Basic nutrition strategies for athletes - Baobab Health

Basic nutrition strategies for athletes

Professional and semi professional sport is becoming more and more competitive these days. Athletes are always looking for ways to improve their performance and put them ahead of their peers. Whether this be in the gym or to do with their nutrition, lifestyle and recovery techniques, being an athlete is a full time gig. Everything they do in their life revolves around keeping their body and mind in optimum shape so they can perform at their best. High performance is crucial because for a lot of athletes, their sport is their full time or part time job and their income/livelihood depends on it. It can also provide them with certain opportunities in life that may not have come if they were not an athlete (e.g. travel, university scholarships).

For the majority of athletes I meet, most of them are eager to do the right thing for their body and mind, in order to optimize their performance. Therefore, they dogmatically follow any information that they see as trustworthy. This information is usually from the internet, a trusted coach, mentor, friend, fellow athlete/team mate or some form of health care practitioner.

A lot of the time, athletes receive conflicting information from all of these different sources, which leaves them stuck, despite them wanting to do the right thing. Athletes are also usually quite compliant, so when they are presented with new information they are eager to implement it into their regime if they believe it will help them.

However, like most things in the health and fitness industry, the information is sometimes not supported by scientific evidence, and the individual delivering the information may be speaking from their own anecdotal experience or may be pushing a certain agenda (e.g. selling a product). Also, the information may often be quite complex, difficult to follow and difficult to implement, which sets the athlete up for failure.

Nutrition is obviously a huge part of optimising performance, recovery, injury prevention and health for athletes. Being an athlete puts stress on the body and this needs to be supported by good nutrition, as well as restful sleep. The food they eat is the fuel for all the metabolic processes that need to take place in order to function at their best and recover well. Implementing healthy diet habits is also important for when the athlete stops competing. This is to avoid weight gain and ill health when their energy output decreases.

Contrary to what most people think, nutrition for athletes does not have to be complicated. Unless the athlete is competing in a sport that requires the fine tuning of body weight in order to compete, such as bodybuilding, weight lifting or fighting, there is rarely a need to get overly complex about nutrition. Most sports require athletes to perform optimally in the given sport and it is up to the athlete to find out what weight and muscle mass they function best at. This will be largely governed by their diet.

Following basic strategies around eating that is sustainable in the long term, is usually the most important thing. Ideally, we want to make eating good food in the right amounts, very simple, so it doesn’t cause stress, inconvenience and distraction from training. This is also so it can be sustained over the long term.

If you are an athlete and you are wanting to support your performance with good nutrition and smart supplementation, here are some simple and user friendly tips that you can implement.

Eat right for your type.

Athletes don’t have to eat drastically different to what a “lay” person should be eating. All that may change is quantities, timing of food and macronutrient (carbs, fats and protein) ratios.

The recommendation of macronutrient breakdown for athletes can be divided into 3 main categories based on an athlete’s body type, genes, metabolic tendencies and performance goals. These categories are ectomorphs, endomorphs and mesomorphs.

Ectomorphs.

Ectomorph’s tend to be quite skinny, smaller framed individuals who are sympathetic nervous system dominant. They find it difficult to put on weight and size (hard gainers). They also tend to tolerate carbohydrates well (i.e. the carbs are used as energy rather than going to fat) because of their fast metabolism and high energy output due to the type of sports that people with these body types tend to play. These sports are usually endurance based sports that require long periods of sustained moderate to high intensity efforts (e.g. fluctuating between jogging and sprinting), such as in soccer, AFL, long distance running, cycling, tennis, swimming and even light/middle weight fighters etc.

Ectomorph body types are usually a requirement to compete and keep up with the physical demands of endurance based sports. The athletes can’t be too heavy and need to also be fit with lots of lean muscle, especially if they play a contact sport.

Mesomorphs.

