it’s goal-oriented. Not ‘How can I eat as little as possible?’ but ‘How can I eat the right amount to fuel my training so that I’m energized throughout the day, not feeling sluggish, and I’m not hangry?'”
3. Include all your favorite foods in moderation
Depending on the athlete and the event, Molloy might ask one of his clients to really dial in their nutrition in the few weeks leading up to a competition, but the rest of the time, there are no foods off the table.
So yes, that means athletes eat pizza and ice cream too. And critically, they don’t freak out about it, feel guilty afterwards, and fall into a binge-restrict cycle.
A post shared by Sara Sigmundsdóttir (@sarasigmunds)
“It’s not about never going out for dinner or never eating chocolate, we just build it into their routine,” Molloy said. “As serious as they are as athletes, it’s not about being perfect.”
He continued: “Maybe two months before their real peak of their season, that’s when we start to really dial in as much as possible. Maybe the ice cream gets replaced with white rice or oats.”
The approach taken by Molloy and these athletes is about creating long-term plans that work for their life, so no one is ever told they can’t have pizza.
“If elite athletes are doing this and still able to perform at their best and train at their best, it’s the same for the average person,” said Molloy. “It’s not about perfection, it’s about progress.”