T Nation

Compromise Health for Your Goals?


O.K Guys,

I have something for you to discuss / debate. A colleague of mine and I had a discussion regarding nutrtion and performance.

Now my colleague and I work in sport, my colleague is a performance nutritionist for the English Institute of Sport and deals with a successful English Olympic aesthetic sport (I would rather not disclose which) and we were discussing what separates elite performers from the sub-elite, regardless of talent.

Essentially what we have both found over the years is that elite performers will do ANYTHING to reach their performance goals. This is now instilled on them from an institutional level, the philosphy of EIS is that performance is number 1 and your only priority!

So, some of you maybe surprised to learn that many of the nutritional practises of high level athletes are very much 'unhealthy' and unbalanced, and wholly performance driven.

So, my point is, would you voluntarily compromise your health for your goals?


Give me an example.


Like the stories of Michael Phelps' eating habits?

I think it takes a unique individual to be driven to succeed at an elite level, and that requires certain sacrifices. But I wouldn't say that it necessarily compromises one's health. For the average person, an Olympic athlete's diet might be unhealthy, but for that particular individual, it works.

I think it would be a tough argument to say that Michael Phelps is unhealthy because he eats for performance. Especially when comparing his outward appearance to that of the general population.

So I guess my overall answer would be, unequivocally, yes; if eating in a certain way allowed me to maintain an elite performance level, I would do that. Because, whatever allows me to maintain an elite athletic performance level, is likely going to be a "healthy" environment for my personal makeup.


For example, some endurance sports athletes would voluntary dehydrate during their races, as they found that the reduction in bodymass as a result of considerble sweat losses reduced times.

True story!

Things of that nature, I suppose.

I suppose what I am asking is, for whatever goal you had, performance or physique wise, what comes first, your health or your goal?


I see your points, and I think that Phelps is a freak and the majority of folks shouldnt try to replicate it. But for him, I think the diet he eats is perfect! Considering that he will likely exercise for 30 hours or so weekly, with a vast proportion of that being high intensity work - and considering his bodymass, energy expenditure and genetic predisposition for leanness and nutrient partitioning and utlisation - the diet does what it should! fuels performance, fuels recovery and ensures optimal bodycomposition. I would imagine that at reduced training volumes, if he continued to eat that way, he would see a reduction in health.

I guess what I am asking is how far would you go to reach your goals? Whether it be bodybuiling or performance?


Most elite athletes are well aware that they need to push beyond what's 'healthy' to achieve maximum performance.

Whether it's training so hard that the immune system is somewhat compromised, pushing to the point they risk injury, or maintaining abnormally low body fat, elite athletics are for the most part not about being healthy.


Health is such a broad concept you can make it mean whatever you want. for an elite athlete performance should be directly related to overall health I would think.... I think some people don't realize how hard it is to "eat healthy" when you do so much work you require 7k+ calories a day.... and I would therefore argue if you pizza, a burger, a whole chicken and a pitcher of beer, go for it.....


Very True. And with that kind of lifestyle, they don't even get to enjoy what they eat. It is purely energy to them. Dean writes about it in "UltraMarathon Man."


I couldn't quote the response that said it, but someone said that there were endurance athletes who would dehydrate themselves...

These are the the dumbasses who get bad times.I've never heard of anyone doing this, but I believe it. If you are even 2 % dehydrated, your performance will suffer. Google it bitches.