It should be noted these are guidelines and should form a starting point. Individual athletes require individual plans, therefore plan, execute and then make adjustments based on how you respond.
Nutrition is an area with an abundance of information, but very little knowledge. Instagram, Facebook, social influencers; we are constantly bombarded with information about how to look better naked. The aim of this post is to cut through the information and give you evidence and empowerment to take control of your nutrition to optimise performance.
I think the first point we need to address is how to identify the symptoms of poor nutrition. If we can identify the symptoms of poor nutrition, then we can pinpoint if we are dealing with a nutrition-related concern, or another underlying issue such as training, recovery, sleep, illness etc.
If you can relate to a variety of these symptoms, then I would take a closer look at your nutrition;
- Fatigue during training/competition
- Stomach issues such as bloating, cramps etc
- Poor immune function
- Recovery issues
- Weight Issues
- Loss/irregular menstrual cycle, weak hair/nails, stress fractures
Once we know we need to improve nutrition we need to make sure we are dedicating our time and effort to the factors which are going to make the biggest improvements to performance.
How often have you been good all week, but come the weekend or a social occasion, you fall over the wagon? Going around in circles each week with no change in results? Adherence! Can you see yourself sticking to your current diet (and lack of results) for 6, 12 or 24 months? If not, is there any point in starting? Adherence should form the basis of any nutritional plan. Diets need to be sustainable long term to ensure success. A diet should fit around your lifestyle, and not trying to fit your lifestyle around a diet.
Now we get on to the practical stuff!
Energy balance is typically defined as the number of calories required to keep you alive, plus perform all your daily tasks and exercise. For athletes, this requires us to match the amount of food we consume, with the amount of expenditure. This number will be different for everyone as factors such as body size, composition, training volume/intensity, occupation etc. all influence how many calories you need. If you’re part of a team (coach, physio, S&C. etc) the challenge is then multiplied.
Challenge = Performance + Recovery + Athlete Satisfaction + Specific Demands of Sport + Other Professionals
The most practical way to estimate your energy balance is;
- Track everything you eat as accurately as possible for 10-14 days
- Track your weight for those 10-14 days
- If you maintain your weight, you’re probably on target. If you lose/gain some weight, add/remove some food for the following 10-14 days and then reassess. This is by no means 100% accurate and females will have more difficulty with this as their weight fluctuates depending on the stage of the menstrual cycle; however, this will give a good starting point.
I would like to see everyone at this stage of knowing their energy balance and how many macronutrients they should be consuming as this will arguably contribute to the biggest improvement in performance. At the most basic level, all the food you eat in a given day will equate to a specific number of calories. These calories can then be divided into our macronutrients; carbohydrates, protein and fats. This will require you to be able to read nutritional labels but it’s a little work for massive reward and freedom with your diet.
Carbohydrates are your primary energy source for your sport. Think of your muscles as a fuel tank, they need to be full of fuel to get the best performance. If you start a road trip with half a tank of fuel, you’re going to run out much quicker. Carbohydrates need to take priority in your diet. For most people training between 3-5 hrs, and 10-15hrs per week, I would recommend 4-5g or 6-7g of carbohydrate per KG of bodyweight per day. To give you an example, if we have 2 athletes; one recreational 10K runner who is doing 4 hours per week, and a marathon runner who is running 13 hours per week and both of them weigh 70kg.
- The 10K runner will typically need 280-350g of CHO per day.
- The marathon runner will need approximately 420g-490g of CHO per day.
Typical Food Sources; rice, potatoes, cereal, porridge, bread, bagels, sweets etc.
To give you an idea of what 600g of carbohydrate looks like I have attached a sample menu below;
ProteinProtein is essential to retain lean tissue and in many cases, it will help with recovery. Most of you will benefit from 1.20-1.60g per kg of bodyweight. Taking our 70kg athlete as an example again, this would equate to a range of 90g-115g of protein per day. To give that context, a typical chicken breast is approximately 35g of protein.
Typical Food Sources; chicken, turkey, salmon, beef, tuna, eggs, whey protein/protein bars
I tend to keep fat intake somewhere between 40-70g per day for most athletes. Again, some athletes perform and feel better off higher fat diets, but this is going to come down to trial and error.
Typical Fat Sources; almond butter, eggs, butter, nuts, oily fish, avocado
Remember, there are no such foods as good or bad foods. I would suggest that most people consume 70-80% of their diet from the foods above, and then fit in your treats around that.