- Essential Nutrients
- Hydration for Training & Racing
- Nutrition for Training & Racing
- Carbohydrate loading
Nutrition and hydration are the keys to performance. If you want to run faster, jump higher or just simply feel more energetic, you have to get the correct balance in your diet. You can raise your game by improving your diet.
Improving your nutrition and hydration will allow you to train hard, recover quickly and ultimately perform better in your chosen sport. That sport can be anything from a game of tennis, a football match at the weekend or a competitive marathon race. Improved nutrition will help you improve in all sporting activities.
With the correct diet you will have the enough fuel in your body to be able to train hard. You will feel more energetic, which will make training sessions more enjoyable and you with be able to train harder and for longer.
Once you have finished your training session, you need fuel to recover quickly. You may fancy eating a chocolate bar or a bag of chips but is this really what your body needs? You may even find that you snack so much after training that it causes weight gain despite the training. Giving your body what it needs takes away the urge to snack and therefore will help with any weight loss goals you have. Conversely, if you are struggling to gain weight, improving your post training diet can also help. It really depends on what your goals are.
Because you recover quickly, you will be able to train hard again on your next session. So you can see that this is a win – win cycle. When you are training harder, your athletic ability improves so that on the big day, when it really matters, you’ll be able to shine.
This guide will show you what to eat and drink before, during and after your training and for the big day itself. If you are serious about your sport you need to become serious about your diet.
We all need carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and water to survive. Getting them in the right quantities, from the right sources and at the right time makes the difference between just surviving and thriving.
Carbohydrates should make up approximately 60% of the diet and contain 4 calories per gram. The carbohydrate group includes bread, pasta, rice and grains along with vegetables and sugars.
Refined carbohydrates should be avoided at all costs – these include white bread, white pasta and white rice along with biscuits and crisps. Instead unrefined carbohydrates should be consumed – these are wholegrain bread, wholegrain pasta and brown rice along with vegetables.
All carbohydrates are digested into glucose. Glucose is the body’s preferred fuel (it is also known as blood sugar). It fuels the brain and all the chemical reactions that take place every second of every day in your body. If your blood sugar drops low enough, you will go into a coma and will eventually die.
The symptoms of low blood sugar are:
- Cold sweat
- Reduced mental alertness
- Reduced ability to concentrate
- Loss of motor skills
- Increased heart rate
- Excessive hunger
Here are my top 5 tips for keeping your blood sugar levels up:
- Eat little and often – prevents glucose levels dropping too far. Any carbohydrate in the meal will increase the amount of glucose in the blood. Going for long periods of time between meals allows glucose levels to drop causing hunger, tiredness and lightheadedness.
- Eat plenty of unrefined carbohydrates – such as wholegrain breads and wholegrain pasta and brown rice. These take longer to digest than their unrefined (white) alternatives and therefore release a slower trickle of glucose into the blood. Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, white pasta and white rice are digested quickly which causes a spike of glucose into the blood. Insulin is then released to remove the glucose and blood glucose levels drop again.
- Do not drink alcohol without food. Alcohol slows down the release of glucose from the liver when blood glucose levels start to drop. As alcohol is absorbed directly from the stomach, its absorption is slowed down when there is food in the stomach. This therefore slows down the effects of the alcohol on the body.
- Eating before, during and after exercise makes sure your muscles have an adequate supply of glucose (fuel) during exercise and allows for a swifter recovery after exercise. Eating before puts the glucose in which is used as fuel during exercise. Eating during exercise over 90 minutes means you have a constant supply of glucose circulating in the blood that can be directed to the muscles for fuel. Eating after the exercise replenishes the stored glucose (known as glycogen) in the muscles, decreasing the recovery time and setting you up for the next training session.
- Do not miss meals as this allows the blood glucose to drop. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day because blood glucose levels fall overnight. If you wait until lunchtime for your first meal of the day, the chances are that you will feel light headed, hungry and faint as the levels of glucose dropped quite low.
Exercising with low levels of glucose in your blood will make you feel tired, headachy and make you want to stop. Does this sound familiar?
