Elite athletes can over-identify with sport. As a junior athlete with unfulfilled Olympic dreams, Evan Lynch, founder of Evan Lynch fitnut shares his experience.

“If you met me before the age of 20 and introduced yourself, I would have said hello, I am a walker, and by the way my name is Evan. Here is my list of achievements and PBs”. In my experience, the ones who over identify with the sport, that is their crutch, that is compensation for feeling inadequate or struggling with social anxiety.”

Then his sporting career was cut short by injury. “I’ll have to deal with the reality that I’ll never become an Olympian and that’s what I wanted to be.”

Lynch is a sports nutritionist and a registered dietitian in Malta where he completed his postgraduate degree in dietetics. He is in the process of registering in Ireland and is currently undertaking a Master in Sports and Exercise Science. The former race-walker has learned from his own mistakes to try to help other athletes avoid them through his work with Cycling Ireland and Athletics Ireland, as well as DCU Athletics.

Learning from our own mistakes

“I see in hindsight a lot of the things I did wrong, and I see it in other people now. The food aversion, the fad diets. I had low energy availability, trained when I was fucked, ignored warning signs.

“If I can prevent that happening in other people, that is what I would like and that’s why I do this.” A lot of people have food guilt, which he describes as “old school dogmatism. People are bullied or shamed into acting a certain way and it bothers me.”

It is easy to maintain a “good” diet when you are in the routine of training. But when you aren’t training, athletes slip into bad habits much easier.

Lynch can relate. “It happened to me when I first got injured. I didn’t brush my teeth for three weeks. It was when I was 20 and I didn’t understand what was happening. I couldn’t bring myself to do any basic self maintenance and it all goes back to your identity and the narrative you build up around what you are.”

The fickleness of sport

Sport is super fickle. If your self esteem is rooted in performance you’re going to run into difficulties when you’re on the down curve.

The Limerick man recalls his experience of anxiety post-sport, but not really knowing what it was. He felt sick going into lectures, house parties, on the bus. “I was getting this about twenty times a week and they were panic attacks because when I lost sports, that was my whole framework of existence and it crumbled.”

“And this is where I started to see that, depending on the axioms you hold of who you are and what sport is to you, it affects how you behave. I had to change my whole identity and find out a few things about myself.”

A combination of fast food and the track for the MK5000m Special that might seen strange for some. Photo: Brian Graves of MKAC

Food Anxiety

If you’re in a sport where weight to watt ratio really matters the mindset can be “I need to carry the least amount of weight possible and what are things that go against weight loss?

Well eating food definitely, eating junk food absolutely, and someone told me carbohydrates make me gain weight so I can’t have them. You can see how, depending on what kind of beliefs the person has been fed, if they’re all about max performance, that can have detrimental effects on their diet.”

A junior athlete he works with said that if all their friends went to McDonald’s it would make them anxious and they would wait outside. “With anxiety, you fear the unknown. You fear the what ifs and you’re hesitant to try anything because it might not work.”

The athlete’s narrative can be “I am hesitant to have a balanced diet and to take a moderate approach because that’s what normal people eat and normal people aren’t athletes. If I eat like them it will undermine my goals.”

Food isn’t just about right and wrong

People come in looking for a black and white meal plan but Lynch works in the grey to change behaviour. “People are grey areas.”

He described one endurance athlete as “very by the book.” They spent time writing “junk food” into their diet, for this athlete it was to have some nutella every day “and this was the most important thing we were going to do.” It proved to them that they didn’t “have to be perfect, that they can enjoy their diet. The control that they tried to exert and the belief system they had on black and white was all a lie.”

The Fitnut Clinic

Lynch does not offer a standard weight loss plan. “This is not a diet. Weight will happen as a side effect, we are not doing this so we can post on instagram or so you can look the part. Aesthetics and performance are not the same thing. People really mix that up.”

The Big Rule: “This is for you. So that you can look in the mirror and know that you’re in control of your health. It’s not for other people so that they will like you.”

The ex-endurance athlete used to find smaller social situations difficult. “I thought that performing well or being in fantastic shape would change that, and it didn’t. It only alienates you further.” That’s another thing he addresses with clients, if they are there because they hope people will like them more, “they won’t, no one will care how you look.” That’s the home truth.

Photo: Provided by Evan

How do you stay on the bandwagon during Corona-time?

A question most readers will have had to grapple with in the last month.

“Your season is gone, you don’t know what you are doing. Everything is vague. If you identify as an athlete and your season is gone – what are you? What are athletes without their sport? Some would say nothing and that was certainly my answer when I lost sports. If your whole raison d’etre is gone, why would you look after yourself? There is no incentive.”

There is no doubt that some people find the Covid-19 uncertainty harder to deal with than others. For sure some have fallen off the bandwagon in the last few weeks because of the interruption to routine.

“It comes from not really knowing what to do. What are the rules? In the coronavirus, there are no rules. How do you react? What  exercise can you do within a 2km radius? Can you have perfect meal prepping when shopping is almost blasphemy at this stage?”

“Society expects nothing of us at the moment and because of that we give ourselves permission to do nothing.” The people with resilience will fare better, those who can keep doing what they are doing regardless of the situation they are in.

Robbie would like to know how to stop raiding the fridge?

The Fast Running editor has been exercising inside his Italian apartment for over 30 days and has covered over 800 miles on the turbo on his balcony. We can cut him some slack, or can we?

“Stay hydrated, the brain mistakes hunger and thirst as the same thing. Figure out your comfort eating. Most people comfort eat at night because they are bored.” If you keep passing the fridge, “stop, realise what you are doing, leave the room, and come back.”

People who see the pandemic as out of their control, but take the view that “I can only control myself” are the people who stay on track. “It’s the people who focus on what they can’t control, or what other people think of them, or what is going to go wrong, they’re the ones who will go off track.”

The nutritionist sees that a lot of people are suffering with these issues in the athletics community. “RED-S caused a bit of a stir, but the whole culture and mental battles on a day to day basis is not touched.” It is a powder keg waiting to explode in his opinion. “I hope people can relate to this.”

If you’d like to hear more from Evan then how about trying the Runner Beans podcast interview here. 

For more information or to contact Evan about online nutritional coaching then have a look at his website. 

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