Times of uncertainty can be incredibly challenging for athletes or anyone who likes to train like an athlete, especially those that thrive on routine and structure. Some athletes may find themselves struggling to adjust to a new, temporary way of training and living, while others are happy to let the reigns go completely – let’s hope there aren’t too many of them!
Ideally, finding a healthy middle ground between the two extremes is what we would call the sweet spot. By ensuring athletes have the right tools, we can help them stay on track with their training and nutrition targets, whilst minimising stress and making the most of an opportunity for rest.
Here’s our advice on how to execute performance nutrition principals during the pandemic.
Periodising Nutrition Intake
In a nutshell, periodising nutrition is all about strategically using nutrition to fuel for the work and intensity required.
As training for many athletes is adapted during the pandemic, it’s crucial that their nutritional needs are also adjusted to match on a day to day or meal to meal basis. When it comes to fine-tuning energy intake, one of the most important macronutrients to focus on manipulating and periodising is carbohydrates.
How carbohydrates are periodised will depend on the type of sport, training session and individual goals. Generally speaking, intense, longer length training sessions will require high carbohydrate intake, whereas rest days are set with a low to moderate carbohydrate intake. What might this look like? Adjusting the ratio of carbohydrates on your plate from a 1/3 for a high day down to 0-1/4 for a lower or rest day.
The most important point – your mindset should be about ‘fuelling for the work you are going to do’. This means considering what you eat before a training session to get the most out of it. So often not enough thought is given to the pre-training, and athletes can go in under fuelled, impacting on their performance in the short term, and also their appetite later that day.
Want to read more about what to eat before a training session? Head to this article we contributed to, about pre-nutrition mistakes.
Keep Protein Intake Consistent
Unlike carbohydrate intake, which is going to be adjusted based on your training, protein intake should remain mostly consistent day in and day out, with an increased focus post-training to support recovery.
In addition to helping the body recover, maintain muscle mass and maximise strength, protein is also incredibly important for appetite regulation. Protein is very satiating (satiation = the feeling of fullness) and helps to reduce hunger by lowering our hunger hormone (ghrelin) and increasing our appetite-reducing hormones (leptin).
Ensuring each meal and snack contain a source of protein will help support recovery and maintain muscle mass, whilst also preventing excessive post-meal grazing, which is important for athletes who are working towards a lower overall energy intake.
Make the Most of Your Meals
One of the challenges for athletes during a period of reduced training can be adjusting to smaller, less energy-dense meals. Despite lower levels and intensity of training requiring a reduced energy intake, many athletes still find themselves with the same appetite they had when they were training to a higher intensity. To manage this we advise focusing on ensuring protein targets are met and that you are filling your plate with plenty of high-fibre less-energy dense foods such as non-starchy vegetables.
What should this look like on your plate? Aim for 1/3 of your meal to be coming from animal or plant protein, with the largest component always be the colourful foods – fruits and vegetables.
Have Enough Colour
Colourful fruit and vegetables contain high levels of antioxidants which offer protection against free radicals and oxidative damage, helping to support recovery post-workout. Additionally, we know that antioxidants and the vitamins and minerals found in fruit and vegetables are incredibly important for supporting the immune system, which should be on the top of everyone’s lists at the moment.
The easiest way to make sure you are meeting your fruit and vegetable targets is to get prepared. A little organisation goes a long way and making sure you’ve got what you need prepped and ready to go makes it a lot easier to consistently eat well. Hate chopping and cooking? Make it easy for yourself and buy the pre-packed salad mixes or chopped veggies ready to be roasted, frozen fruit and vegetables mixes or pre-cooked tinned legumes and beans.
The last but definitely not the least important… stay hydrated. Although you may be sweating a lot less due to a reduced training schedule, hydration still needs to be a priority. Struggling to remember to drink? Fill up your water bottle for the day and carry it around the house with you, or set reminders on your phone every hour or so to drink.