Mesomorph’s tend to be naturally lean and ripped. They tend to gain muscle and stay lean fairly easily. These athletes are usually the ones that want to optimize their physique and boost performance. They also tend to tolerate carbs well. These body types are the “natural” athletes that find themselves across all sports and can easily adapt to the demands of the sport they choose.

Endomorphs:

Endomorph’s tend to be the body type which are more prone to putting on fat. These athletes juggle a fine balance between staying at a weight that they can compete at and putting on too much fat. These athletes tend to be heavier, large framed and have slower metabolisms.

They don’t tolerate carbs too well (more likely to go to fat) and usually compete in strength and power sports such as weightlifting and rugby where maximal strength and power output is required for short bursts, and in between these short burst there may be periods of low intensity efforts like jogging.

These sports also require an endomorph body type to deal with the physical demands of the sport (e.g. rugby players and heavy weight fighters need to be solid enough to deal with tackles and hits).

In saying this, endomorphs can compete in sports that may be endurance based or have an endurance component, however they just have to be more vigilant about their weight. For example, it is common to see some endomorph’s in soccer. This is because, while there is certainly a large athletic component to soccer, it is also very skilled based. Therefore, some talented players can get away with being an endomorph body type. They may not be the fastest and fittest players, but they can get away with it due to their soccer intelligence and skills. Another example could be heavy weight fighters who need to be big enough to sustain hits, powerful enough to dish out hits, as well as fit enough to last rounds of fighting.

These athletes are the types that may want to shed a few kilos.

*Some sports like golf don’t really require athletes to have a certain body type as the sport is so skilled based, therefore the sport can have a range of ectomorphs, endomorphs and mesomorphs competing. 

So how should each body type eat?

Gone are the days of counting calories. Who wants to be turning food into math anyway? It just complicates things and reduces compliance due to the process being very time consuming. Instead, a more practical way is to determine portion sizes using your hands, which allows athletes to be able to chose a balanced meal even when they are not at home and it is not as time consuming. It also gives the athlete a template to work with, rather than an exact “nutrition plan,” which is rigid and doesn’t give the athlete the freedom to make their own food choices.

The athletes body type, will determine how they should eat.

How should a mesomorph eat?

Protein.

At each meal, eat 2 palms of protein dense food if you are male and 1 palm if female. The protein source should ideally be the size and thickness of your open palm.

Protein dense foods are the best from animal sources because they are higher in protein and more bioavailable:

  • Whey protein powder
  • Eggs (2 eggs = 1 palm)
  • Tinned fish (1 small can = 1 palm)
  • Natural Full Fat Greek Yoghurt (2 TBS = 1 palm)
  • Seafood
  • Fish
  • Smoked fish
  • Red Meat (not processed meat like bacon).
  • Chicken
  • Pork

Protein is essential for maintaining muscle mass, which is vital for an athlete. If an athlete does not eat enough protein, their muscles will not repair as they should from training/competition, which leads to muscle break down due to the stressors placed on them. This increases the risk of injury. The body also does this as a means of conserving energy. Competing in elite sport, especially higher intensity sports that place a lot of load/stress on the body, is a stressor on the body. This means stress hormones will be released, which break down muscle tissue.

The reason for this is because when the body is stressed, evolutionary mechanisms that ensured human’s survival as a species kick into gear, which help to minimise energy output of the body. This is in order to conserve energy and therefore ensure survival. One of these mechanisms is breaking down muscle because muscle is metabolically expensive to house in the body. In other words it takes up a lot of energy to maintain, therefore if the body is stressed, it tries to minimise energy demands by breaking down muscle. The only way to minimise this effect is by eating more protein.

When eating protein sources, try to make sure you are consuming home prepared protein sources that are cooked in healthy oils (e.g. olive oil, butter, coconut oil) and flavoured with herbs and spices rather than sauces (e.g. tomato sauce, BBQ sauce etc).

When eating out, make sure it is a whole-food, healthy protein source such as a steak, sushi, grilled fish and grilled chicken with limited sauces. The protein source should not be in a burger, on pizza, in a pasta, deep fried and in a pie, with lots of sauce and oils. The protein source should be as simple as possible.

