In order for athletes to be successful, regardless of their chosen sport, one of the key outcomes needs to be consistency in training. Only when an athlete can train consistently over a period of time will they achieve progression and improvements in their performance. This involves ensuring the right fuel before, during and after training; as well as sufficient rest and recovery between sessions.
So what does the right fuel look like for athletes?
When I work with athletes, there are a number of things to take into consideration when thinking about their nutritional strategy. These include:
- Energy demands of that sport - endurance, power, speed, weight management
- The mix of training sessions and intensities
- Their body composition goals
- Their Competition schedule
From this you can build a personal plan but fundamentally the key is tailoring their nutritional intake to their training schedule.
This means fuelling up with complex carbohydrates such as oats, potatoes – sweet and white, wholegrain breads, pasta, rice quinoa and couscous, before high intensity training; this ensures that glycogen stores can be built and sufficient energy is available to the working muscles at a high intensity.
On lower intensity and rest days, while carbohydrates should be consumed, they can be kept to a moderate intake – aiming for around a fist size portion at meal times.
Protein, while always thought of as an integral part of recovery, should be “pulsed” at regular intervals throughout the day. This ensures a more even distribution of protein throughout the day and studies demonstrate that muscle protein synthesis (building of muscles) is more efficient. As a rule of thumb I tend to suggest a palm size portion at meals.
Dairy protein is particularly good for recovery immediately post exercise, as it contains the right composition of easily digestible carbohydrate and protein.
The final nutrients to add to the mix include fruits and vegetables to provide vitamins and minerals necessary for efficient running of all the processes within the body; and essential fatty acids which ensure absorption of fat soluble vitamins, important for preventing inflammation, muscular recovery and boosting the immune system.
In my new books, Fast Fuel, Food for Running Success and Food For Triathlon Success, I have gone into more details about how to tailor your nutrition based on your training and competition goals.
They include practical tips all the way through and easy to prepare recipes, which are suitable for all the family and use everyday ingredients – not a goji berry or coconut sugar in sight!
Performance and Clinical Dietitian
Author of “Training Food” and “Fast Fuel” Books