Glucose is stored in the liver and in the skeletal muscles and is known as glycogen.
The glucose in the liver fuels the brain and all cells in the body. The brain needs 144g glucose per day which is 576 kcalories. Glucose is the brain’s preferred fuel.
When the liver runs out of glucose, the brain will tell the body to stop whatever it’s doing as a preservation measure. You may be familiar with the feeling during exercise that everything is just fine and then suddenly, your legs feel like lead and you just want to stop. This is known as ‘bonking’. In order to stop this from happening it is vital to start your exercise will a fully loaded liver.
The glucose in the skeletal muscles fuels those muscles alone – so glucose stored in your thigh muscle will fuel that thigh muscle. When this runs out, the muscle will quickly become tired – this is known as ‘hitting the wall’. After ‘hitting the wall’ the body will have to use fat and protein as fuel. Using fat and protein as fuel is not ideal and is discussed further in the following sections.
It is possible to increase the amount of glucose stored in the muscle by carbohydrate loading.
Protein should make up approximately 12-15% of the diet and also contains 4 calories per gram. The protein group includes meat, dairy products, nuts, seeds and pulses.
Functions of Protein:
- Building structures
- Functional proteins
Skin, hair and muscle are made mainly from protein. Bone and teeth are made from minerals embedded in a protein framework. Eating enough good quality protein is vital for healthy bones, teeth, skin, hair and muscles.
Functional proteins include hormones, enzymes, antibodies & neurotransmitters.
- Hormones are chemicals messengers that affect a whole host of reactions in the body.
- Enzymes are protein molecules that start the chemical reactions in the body. Without enzymes we wouldn’t be able to digest our food.
- Antibodies are proteins made by the body to fight off foreign particles like viruses.
- Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that transmit nerve signals.
Carbohydrate and fat are much more efficient sources of energy as the process of converting protein to energy robs the body of the proteins needed to perform other functions. This only happens when carbohydrate as not been eaten within the last couple of hours. Therefore it is vital to consume carbohydrates regularly.
Eating some protein along with carbohydrate after exercise encourages insulin. Insulin is a hormone that removes glucose from the blood and directs it to the liver or skeletal muscles. After strenuous exercise a light meal containing protein and carbohydrates eaten after 2 hours gives the best chance of a quick recovery (see Nutrition after Training chapter).
Fat should make up approximately 15-30% of the diet and contains 9 calories per gram. The fat group includes meat, fish, dairy products, nuts & seeds.
There are two main types of fat, saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats should only be eaten sparingly as they can contribute to heart disease – these include red meat, butter, high fat cheeses and lard. Unsaturated fat does not have the same affect on the body and should be eaten regularly – these include olive oil, oily fish, sunflower oil, nuts and seeds.
Trans fatty acids (shown on the food label as hydrogenated vegetable products) should be avoided at all costs as these can contribute to heart disease.
Functions of Fat:
- Protection of body organs, insulation & body shape
- Coats the nerves, part of cell walls, part of hormones
- Regulate cholesterol levels and insulin levels
- Absorption of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E & K
Fat stored on the body has a very important function. It protects body organs, provides insulation (keeping us warm) and contributes to body shape. Having too much stored fat is very harmful as it causes all sorts of problems from heart disease to diabetes. Having too little stored fat is also very dangerous as the body needs fat (see functions of fat list above).
Fat is used by the body as a coating for nerves, cell walls and is a component of hormones. The brain is 60% fat!
Dietary fat helps to regulate cholesterol levels. Eating unsaturated fat can lower unhealthy LDL levels of cholesterol. Insulin is a hormone and as previously mentioned fat is a component of hormones.
Dietary fat is needed to absorb vitamins A, D, E & K. Without an adequate intake of dietary fat, the body will eventually become deficient in these vitamins despite eating foods that contain them.
Omega 3 and omega 6 essential fatty acids are vital for metabolism. Metabolism is the name for all the chemical reactions that take place in the body.
