A topic I find myself discussing lots with people is how nutrition for sport is a little bit different to life.
There’s a misconception that nutrition for sport or eating as an athlete (aka anyone who does planned exercise) has to be “perfect”, “healthy”, and “clean”... but what do those terms even mean?
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I want you to view foods as functional. Every food has a purpose. There’s no “good” and “bad” foods…unless you’re intolerant or allergic to something!! There are foods we want to eat around exercise because they give us fast fuel (for example higher GI, lower fibre, higher carb or sugar foods, lower fat foods); and there are foods we want to eat when we’re not as active to fill us up for longer, provide us with different nutrients and support or prevent health conditions (ie. higher fibre, lower sugar, quality high biological value protein foods, and essential fats).
And, most importantly, I want you to view eating and foods as individualised. Food is different for everyone. As I often say, we don’t wear the same runners, or ride the same bike as people, so our nutrition and foods we eat are going to be different to others.
I’m not saying you should be drinking sports drink daily and living off gels and lollies; but instead, finding the balance on fuelling for sport AND eating for life.
So, let’s explore how the two goals can differ, and how we can integrate both to fuel a healthy athlete for life!
So how can we balance these principles? Here’s how I build the foundations into my athletes’ plans.
Fibre spacing: Less fibre before and during training; more fibre after training and throughout the day if you’re not training again
Eat comfortable (slightly lower fibre) carbohydrates for you 1-2 hours before training: fruit, sourdough bread or toast/ any you like, enjoy coffee or tea before training (in the AM), yoghurt, oats, cereal.
After training is where you can get more fibre in and foods that will fill you up for longer: brown or basmati rice, pasta, wraps, smoothies, eggs on toast, oats, legumes like beans and lentils, plenty of fruits and veggies
Depending if you’re training soon after or not: go for 2 fruit per day, carbs and protein in your snacks to fuel well, use packaged foods when time is limited or if convenient for you (muesli bars, yoghurts, nut bars, crackers)
More carbs around training / exercise; less when you’re not as active (for many, but not all athletes)
Lunch – load up more carbohydrates here
Dinner – possibly less carbohydrate and overall smaller meal (depending when you train!!)
Mix up foods across the week
Especially proteins, fruits and vegetables. Limit red meat twice per week, fish if you eat it 2-3 times per week, a few meat-free meals
Limit caffeine after 1-2pm. Earlier if you’re sensitive
On days you train more, eat more; on days you train less either eat less or focus on more fruits and vegetables (this will change with goals and health conditions!)
Eat foods you enjoy!!
This is key to sustainable habits for life! Just because you’re training doesn’t mean you can or can’t have chocolate, cheese, wine, ice cream, pastries, or whatever your jam is. Instead, give yourself permission to enjoy all foods, when you like. You will be surprised how this can shift your mindset, ‘cravings’ and an ‘all or nothing’ approach. Regardless of if you’re exercising, you can still enjoy a little bit of chocolate each night…as this will prevent binge episodes later in the week or month.
with vitamins and minerals you may be lacking or need more of as an athlete (ie iron, zinc, B12) and use sports nutrition supplements once hitting your foundations. Remember to always only use safe supplements and ones that are not banned. For more tips and info on these, you can visit:
INFORMED SPORT: https://sport.wetestyoutrust.com/certified-brands @wetestyoutrust Find out about banned substances and different categories of safe supplements here from AIS Sports Supplement Framework: https://www.ais.gov.au/nutrition/supplements @theais_
World Anti-Doping Agency: For prohibited lists and more info
For athletes who want to balance fat loss and sports performance, this can be a fine line. You don’t want to be in a big energy deficit… so we need to get the timing of this and the foods right. Still fuel around training, eat less when you’re not as active. Fasting may work for some athletes if they train in the PM.
PS. Life is short, eat the foods you enjoy. Chase that balance... just like American Olympian Ilona Maher (view reel here)
Happy training and eating,