Fueling the Flow of Athletic Performance: My Nutrition Philosophy
In The Flow
One of the ultimate joys as an athlete is to experience flow: a full immersion and focus in the presence of our movement. This is achieved when we perfectly combine skill with action and awareness, and everything from the training we’ve done to the food we’ve fueled with clicks. As we’ve all likely experienced at some point in our athletic careers, we tap into the “zone” and feel like we can ride or run or move through the mountains forever. We’ve become one with movement.
I believe there’s a very important connection between the quality of our movement and the quality of our food, enhancing this flow state and thus the experience of our athletic performance.
To me, flow is inextricably linked with mountain sports like cycling, trail running, climbing, or skiing. I started In The Flow because I’m fascinated with how good food, meaningful movement, and a connection and respect for the outdoors can fuel that flow. While of course racing fast or hitting PR’s is fun, I think what we’re really after as athletes is a deeper experience of feeling and sensation and getting to new places physically and mentally. Magic happens when we get in the flow.
This is what guides my philosophy as a sports nutritionist, coach, and athlete myself.
My goal with In The Flow Nutrition is to help mountain endurance athletes fuel their performance while supporting long term health, and eat in a way that reflects their connection to the natural environment through personalized sports nutrition coaching support and education.
As athletes we invest a tremendous amount of time, energy, and money into our sport from hiring coaches to buying the latest gear and sacrificing so much to squeeze the most out of training and competition. Yet we tend to neglect learning how to fuel properly. We love to focus on the icing and sprinkles of performance before baking the cake. Quality nutrition is an absolutely critical piece in the toolkit, and can make the difference between just getting through our season and truly feeling our best.
Eating for Health + Performance
So what does quality nutrition and meaningful movement look like? The short answer: it’s complicated. The long answer is what I hope to unpack over the lifespan of my podcast. But the gist is that from a macro level perspective, the dietary patterns associated with the greatest health outcomes (such as healthspan and lower risk of chronic disease), minimal impact on the environment, and even athletic performance are diets centered around whole foods, mostly plants. Eating the majority of our calories from fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts & seeds, and choosing small amounts of sustainably raised animal products, with minimal reliance on heavily processed or refined foods. This is nothing new. There’s no silver bullet, no diet hacks or quick fixes despite what your gym buddy or a Facebook post might tell you. I’m not here to sell you the latest overpriced supplement regime or have the secret hack for instant weight loss.
At the micro level, things are more nuanced and individualized, particularly for athletic performance. There’s no “perfect” diet. It’s about learning to achieve proper energy balance to fuel our movement, while simultaneously meeting our nutrient needs for key nutrients like iron or calcium, vitamin D and omega-3s. It’s about translating the breadth of quality research from the pillars of medicine, sports science and general nutrition into real-world practice so we can live better, move faster, and feel stronger.
My personal approach towards diet is a completely plant-based one. This stems primarily from a deep connection to the natural environment and the animals we share it with. The data on the environmental impacts of animal agriculture are quite convincing and the ethical argument is even stronger. The health implications of eating a plant-based diet also tend to lean towards long term health promotion and disease prevention if done correctly, and even professional athletes across all disciplines are adopting more plant centered diets to improve overall health status, weight control, and performance. After 6+ years on a completely vegan diet, I can confirm that I’m still alive and thriving as an athlete.
While there is still a need for more data in the realm of plant-based nutrition, particularly for athletes, there are certainly many right and wrong ways to eat and fuel ourselves. I apply what we do know from the decades of sports science and nutrition to the plant-based way. However, the reality is that it’s becoming an increasingly popular way to live for the reasons I listed above. Vegan and vegetarian diets often get demonized or written off as restrictive, suboptimal, or downright unhealthy due to too many “carbs” or lacking in key nutrients, and of course impossible for athletes.
I’ll be the first to admit that a vegan diet can absolutely be restrictive and insufficient to meet the needs of hard-training athletes and isn’t the right approach for everyone. There’s more than one way to eat badly. This is where In The Flow comes in. With expertise in performance nutrition for athletes on plant-based diets, my mission is to provide nutrition education and support for active humans and athletes to develop clarity and confidence in their diets, whether they’re vegan or omnivorous.
My Two-Hat Approach
Professionally, I wear two hats: performance nutritionist plus coach for the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s cross-country ski team and the Sun Valley Devo mountain bike development team. In many ways this is a unique role for a nutrition professional, but I find the two overlap and work well together, informing and strengthening my approach to practice from both sides. I believe in building relationships with athletes to best support training, competition, and nutrition goals and using education and conversation to drive positive change. Because there’s no “one size fits all” approach to training or nutrition, and blanket prescriptions of the general recommendations fails to consider the individual, my role is to synthesize the preponderance of evidence across disciplines and apply it to the individual athlete.
I believe in balance; focusing on the big picture of nutrition before focusing on the minutiae, and developing healthy relationships towards food and sport. Yet I’m very much a disciple of the science of performance, and with a history in elite endurance sport myself, I understand the demands and the tools we have at our disposal for taking things to the next level. From the essentials of periodized nutrition and optimal energy availability to the evidence-based use of supplements as part of the performance plan, my aim is to synchronize exercise demands with the nutrition demands.
At the core, though, all of this is meant to coach and support athletes in feeling amazing on and off the bike or the ski or running trails so that things feel a bit more seamless and purposeful. Peak performance — and flow — isn’t something we can force. Like a jedi, the path to harnessing and mastering the force requires purposeful training combined with a calm mindfulness.
Peak performance — and flow — isn’t something we can force.
So when I’m not out riding or running or skiing in the mountains and eating delicious food myself, I’m dedicated to helping others do the same. To learn more about what I do and how I think, or to get in touch, visit my website and listen to my podcast, In The Flow.
Fuel the flow, we must.
Jackson is a registered sports nutritionist (SENr) and endurance coach from the mountain town of Sun Valley, Idaho and holds advanced degrees in physiology and nutrition.