Working with a performance nutrition specialist
Performance nutrition is a profession that has come to the forefront of elite sports performance over the past 5 years. Many organisations such as The English Institute of Sport, Premiership football clubs, England Rugby and the Lawn Tennis Association now have performance nutrition specialists on staff and these expert performance nutrition specialists undoubtedly help athletes improve their performance and recovery.
However at amateur levels of sport there remain many misconceptions about performance nutrition. Some of these include carbohydrate loading for sports, getting carbs from jelly beans, jaffa cakes, pasta and potatoes and that fat makes you fat and should be avoided.
Having worked as a performance nutrition specialists with many top athletes I am still amazed how many of them eat a poor diet and either rely of sports supplements and sports drinks to get them through their events or just have a really poor understanding of how important nutrition is. I have also found that with a little bit of education this can be turned around and athletes feel and perform a lot better.
Performance nutrition advice
These are some of the common mistakes I find athletes making.
Not eating breakfast. This really upsets your hormone and energy balance and can lead to excess body fat accumulation.
- Carbohydrate loading. This is not necessary for events under 90-100 minutes, however it is advisable for events longer than this such as 10k, triathlon and marathons.
- Eating / drinking too much carbohydrates on a daily basis. Carb intake of between 7-8g and 10-12g of CHO / kg BW / day are only necessary for ultra long events such as marathons, triathlons etc… Otherwise I have found that athletes get excess body fat which has many associated negative effects on performance.
- Consuming too littleprotein. Protein recommendations are generally too low, whether they are for the general population or athletes. Eat between 1-2g and 2g of protein /kg BW / day.
- Avoiding fats because fats re unhealthy and make you fat. This is nonsense. Essential fats are required in the diet.
- Not eating enough fruit and vegetables and relying on foods such as rice, pasta, potatoes and beans for nutrition. A diet rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals is essential for an athlete – so eat lots of fruit and vegetables.
Eating before, during and after your event is extremely important to provide fuel for performance and recovery. The advice given on event day can be subdivided into pre, during and post event nutrition. The post event recommendations and further divided into windows of opportunity of 0-30 minutes, 30 minutes-4 hours and 2-4 hours post event.
Performance nutrition – Pre-exercise:
Aims of the pre training/ event period are:
- Eat sensibly and continue to restock muscle glycogen if it’s been severely depleted from a prior training session – this includes eating fruits and vegetables and a little whole grain rice or quinoa along with some protein and fats in the pre-event meal.
- Eat to boost acetylcholine and dopamine and get plenty of B vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are needed for energy pathways and to convert nutrients into neurotransmitters. Ideal pre-event foods therefore include meat, poultry, cold water fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables, berries, fruits, oats, avocado and brown rice.
- Hydrate well – drink as much water as tolerable, water and low sugar sports drinks (10g glucose per 500ml) only.
- Prevent hunger – so eat breakfast or lunch and stabilise blood sugar.
- Provide the body with host of antioxidants that will protect your body from the free radicals generated during the event.
- Ten minutes before training / playing consume 20g of BCAA with a low sugar carbohydrate sports drink. This helps protect your muscles from damage during the event.
- Try a Beet-It shot, it is rich in nitrates that help to induce nitric oxide synthesis. Nitric oxide works as a vasodilator, allowing more oxygen to flow to your heart and muscles.
Performance nutrition – During exercise:
Maintain hydration at all costs. Consume 30-60g of glucose per hour of exercise with water and electrolytes.. Commercial sports will do – however try products such as VitaCoco or Cheryy Active. It is common to drink water right out of the fridge but this is oftentimes too cold, it should be at about 15-20ºC for rapid absorption – i.e. room temperature.
Performance nutrition – Post exercise:
Aims of the post training/ game period are:
- Replace water and electrolytes (drink 1.5 litres of water per kg of BW lost)
- Restore muscle and liver glycogen (this is highest in the first hour post exercise), so use liquid then solid meals containing protein and carbohydrate.
- Consume 1-1.2g carbs/kg BW per hour for up to 4 hours – e.g. an 80kg athlete would consume 80-90g carbs per hour to restock muscle glycogen.
- In this period use higher GL carbs such as fruit, dried fruit, whole grains and sports drinks.
- Provide good quality proteins for protein synthesis and repairing muscle.
0-30 minutes –
Re-hydrate and replace lost electrolytes. A 4:1 carbohydrate / protein solution should be consumed to restore muscle glycogen and amino acids immediately post exercise. Liquid meals work best for glycogen re-synthesis and adding protein / 2-20g BCAA’s to the liquid carbohydrate solution will markedly increase the glycogen content of muscle. Consuming glutamine following exercise can also accelerate muscle glycogen re-synthesis.
20 minutes – 2 hours –
Continue to re-hydrate and replace lost electrolytes and carbohydrates. In this time eat a solid meal. Continue to take in higher GL carbohydrate, however, limit the use of grains in the post workout window as they do provide carbohydrate, but they are nutritionally inferior in calories, micronutrients, antioxidants and fibre compared to fruits and vegetables. They also contain gluten that may cause food intolerance and slow down thinking and reaction times. Continued consumption of protein (25-30g) will provide valuable BCAA’s that are an important regulator of protein synthesis through reducing protein degradation in humans. Consume fish and fish oils on a daily basis to match the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids will help to reduce inflammation.
2 – 4 hours post –
Continue to re-hydrate and replace lost electrolytes and carbs if required. If you are hungry snack again with higher GL carbohydrate, protein and essential fats such as fruit and nuts.
By using these recommendations you will break through the myths and hype about performance nutrition and be doing yourself and your performance a huge favour.