Fat is used as energy at lower intensity exercise. If there is not enough carbohydrate in the diet, fat can be used to fuel activity at higher levels. This is not desirable though as the body must process the fat into glucose which takes time and resources. Carbohydrate is the preferred fuel for moderate to intense physical activity. 90% of the stored energy in the body comes from stored fat.
Vitamins and minerals are found in all natural food produce in small and varying quantities. They are vital to health and are particularly important to active people. When we are playing squash, going for a run or simply rushing to catch a bus we are using more nutrients than at rest. Although vitamins and minerals do not provide energy as such they provide the right environment for energy to be created.
Therefore we need vitamins and minerals to maintain health through training and events and to provide us with energy. Failing to meet your body’s vitamin and mineral needs could result in frequent illnesses, tiredness and a general loss of vitality.
We consist of approximately 70% water and just a dip of 2% can seriously affect our performance.
The symptoms of dehydration are:
- Impaired brain function
- Intense thirst, strain on cardiovascular system, lack of appetite
- Decrease in blood volume and urine, dry mouth, lack of energy
- Nausea, sleepinessLack of concentration
- Hot skin, increased pulse and rate of breathing
- Dizziness, difficulty breathing, confusion and slurred speech
- Muscle cramps, delirium, inability to rest
- Blood volume too low and renal failure
On a daily basis we need to be consuming 2 – 3 litres of fluid (this can be from any drinks except alcohol and from fruits and vegetables). Please see Hydration chapter for more information.
Keeping yourself fully hydrated as you train or race is a challenge but if you choose to ignore hydration, you certainly reduce your performance and risk your health too.
There are several ways to tell if you are drinking enough but the most effective is to check the colour of your urine. It should be clear or pale yellow – if it’s a dark yellow and has a strong smell then you’re probably dehydrated.
There are several ways to keep yourself hydrated. You may choose to drink plain water or a sports drink but fruit and vegetables contains fluid too and used in the right situations, can help with hydration.
Water is fine for training sessions or events under an hour and that do not take place in very hot conditions. For training over an hour, you need to think about drinking a sports drink containing some carbohydrate. For training in hot conditions, the drink needs to contain some electrolytes to replace those lost in sweat. The drink should be hypotonic or isotonic – which means it gets absorbed into the blood stream very quickly.
There are many different products on the market and it pays to shop around. Whatever drink you choose, make sure you use it in training before the big event as some drinks can cause stomach ache or make you want to go to the loo!
It is vital to start your training or event fully hydrated. You should start to sip water or your sports drink about 3 hours before the start. Don’t drink gallons or you will just need to go to the loo a lot and then lose all that hydration down the toilet! Just sip pleasantly until the start of the event. Use your urine colour to guide you.
The amount of liquid you should drink during your training session is unique to you. The only way to know if you are getting enough is to test your weight before and after an hours training session. So weigh yourself in all your training gear before you head out, train for 1 hour with no food (drink as you feel you need to) and then weigh yourself in all your training gear again when you get back home. If you have lost weight – you will need to drink more. Make sure you are using an accurate set of scales too – preferably one with a digital reading and always use them on the same surface. You will need to drink 1.5 times the amount of fluid lost to rehydrate – so if you weighed 54kg before your training and 53kg afterwards – you would need to drink 1.5 litres of fluid to rehydrate.
As the weather changes, so do your fluid requirements. You will need to drink more in hot weather as your lose more fluid through sweat. So regularly perform the weight test to make sure you are getting it right. Use the colour of your urine too as a good guideline.
The type of liquid you drink depends on what you eat during your training. If you prefer not to eat during your training and your training session is over an hour or in hot conditions you will need to drink a carbohydrate drink or an electrolyte drink. If you like to eat when you train then you may be able to just drink water. Experiment during training to see what works for you – never try anything new during a race.
Once your training session or event has finished you will need to continue hydrating yourself. You will need to sip water until your urine returns back to clear or pale yellow – this could take several hours. You can drink too much water which is very dangerous but this is quite rare – as long as you sip rather than gulp, you should be fine.