Carbohydrates.

At each meal, eat 2 cupped hand of carbs (fruit or starch) if you are male and 1 cupped hands of carbs (fruit or starch) if female.

Good, healthy, carb dense foods include:

  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Legumes
  • Potato
  • Sweet potato
  • Whole-grains such as Quinoa, Buckwheat, Amaranth, Brown rice
  • FRUITS (simple carbohydrates) (1 piece of fruit = 1 cupped hand)
  • Pumpkin
  • Butternut
  • Natural sweeteners like honey (simple carbohydrates)
  • Mueslis that contain whole-grains and seeds
  • Good quality wholegrain bread (1 piece = 1 cupped hand)
  • Wholegrain flours from grains like quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth (whole-grain ground and used)

Carbohydrates are our energy nutrient. As an athlete, carbohydrates are an important and efficient energy source, especially for athletes that require high amounts of sustained energy and are engaging in moderate to high intensity efforts for extended periods of time such as in endurance based sports. When athletes don’t eat enough carbs to support their training/competing demands, their body has to look to other energy sources like body fat and protein (which is taken from muscle and converted into glucose unless the athlete is ingesting adequate amounts of protein).

Body fat and dietary fat is a less efficient energy source compared to glucose (from carbs) when athletes are working at a high intensity for extended periods of time in sports such as AFL, soccer, combat sports, long distance running (i.e. endurance sports with a lot of low to medium intensity movements, along with repeated high intensity efforts).

This is because fat requires more oxygen consumption in order to be burnt for energy, whereas glucose produces energy quicker and with less oxygen required. Per calorie, fat can produce more energy, however it is slower in doing so, which means not enough energy is produced quick enough to supply the demands of the athlete working at a consistent high intensity. If the intensity is high and the demand for energy (ATP) is beyond the bodies ability to take in enough oxygen to support using fat, then glucose (carbs) from glycogen in muscles is used, as it requires less oxygen to be burnt and energy is made faster in order to support the athletes energy demands. This is why fat is not an ideal primary energy source for endurance based athletes.

Contrary to this, athletes in power based sports like weight lifting and sprinters, as well as athletes that spend most of their athletic movements at low intensity efforts like jogging with a few repeated efforts of maximal intensity like sprinting (as in sports like rugby and NFL), don’t require as much carbohydrates and will do better on higher fat diet. This will also help them manage their body weight as these athletes tend to be endomorphs, who don’t tolerate carbs well. As mentioned above, fats are only burnt when the intensity and energy demands of the athlete is low, therefore enough oxygen can be consumed to support fat burning systems, such as in jogging.

These athletes only require enough energy to support short bursts of maximal efforts at a high intensity. Because these maximal efforts only last a few seconds (e.g. 100m sprint, 20m sprint in rugby, weightlifting etc), they require minimal amounts of oxygen (anaerobic) if at all. Therefore, the athletes in these sports don’t need a huge amount of carbohydrate intake. Again, this is why these athletes work better on a higher fat diet. These athletes will only use small amounts of glucose, as well as their creatine phosphate systems to produce energy for these short bursts of maximal efforts at a high intensity. The rest of the time, their energy demands at a lower intensity (e.g. jogging and walking) can be supported by fat burning systems, due to increased availability of adequate amounts of oxygen and the rate of energy production does not have to be as fast.

Also, athletes that play sports which require mostly low intensity efforts and have low energy demands (i.e. heart rate stays low), they would do better on a higher fat diet (e.g. golfers).

Moreover, if an endurance athlete playing an endurance sport, which involves working at a low to moderate intensity for extended periods of time, with repetitive maximal efforts, eating fats and no carbs will not suffice. Fats simply cannot support the energy demands of these athletes as it can’t produce enough energy at a fast enough rate and it requires a much higher oxygen intake when compared to glucose burning systems.

