As athletes it is important to make sure we are fuelling our bodies to the optimum level. This is ever more important as we progress through the current COVID-19 pandemic.
As we adjust to the lockdown (reduced training) and newer ways of working (from home) we need to make sure we don’t consume more calories than we need and don’t comfort eat and find ourselves putting on unnecessary kilo’s! To this end it is useful to plan our nutrition and make sure we don’t comfort or binge eat.
As a rough guide, and depending upon where we are in our training cycle, we should be looking at getting 25% of our calories from protein, 45%-55% from carbohydrates and 20%-30% from fats. How many calories we need in total will depend on how hard we are training and our current weight. As an example a 72kg male athlete in heavy training may require 4,250 calories per day and a 64kg female in a similar training phase 3,725 calories.
We should aim to eat fresh, un-processed foods and include a wide variety of fruit and vegetables in our diets. We should choose wholegrain and higher fibre foods with no added salt or sugar, lower fat versions of dairy produce and any oils or spreads we use should be unsaturated. We should include a couple of portions of sustainably sourced oily fish a week and try to avoid red and processed meats. Eating more beans and pulses will also help us achieve a healthy and balanced diet which contains all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals we need.
Don’t forget hydration, we should aim to drink little and often – processing of fluids is much more efficient if the gut is kept topped up rather than being allowed to empty and then re-filled. In general and depending upon the individual, to sustain our basic bodily functions males require about 3.8ltr of fluid and females 2.9ltr per day, this is before we undertake any form of exercise. We all have different sweat rates so the replenishment of fluid when exercising will vary between individuals but as a general rule when exercising look to consume about 1ml/kg body weight/hr of fluid.
Nutrition and Hydration
Nutrition and hydration are critical to getting the most out of your training and performing at your best in a race. It is also crucial in ensuring that you recover fully and in a timely manner between training sessions. The following are some thoughts on how to ensure you remain fuelled and watered to get the most out of your training and racing.
You should aim to consume a high carbohydrate, low GI meal 2-4 hours prior to training or racing. The meal should contain 2.5g/kg body weight of carbs and be moderate in fibre – e.g. baked potatoes, whole wheat pasta with low fat sauces. You could take a lighter snack 1-2 hours prior to the game, examples would be bananas, cereal, rice pudding, sports bars.
Where training or a race is longer than 60 minutes you will need to replenish your glycogen stores and top up fluid levels. Accessing an isotonic sports drink would be appropriate as they are high GI. You should aim to replenish carbs at the rate of 1g/kg body weight/hour. Sports drinks, gels energy bars are all appropriate approaches to refuelling.
In the first 2hrs post training/racing you should consume 1g/kg body weight of high GI carbs – e.g. fresh fruit smoothie, malt loaf and a further 50g of carbs in the 2-4 hrs after that. Post exercise you should also look to take on 15-25g of protein – a fresh fruit smoothie is an excellent post race choice as it combines carb and protein intake.
4 hrs prior to training or racing you should consume 5-7ml/kg of fluid to ensure you start well hydrated.
You should aim to drink at regular intervals during exercise as the stomach processes fluids more efficiently when kept topped up as opposed to emptying then re-filling – little and often is the key.
Generally you should aim to drink daily 1ml per kcal burned – e.g. if you burn 2800kcal per day you should be looking to consume 2.8ltr fluid per day.
Post exercise look to replace lost fluids by 150%. As guidance – for every 1kg in weight lost during exercise you will have lost 1ltr of fluid and should therefore replenish with 1.5 ltr.
To calculate your rate of fluid replenishment more accurately you should weigh yourself without clothes before and after a one hour training session. Exercise at the intensity you plan to race at in your “A” priority race. Every kg lost is equal to a litre of water lost. For example if you are 0.75 kg lighter after training your fluid replenishment rate will be 0.75 ltr (750ml) per hour. You should aim to make up any deficit in body weight by 150% – in this scenario it would mean consuming 750ml x 150% – 1.125 ltr of water. Remember to account for any fluids consumed (or passed!) during the session as these will impact the result.