Some sports drinks manufacturers make a recovery drink which may help you to recover quickly. The idea is that you drink the recovery drink after your training which delivers just what your body needs when it needs it so that your recovery time is reduced. Again, this is worth investigating but don’t do it in the training session before the big day.
You need to start your training sessions with your muscles and liver fully fueled with glucose. To do this eat a low glycemic index carbohydrate with some protein two hours before you train. The carbohydrate will increase your glucose levels in the blood and protein will help to stabilise it. You should aim to eat as much as you can without feeling uncomfortable during your training sessions. The amounts in the suggestions below are just a starting point. You should try them and if you feel hungry at the start of your training session – eat more next time.
Try any of the suggestions below:
- 30g porridge + 200g semi skimmed milk + 20 raisins + dessertspoon of chopped hazelnuts.
- 2 slices of wholegrain bread + thinly spread butter + 105g can of tinned salmon + sliced cucumber.
- Medium sized baked potato + knob of butter + 105g tuna + green side salad.
- 300g chicken soup (preferably home made) + wholegrain roll.
You should experiment with different foods and drinks to consume while you are training for over an hour. If you are training for under an hour, you can either choose not to eat or follow the instructions below but experiment in your training sessions to see what works best for you. You may find that eating raisins whilst training gives you stomach ache or a particular energy gel makes you want to rush to the loo. Try some different foods to see if your performance or comfort during training improves. You want to try to consume between 100 – 250 Calories (25g – 62g carbohydrate) per hour after the first hour of training.
Try any of the suggestions below (each contain 50g of carbohydrate):
- 1 litre of a carbohydrate sports drink (based on SiS PSP 22 drink)
- 1 energy gel
- A banana + half a litre of a carbohydrate sports drink
- A small box of raisins + 5 brazil nuts
- Packet of Starburst fruit chews
After a serious training session you will feel tired as your glycogen stores are low.
Glycogen is the glucose that has been stored in your muscles and liver. The aim of post exercise nutrition is to replenish those stores quickly and fully to enable you to train hard again quickly. Normally glycogen can only be replaced at approximately 5% per hour – which means you can replenish your stores within 20 hours with careful timing and composition of your meals. After an intensive training session you are able to replenish your glycogen at 7-8% per hour for the first 15 minutes and slightly less for the next 2 hours. Make use of this time!
As soon as you finish your training (within 15 minutes) you need to eat a 50g of a high GI carbohydrate.
Try any of the suggestions below:
- Fruit smoothie (banana + orange + peach + 2 strawberries)
- 500ml sports drink (based on SIS PSP 22 drink)
- 6 x Starburst fruit chews
- 250g milk + 2 oatcakes + peanut butter + apple
- 100g baked potato + small can baked beans
You then need to eat another 50g of a high GI carbohydrate within the next 2 hours. Again any of the above suggestions will be great.
Carbohydrate loading is method of increasing the amount of stored glucose (glycogen) in your muscles. This means that you can prepare for the big race/match/game in advance and give yourself the best possible advantage. With carbohydrate loading you can expect to increase your time to exhaustion by 20% and increase your speed by 2 -3%.
Try any of the suggestions below:
- Tuna salad sandwich (2 slices wholegrain bread, thinly spread butter, can of tuna + green salad) + 150 ml fresh orange juice
- 2 egg scrambled egg + 2 slices wholegrain toast + glass of pomegranate juice
- 30g porridge + semi skimmed milk + tbsp honey + 3 walnuts + glass of semi skimmed milk
- 2 slices wholegrain toast + low fat spread + marmite + 150ml skimmed milk
- Kippers + roast veggies (sweet potato, parsnips)+ handful peas
Carbohydrate loading is method of getting your muscles to hold more glycogen (stored glucose) in them than normal. This means that you can prepare for the big race/match/game in advance and give yourself the best possible advantage.
Carbohydrate loading should only be used in the following situations:
- Works for events over 90 minutes that are moderate to hard in intensity
- Works for people who are aerobically fit
- Should only be attempted 4 times a year
Here are some of my favorite recipes (all suitable for vegetarians) along with their nutritional data. These can be used as part of your training nutrition plan.