Based on this information, if an athlete in an endurance sport (potentially with an endomorph body type) that is looking to shed some body fat via a low carb diet (and caloric restriction), they must make sure they are having carbs re-feeds around training and competition, as well as increasing their protein intake. Otherwise their performance will suffer. This is even true for athletes (regardless of body type) who may not be involved in endurance based sports, however they engage in strength training sessions to support their performance, which at the end of the day is glycogen (glucose) depleting. These athletes may stay low carb, high fat and high protein, with carb re-feeds around gym sessions.

If these athletes don’t do carb re-feeds and don’t eat enough protein, when training or competing, their body will use fat stores (an inefficient fuel source for endurance sports) and also break down muscle tissue to convert protein to glucose, which means the athlete will experience muscle loss. Overall, this leads to impaired performance. This is also a stress on the body, which leads to increased stress hormones that can result in symptoms like depression, fatigue, poor sleep, weight gain, slowed metabolism and low sex hormone levels. Far too often I have seen athletes trying to cut their carb intake in order to lose weight for things like a skin fold test and they end up suffering from stress related symptoms.

Furthermore, some endurance athletes that work at a moderate to high intensity for very long periods of time, such as triathletes, may try to train their body to become better at burning fat as a fuel.

Adhering to a low carb, high fat template during certain training sessions can help increase fat burning capacity of the body and can help “train” the body to burn fat more efficiently, however this doesn’t increase exercise performance as more oxygen is required to burn fat for energy and it is slower in doing so, forcing the athlete to lower their intensity and increase their respiration rate. The athlete can be fat adapted and burn fat more efficiently, which is useful during competition when glycogen (glucose in muscles) levels get depleted, however this is always at a cost to their performance.

The body will always preferentially burn carbohydrates during high intensity work as carbs are a more efficient fuel compared to fat, when the energy demands of the body are high. This means that fat is not “carb sparing,” however one can teach its body to burn fats better to support high energy outputs, once carbs get depleted. This can minimise the effects of athletes “hitting the wall” in long endurance events, where they inevitably will slow down and become breathing harder as their glycogen levels have become depleted.

As mentioned above, carbohydrate needs vary depending on the athletes energy demands and how well they tolerate carbs. Athletes like ectomorphs and mesomorphs will require more carbohydrates due to their energy requirements, as they need a constant supply of energy as they are working at a moderate to high intensities for longer periods of time. As opposed to endomorphs who only require maximal strength and power for short bursts, therefore they need less carbs. In saying that, endomorphs in a sport that requires endurance may need to cycle their carbs around training and competitions in order to support energy demands.

Lastly, genetically, we all vary on how we tolerate carbohydrates. We all know those people who can eat a lot of carbs and their weight doesn’t budge, however others experience weight gain. This is a result of genetic differences where some people can utilize carbs for energy more efficiently than others rather than going to fat. Endomorphs don’t usually tolerate carbs well, which as you will see they are recommended to have more of a higher fat diet.

Focus on getting your carb intake from whole-food sources (as listed above) rather than processed and refined carbohydrates (e.g. pasta, fried food, noodles etc). Processed and refined carbs like sport drinks and confectionary can serve as a quick source of glucose for immediate energy during long training sessions, multiple training sessions in one day or match days, however when eating meals, try focus on “healthier” carbs that are listed above.

Fat.

At each meal, eat 2 thumbs of fat dense food if you are male and 1 thumb if you are female.

Good sources of fat in the diet:

  • Nuts (10 nuts = 1 thumb)
  • Seeds
  • Nut/seed oils (sesame oil, flaxseed oil, macadamia oil)
  • Avocado oil
  • Avocado (1/4 = 1 thumb)
  • Nut butters and nut/seed flours (1 TBS = 1 thumb)
  • Olives
  • Olive oil
  • Milk cream (1 TBS = 1 thumb)
  • Butter
  • Coconut oil/coconut cream/coconut milk/coconut flour/coconut yoghurt (1 TBS = 1 thumb)
  • Palm oil
  • Try and cook with saturated and monounsaturated fats like olive oil, coconut oil, butter and animal fat (e.g. lard). They are the most stable at high temperatures.
  • Avoid cooking with all vegetable oils (e.g. soy oil, canola oil, safflower oil etc). Takeout and restaurants almost always use vegetable oil to cook their food. Also, if you look in most packaged and bottle foods you will see vegetable oils present. These oils go rancid at high temperatures and are inflammatory in nature therefore causing inflammation in your body, which is damaging to your health.
  • Foods that are also high in fats include your protein sources like eggs, meat, fish and dairy.
  • Cooking in oil can count as your added fat source.
  • Use oils like olive oil with vinegar for salad dressings.

Healthy fats are an essential part of a well balanced diet. Fats are needed for healthy brain function, hormone production, energy production and to maintain healthy cells.

Vegetables.

At each meal, eat 2 fist of vegetables if you are a male and 1 fist if female.

Be adventurous with your vegetable intake. Eat lots of colors. Eat as many colors as you can throughout the day. Red, green, yellow, orange, red, purple! Eat the rainbow!

Salads are a great way to increase vegetable intake in your diet. Add a protein source, drizzle some oil as your fat and possibly add some form of a carbohydrate like sweet potato.

I’m sure it is obvious by now how important fruit and veggies are for our health. They are essential components of a healthy diet, providing a vast array of phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, fibre (to support our gut bacteria) and anti-oxidants.

I would like to make a special mention of beetroot and dark leafy green vegetables. These vegetables are high in nitrates, which when consumed, the body converts them into a chemical called nitric oxide. Nitric oxide helps to dilate our blood vessels, which increases blood flow to our muscles, therefore improving performance. Before training or competing, eating foods high in nitrates are very beneficial.

Lastly, when eating vegetable sources, try to make sure you are consuming home prepared vegetable sources that are cooked in healthy oils (e.g. olive oil, butter, coconut oil) and flavoured with herbs and spices rather than sauces (e.g. tomato sauce, BBQ sauce etc).

How should an ectomorph eat?

  • At each meal, eat 2 palms of protein dense food if you are male and 1 palm if female. The protein source should ideally be the size and thickness of your open palm

 

  • At each meal, eat 2 fists of vegetables if you are a male and 1 fist if female.

 

  • At each meal, eat 3 cupped hand of carbs (fruit or starch) if you are male and 2 cupped hands of carbs (fruit or starch) if female.

 

  • At each meal, eat 1 thumbs of fat dense food if you are male and 1 thumb if you are female.

How should an endomorph eat?

 

  • At each meal, eat 2 palms of protein dense food if you are male and 1 palm if female. The protein source should ideally be the size and thickness of your open palm

 

  • At each meal, eat 2 fists of vegetables if you are a male and 1 fist if female.

 

  • At each meal, eat 1 cupped hand of carbs (fruit or starch) if you are male and 1 cupped hand of carbs (fruit or starch) if female.

 

  • At each meal, eat 3 thumbs of fat dense food if you are male and 3 thumb if you are female.

 

The meal guide outlined is based on 3-4 meals per day (not including snacking, which is discussed below).

Of course, if you’re a bigger person, you probably have a bigger hand. And if you’re a smaller person… well, you get the idea.

Your own hand is a personalized (and portable) measuring device for your food intake. Calorie counting is tedious, inconvenient and often inaccurate. True, some people do have larger or smaller hands for their body size.  Still, our hand size correlates pretty closely with general body size, including muscle, bone – the whole package.

Every time you eat main meals, you should try to have a protein, carb, fat and vegetable source based on your body type and energy demands, that is cooked in healthy oils and flavoured with herbs and spices.

This is just a template and guide to follow, portion sizes will obviously vary depending on your goals, how you feel and how your body responds! Increase or decrease the amount of food you eat, the amount of carbs and fats you eat, depending on how you feel, how you look, how you perform and what your goals are.

