The fitness industry is forever advertising the latest drink, gel or bar but what are you eating when you are not on the bike, in the pool, out running on the roads, on the track, in the hills, in the gym or honing your craft wherever that may be?
I see a lot of endurance athletes who are training heavily for events who haven’t built muscle or got leaner despite all the extra training and are hungry all the time.
It is likely that your diet isn’t high-quality enough if you fit in this category and you aren’t burning fuel efficiently. If you have picked up injuries or aren’t seeing your body composition changes that you would like these are good visual signs that this is the problem.
A way to fix it is to eat way more fruit, vegetables, lean protein and complex carbohydrates, kill junk food intake completely and I include gels and energy bars in that and limit your alcohol and caffeine intake to a minimum or kill it completely if you can. There you go, a ready made 'diet' plan 😂
I talk a lot about breakfast and some of you over time have put up some brilliant photos of your breakfast eating extravaganzas. Some of you were probably sat there thinking, “my breakfast doesn’t look anything like that!” when you looked at the photos.
If you think you’re tired because you’re training so much you possibly need to think again. Many endurance athletes that I have met will be brilliant at fueling their workouts properly while they’re training but then ruin it by finishing the day with a huge caloric deficit. Talking to them it seems there is a real underlying fear of gaining weight but all they are producing for themselves is an under-fed athlete because they are mimicking someone who wants to lose weight over someone who wants to perform at a high level.
Having worked in elite environments myself and done some pretty extensive research on my own body I can categorically say performance starts with your fueling, not your training. Fact. Get your fueling wrong and you have nothing to work with.
For me, your first meal of the day should make up a third to a half of your daily calories. Yes that's right I did say that.
I'd like to think you are waking up ravenous because you aren't eating late, you're hydrated and you're getting to bed at a consistently reasonable hour.
If not your runs or workouts will likely be poor, you will end up with “junk miles" or "junk gym sessions” as I call them, plus you will likely get hungry during the day or in the evening.
However, if you have this sorted you will recover quicker after training, you won’t be hungry in the evening and you will see consistent improvement in your training. Yes consistent improvement in your training. Still think you’re eating enough?
I got asked yesterday when an athlete should eat before a race. Whilst I have a rule of thumb it is something you need to practice, as everyone is different. I am not you. Even if you’re putting quality foods into your body, if you put them in at the wrong time this can have a detrimental effect to your performance.
I could tell you that my rule is that I have some sort of nutrition approximately one to three hours before a long training session. When I’m doing sessions that are of shorter time frames or they are both short and high in intensity, say under a couple of hours, I could tell you I let my body rely on fat stores and won't eat. If I did though, you'd need to remember that I am an adult and of a certain age and weight and am male. The issue with the internet is that all of this gets forgotten. Plans should be written for an individual, not lifted and applied as if they were your own if you want to see real results.
What I will say though is what you eat after a workout when your muscles are primed to accept nutrients is so so important. The half hour to an hour immediately after long, high-intensity workouts are really important. I could tell you that I try to consume 1 gram of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight and 20 grams of protein after a workout and that I don’t have any fat as I find it inhibits my carbohydrate absorption until a few hours later. I'd need to check though that you're still alive and haven't died of boredom.
What I will say is that if you’re feeling sluggish before and during workouts you’ve likely got this as an issue here. If you feel great whenever you exercise you’ve likely got this right.
Monitor your macros?
This is a tough conversation. It isn’t just about 5 or 7 a day and it’s about far more than fruit and vegetables.
Macronutrients - carbohydrates, fats and proteins have important functions to perform in the body, and it’s crucial to give your body the right amount of each if you want to perform. What that is depends on who you are. To find out you need to get measured, weighed and understood. I say understood because the right percentages for you all will vary depending on what type of athlete you are. Many things need to be taken into consideration including your training hours. As a rule of thumb though, I go with 45-65 percent of daily calories from carbohydrate, 15-20 percent from protein and 20-35 percent from fat. You'll note those numbers aren't exact. That comes from designing something for you and you only.
If you feel tired before and after as well as during sessions or you are falling asleep after training you likely have a problem with your mix of nutrients. If you always recover well or never seem to get injured or sick I would say you are likely on the money.
I drink a lot of water but I don’t follow a proper guide and again, everyone is different in size, activity levels, sweat rate and the weather comes into it and even in some cases altitude. It is difficult to get this kind of information for yourself from the net. Ultimately you want to achieve a balance of fluid and electrolyte. I will alternate between water and tailwind when I’m working in an effort to top up salts and minerals as I have quite a manual, labour intensive job moving and working on bodies.
If you suffer from headaches or can’t concentrate at work you are likely dehydrated and if you urinate a lot during the day and it’s water coloured or you hardly urinate and it’s a dark colour you also likely have an issue. If your urine is consistently straw coloured you’re likely doing just fine.
Develop a healthy relationship with food
Lots of athletes I work with are obsessive types and that includes me. I have certain rituals and routines on race day and log my workout hours and monitor my body like a science experiment.
I’ve noticed with some athletes that when it comes to food, this relationship can and does get tricky. The body can be crying out for nutrients, but often athletes can be more prone to denying themselves what they really need. Eating should always be pleasurable. If it isn’t, that needs to be worked at.
You have to learn to love food and not just see it as a necessary evil. If you’re eating without thought and see the process as painful and a chore, you have an issue.
Learn to eat slowly and at a table without distractions and chat with family about your day.
Lastly, stay away from pre-packaged foods and get involved in your meal preparation if you're not already. I believe you'll always enjoy food more if you’ve been involved in the preparation.
Have a great day.