Curried Lentil & Vegetable Soup
- 1.5 tsp olive oil
- 1 level tsp curry powder
- 1 level tsp ground cumin
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- 1.25 litres salt free vegetable stock
- 1 heaped tbsp tomato puree
- 125g (dry weight) green lentils
- 110g broccoli florets
- 1 medium parsnip, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 large celery stalk, chopped
- 1 tbsp chopped parsley
|Nutritional information per serving|
Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan and add the curry powder, cumin and onion. Gently fry for 5 minutes stirring constantly. Pour in the vegetable stock, bring to the boil and then add the tomato puree. Reduce the heat to a simmer, add the lentils, cover and simmer form 45 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Put the remaining vegetables in the pan, cover and simmer for a further 45 minutes. Serve garnished with the parsley.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped finely
- 2 gloves garlic, crushed
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 tbsp chopped parsley
- 400g can black eyed or cannelli beans, drained
- 50g fresh bread crumbs
- 1 free range egg
- pinch chili powder
- salt and pepper
- warm baps to serve
|Nutritional information per serving|
Heat the oil and soften the onion and garlic, covered for 5-6 minutes. Add the cumin seeds and cook for a further 3 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the parsley and the beans. Mash until smooth or blend in a food processor. Stir in the bread crumbs and then the egg, mixing thoroughly. Season to taste with the chilli powder, salt and pepper. Shape into 4 burgers and fry in hot, shallow olive oil for 3-4 minutes on each side or until lightly browned. Serve inside the warm baps with a little chopped salad and a slice of cheese.
Bean and Pasta Soup
- 340g dried haricot or cannellini beans, soaked for at least 8 hours
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
- 1 carrot, finely chopped
- 450g fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped or 2 x 400g cans plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
- 3-4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 salt free vegetable stock cubes, crumbled
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tsp dried rosemary
- 1 tsp dried sage
- 140g pasta, small shapes
- 3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- 3 tsp chopped fresh basil
- salt and pepper
|Nutritional information per serving|
Drain the soaked beans. In a large saucepan, combine the beans and 1 litre of water. Over high heat, bring to a boil. Skim off any foam which comes to the surface, reduce heat, simmer and cover until the beans are tender, 1-1.5 hours. Add water occasionally so the beans remain covered. Remove from heat.
Heat the olive oil in another large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook until the onion begins to soften 3-4 minutes. Add the celery and carrot and continue cooking for 4-5 minutes longer. Add the tomatoes, garlic, bouillon, bay leaves, rosemary and sage and bring to the boil.
Cook uncovered for about 5 minutes until vegetables are tender. Add cooked beans and 1 litre of cooking liquid (make up with water if necessary). Bring to the boil. Add pasta and cook uncovered, until the pasta is tender. Stir in the chopped parsley and basil. Season with salt and pepper and serve garnished with a fresh basil leaf.
Pasta Bean Salad
- 150g wholegrain pasta
- 200g french beans, topped & tailed
- 200g canned kidney beans
- 4 tsp olive oil
- 1 tsp basalmic vinegar
- 2 tsp fresh parsley – chopped
|Nutritional information per serving|
Boil the pasta as per the packet instructions for al dente. Cook the french beans in boiling water for a few minutes until they are tender but still crunchy. Drain the pasta and beans and mix with the remaining ingredients and serve.
- Eat little and often
- Swap all refined carbohydrates for unrefined
- Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables
- Eat good quality protein – organic free range meat, fish, nuts, pulses & seeds
- Cook with olive oil and eat plenty of seeds, nuts and fresh oily fish for good sources of unsaturated fat.
- Take dehydration seriously, start your training hydrated and keep it that way by sipping water or a carbohydrate drink before, during and after your training session.
- Make sure you are taking in carbohydrates on training sessions or races over 60 minutes long.
- Follow the suggestions for after-training nutrition to set yourself up for the next session.
- Consider carbohydrate loading before a big event.
- Pay attention to what you eat by keeping a food diary and monitoring your weight to make sure you have the energy balance correct.