Below are some examples and scenarios where macronutrient ratios (carbs and fats) may need to be manipulated depending on the athletes goals, body type and energy demands.

Note: Males may need an extra 6-8 servings and females may require 4-6 extra servings of each macronutrient in order to support their needs.

Here are some scenarios that may require adjustment of macronutrients:

  • An ectomorph or mesomorph may eat more food, especially more carbs on training/competition days (adding an extra 1-2 cupped hands per meal) and eat baseline on non-training/non-competing days. This may be a means of watching their weight.

 

  • If an endomorph is at their desired weight (and is involved in an endurance based sport like soccer), they may want to cycle their carb intake around training days, gym sessions and game days. On non-training/non-competing days, they may remove carbs all together or eat a strict cupped hand of carbs at each meal, or reduce carbs at one to two meals in the day. On training/competing they may include an extra cupped hand of carbs pre and post training/competing.

 

  • If an athlete wants to lose some fat and lean out (especially an endomorph), they firstly need to be in a caloric deficit (eating less than their energy needs so the body burns fat), therefore they may reduce their portion sizes around fat and carb intake (i.e. half their serving size each meal). However, in this process, it is vitally important that protein intake is increased by adding 1-2 extra palm sizes per meal because in a caloric deficit the body breaks down its own tissues (fat and protein) to support its energy needs that are not coming in via food intake. It also does this to decrease overall energy demands of the body. Muscle is metabolically expensive to house in the body and when we are in a caloric deficit (i.e. weight loss phase), evolutionary mechanisms kick in that were designed to help the body survive food scarcity, which used to be an issue when humans didn’t have such easy access to food. A caloric deficit signals starvation to the body, therefore it puts in place certain mechanisms to preserve energy until food is available again. Eating away at metabolically expensive muscle is a one way of doing this. In weight loss, we want the body to eat away at our fat to support our energy needs but not our lean muscle, as this will result in decreased performance. It will also lead to decreased fat loss because the more muscle mass an athlete has, the more fat they will burn at rest for the upkeep of their muscle mass due to it being metabolically expensive. The body will naturally catabolise its muscle in a caloric deficit unless it is provided with enough dietary protein. It is important to note that if the athlete trying to lose fat and plays an endurance sport that requires them to have long periods of moderate to high intensity work, they will require carbs for energy demands. Therefore they will need to resume normal carb intake on training/game days, so their performance doesn’t suffer drastically. This will also help prevent the body from excessively breaking down protein from the muscles in order to be converted to glucose. This should not be done in pre/off season. This is because no matter what, if the athlete is in a caloric deficit, their performance will suffer as caloric deficits mean energy deficits, hence impairing performance.

 

  • If the athlete is in a sport that does not require extended periods of moderate to high intensity efforts (e.g. endurance sports), but they engage in regular strength training sessions to improve their performance at their given sport, they may want to add an extra 1-2 cupped hands of carbs on these training days (pre and post workout), as certain types of strength training can require repeated movements at a high intensities, which will require glucose in the body and fats will not suffice to support energy demands. This will increase performance in the gym. Protein intake to support muscle mass and prevent exersize induced muscle break down is also important.

 

  • If the athlete is a bit skinny and wants to gain muscle. They need to be in a caloric surplus, so they may eat like an ectomorph and they will want to make sure they are eating carb dense foods, even outside of their training window. Protein and carbs are essential for putting on muscle and size. Protein helps build muscle mass while carbs help to increase insulin as well as provide the body with more energy to build muscle.

Once again, stay flexible, see how you feel, look and perform, then adjust accordingly.

Snacking:

Alongside main meals, some athletes like to snack throughout the day to support their high metabolic demands. Some athletes fall down with their snacking. They may eat healthy meals but then they crave something sweet after dinner or mid-afternoon. Eating healthy snacks takes a bit of food preparation and organisation because unhealthy snacks are in packets, wrappers or containers hence making them more convenient to carry around.

Here are some healthy snack ideas that may need to be stored in a cooler bag if you are on the run.

