Judith Haudum

No cookie for you. Is that really normal?

It's not found in any textbook, and no scientific statement or article has ever said: Athletes are not allowed to eat cake or should not indulge in chocolate cookies. However, in reality, it is widespread for athletes to feel they are not allowed to consume sweets or any "bad, unhealthy" food.

Why do we believe this? Why do many athletes feel guilty when eating a chocolate bar or ice cream?

When talking to athletes, you often hear that they avoid sweets during important competitions or preparation phases. "It's not good for me," many will say. Former athletes make similar statements when reflecting on their careers. Some will say they were told to avoid certain foods. Typically, these are the foods widely considered as bad and unhealthy. Talking to sports fans yields similar responses. They also believe that athletes are better off avoiding snacks and sweets.

Upon brief reflection, one might wonder why we think this way. Why does elite sports seemingly clash with having a cookie?

Athletes must eat healthily.
Throughout my entire career, I tried to stay away from all unhealthy food and sweets. I told myself: they are bad for me because you are an athlete.

One reason for this attitude is certainly that we all know we should eat healthily and balanced—athletes or not. Every nutrition guide tells us exactly that. Well, sweets are not really classified as healthy food. So, there's a good argument why athletes should avoid a cookie. Additionally, we know that a healthy body is crucial for the athlete... in fact, everything around an athlete should be healthy, right? And then there's the story of avoiding calorie-rich, fatty foods to maintain a good weight. So, sweets are again on the list (along with other foods, of course). It can only be logical that athletes shouldn't eat cookies.

But let's see what the food pyramids and nutritional guidelines of different nutrition societies say. Do they really claim: no sweets? No cookies? Not really... nutrition societies recommend consuming sweets only in small quantities. Typically, it's the top of the pyramid, which means only very small amounts.

Why then do athletes avoid any kind of sweets? In many sports where body weight plays a significant role, such as cycling, running, high jump, it's considered normal for athletes to avoid certain foods. If you want to become really good, you have to go on diets and skip dessert. That's not true. That's not "normal" eating. It's not a healthy eating behavior. The fact is: sports and its community have come to a point where it's considered normal. The fact that some athletes are obsessed with the "duty" to eat healthily, count calories, control grams of carbohydrates and fat seems to be part of the sport for many. If you want to be an athlete, then you have to do that. Eating is the enemy. Eating creates stress and bad moods. Eating is bad.

The real problem:
what is not normal has become something that is now perceived as normal today.

That's the real problem. What's not normal and healthy has, over the years, become something perceived as normal and right. And that's exactly something I work on with my athletes every day. Food should become their secret weapon. Food should give them the strength that leads to success. Mostly healthy food, but sometimes also the "bad" stuff. Without guilt. Instead of thinking about every cookie they've secretly eaten, they enjoy the cookie. They've made peace with food and nutrition. This is also what it means to be healthy: well-being and happiness, inner balance.

Should you eat the cookie that's right in front of you on the kitchen table? Of course, you should. It's good for you!

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