  • nuts with goji berries and dates – raw, unsalted, unflavored
  • cut up vegetables with hummus
  • whey protein powder with water
  • low carb protein bars
  • Wholegrain wrap with a protein source (e.g. chicken), butter and vegetables
  • dates
  • cheese/cream cheese with smoked salmon, vegetables and rice crackers
  • cottage cheese and cucumber
  • fruit
  • dark chocolate (70%)
  • Greek yoghurt/kefir yoghurt/coconut yoghurt (unflavoured, no added sugar) mixed with nuts, seeds, berries, honey and cinnamon

*For an endomorph or an athlete trying to cut weight, snacking is not ideal as it increases overall calorie intake. However, if an endomorph wants a snack, they should try to keep these snacks low carb and higher in fats. Ectomorph and mesomorphs would be encouraged to snack. 

Food preparation is key.

In order to eat in this way, food preparation is important. So here are my 5 best tips to meal preparation. On the weekend (e.g. Sunday), take some time out to implement these 5 strategies.

Plan ahead: Look at your busiest days in the coming week for which you might need pre prepared meals to take to work or to have ready when you get home late in a rush.

Make a menu: Jot down ideas for your prepared meals. Keep it general and simple. Plan meals that contain similar ingredients so you save money and time at the supermarket. Nothing 5 star.

– Shop for ingredients: Buy the ingredients for your meals.

– Pre cook time-consuming meal components or even pre cook certain meals: These foods include things like chicken, vegies, potatoes, rice etc. Also, chop up anything that also may be time consuming.

– Store conveniently: Pack your pre-prepared food in stackable, clear containers and make them accessible in the fridge.

Beyond nutrition.

Lastly, along with eating well, for recovery and performance, good sleep habits are also very important. Adequate sleep, along with good nutrition, are the most important factors for improving performance, increasing recovery and decreasing injury risk.

Nutrition around training.

Research shows that nutrient timing no longer really matters. What you eat is more important than when you eat.

As long as you eat a balanced meal according to the guidelines above, approximately 1-2 hours before your workout and 1-2 hours after your workout you will be fine. This will give your body enough protein, carbs and fats for your workout and then to replenish what was lost. Research has even shown that the pre training meal may be even more important than the post training as it provides the body with fuel (protein and carbs) for the training session and decreases muscle breakdown/increases recovery. As mentioned above, both endomorphs and athletes wanting to cut weight, who are involved in endurance sports may still want to keep their starchy carb choices around their training days, game days and their workout windows (pre and post). Also, protein intake post workout should be at least 40g or greater for every type of athlete (eggs = 6g protein, 25% of the weight of meat and fish is protein, scoop of whey protein powder = 27g protein).

This amount of protein has been shown to increase muscle protein synthesis at optimal levels. This is irrespective of lean body mass.

If you do not have enough time or you can only fit a meal in less than 60 minutes before your workout, implement the shake concept as discussed below. A shake is quick and easier to digest, giving your body the right nutrients for your workout quicker.

Lastly, if you are training fasted, it may be prudent to ingest some whey protein powder in water before your workout. This will help avoid excessive muscle breakdown during your workout, as well as enhance recovery. Post training meal becomes even more important if you trained fasted.

Shake concept.

A shake is an easy way to get a healthy/balanced meal into you, which is in line with the guidelines above. Shakes are especially good for when you are in a rush and don’t have time for meal prep. All you need is a good blender and the ingredients.

  • 1 scoop of a high quality whey protein powder (equals 1 palm of protein).
  • 2 fists of spinach (vegetable).
  • A healthy fat source like coconut oil OR coconut cream/milk/yoghurt OR avocado OR nuts OR pure nut butter (fat).
  • Frozen berries, banana or any frozen fruit of your choice (carbs).
  • cinnamon and vanilla extract for taste
  • milk or water for a liquid

(try different ingredients to see what suits your taste buds, just as long as it has a vegetable source, protein source, fat source and carb source)

Note: Depending on your body type, you would need to adjust your serving sizes of each nutrient in the smoothie.

You can add a shake in between your meals (or in place of meals, perhaps) to boost your overall protein intake as well.

Shakes can also be a good source of additional calories if you’re trying to put on weight or aid recovery, or a means of boosting protein without adding calories.

If your training lasts more than an hour or you have double sessions in a day, it may be beneficial to use smart supplementation of branched chain amino acids (BCAA) or whey protein powder, electrolytes and carbs. The carbs will help support energy demands and refill glycogen stores, which get depleted throughout training and the BCAA’s or whey have been shown to reduce exercise induced muscle breakdown. BCAA’s are found in all animal based protein sources and have been extracted into a supplement. They are also contained in whey protein powders in high amounts. Supplementation can be an easy way to get protein in without taking time out to eat it.

Mesomorphs.

15g BCAA or scoop of whey powder in water

30-45g carbs for energy, which can easily be obtained from a sports drink. These drinks also provide electrolytes, which are depleted from excessive sweating.

Ingest every hour of training and once in between sessions is you have a double session in a day.

Also, you can buy protein powders with carbohydrates mixed in. Ingest this combination for every hour you spend training and in between double sessions.

Note: Leave out the carbs if you are training for body composition. BCAA’s or whey will help preserve muscle mass and decrease catabolism.

Ectomorph.

15g BCAA or scoop of whey powder in water

30-45g of carbs

Ingest every hour of training and once in between sessions is you have a double session in a day.

Endomorph.

15g BCAA or scoops of whey powder in water

Ingest every hour of training and once in between sessions if you have a double session in a day.

(Endomorphs don’t require the same amount of carbs).

Note: Protein powders or protein/carb mixes can be an easy way to digest and easily accessible form of protein and carbs. These supplements are very helpful when you may not have access to a pre or post workout meal. They also may provide an extra source of protein and carbs that you don’t have to eat and chew. This can be helpful when trying to put on weight and you simply can’t think to eat more. Whey protein is your best bet as it provides a good source of bioavailable protein and other health benefits like increasing glutathione levels, which is our bodies master anti-oxidant.

Nutrition around game day and competing 

As mentioned earlier in this post, unless you are an athlete in a sport that requires you to be at a very specific body weight to compete (e.g. fighters, weight lifters, body builders etc.) a basic timed feeding template leading up to your competition will suffice.

It could look something like this:

  • The night before competing, an athlete should eat a balanced meal based on their body type and the guidelines above.
  • 3-4 hours before you compete, eat a balanced meal based on the guidelines above, depending on your body type and sport. Endomorphs in endurance sports on game day may want to implement some extra carbs in their pre-game meal.
  • 2 hours prior to competition have a protein dense snack (e.g. whey powder, meat, eggs etc.). Add carbs depending on your body type and sport. If endomorphs ate carbs in their 3-4 hour pre-competition meal, they may just have a protein dense food at this meal. Other body types, especially ectomorphs, can add carbs here.
  • 1 hour prior to competition, maintain adequate fluid intake, take any supplements necessary to help performance like magnesium powders, creatine and caffeine. You can learn more about supplementation for athletes in this post. Easily digestible carbs via sport drinks and lollies may also be required after a warm up.
  • Half time or breaks: BCAA’s and easily absorbed carbs like lollies and sports drinks.
  • Post competing, eat a balanced meal depending on your body type, as well as lots of fluid intake for lost body weight. Endomorph may add some carbs into this meal as well.

What about supplementation?

In the backdrop of a solid nutrition plan, smart supplementation can help support an athletes performance, recovery and overall wellbeing. For more information on what supplements you should be taking, check out this post here.

Wrap up:

Please don’t try to make all of these diet and supplement changes at once. Take a gradual approach and work on implementing one habit per week until you have accumulated all of them as part of your daily routine. A slow, gradual habit based approach is the key to sustainable and long term change.