Sport of any type is a demand on the body and mind Whether you are obstacle racing, doing triathlon, running your first 10km race or marathon, it places stress on the body, both good and bad.
I have been involved in endurance sport both as a competitor and as a nutritionist for well over 15 years and I am constantly amazed (not in a good way) at the time and energy that goes into training and racing, but with a complete lack of focus on the basics of daily nutrition and general health for wellbeing.
The internet is now full of information on sports nutrition, supplements, superfoods and new styles of what to eat or not eat depending on your philosophical bent. Some of the information is cutting edge research and some is nutritional folklore.
Focusing on the research and new ideas is great but we often forget to take care of the basics, the few things that will lay down the foundations for a healthy body that can be pushed to its limits and bounce back again and again.
These will seem simple, but put it to the test, focus on these three things for 2 weeks and see what happens to your training and racing, your energy levels and attitude.
1. Recovery nutrition
For an athlete or person undertaking an exercise routine this is the most important meal of the day! Getting your recovery nutrition wrong will negate so many of the benefits you have just given your body through exercise.
Post-exercise recovery goals should be:
- Replace glycogen stores which are your stores of carbohydrate needed for future training
- Change the body from a catabolic state to an anabolic one, repair damaged tissue and build muscle, support immune function and replace lost fluids and electrolytes
- Eating within 30-45 minutes post exercise is a must; your body is ready and primed to make more glycogen at this time and the longer you wait from the time you train until the time you eat will make it harder for your body to do this
I cannot tell you how often I see clients that tell me they are having their protein after training but no carbohydrates. They have their protein shake by itself with not a carb in sight.
You are really doing your body a disservice by doing this. We have become so carb phobic in recent times that it has started to slip from people’s nutritional focus.
The best time ever to eat carbs is post training. No you don’t have to go out and eat bread or grains if you don’t want, paleo still has carbs but just from other sources. Fruit, vegetables and grains all contain carbohydrates, albeit in differing amounts but they are still there.
Post training your body is craving carbs so just do yourself a favour and have them, whether its bread, dates, sweet potato or pancakes, just have some along with your 15-20 grams of protein and see how you feel.
Sleep is probably the most underrated recovery tool in existence. Sleep is when your body really gets time to repair and mend itself.
Lack of restorative sleep
affects virtually every aspect of one’s life; mood, mental alertness, performance, energy levels and physical health.
We should all be aiming for 7.5-8 hours of sleep per night, more you feel you need it. Yes you may need to get up at 5am for training or not finish your workout until 9pm but getting enough sleep is as important as getting in enough training. It needs to be a priority!
Naps are also a great option if possible to help make up for what has been missed at night or as an added extra when you have the time.
3. Keeping a food diary
Actually writing down everything you eat and drink for a week can tell you more about yourself and your habits than you ever thought possible.
What we think we eat versus what we actually do eat is pretty fascinating. I do this with every client that I work with so that they can see their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to food (and drink!).
And just a heads up, every week is an unusual week, so don’t give yourself the excuse that you were stressed and not following your normal pattern of eating.
Questions to ask yourself after keeping a food diary:
- Am I getting enough protein at each meal and snack for my training volume?
- Am I eating in the right ratios of carbs to protein post training and within the 30-45 minute window?
- Am I getting in enough carbs?
- Am I over focusing on little things and missing the big overall picture with my nutrition?
- Am I hydrating enough with my training load?
- Where am I craving sweets and why? Is it a physical or an emotional (stress) craving?
- Am I taking too many supplements trying to get that extra edge when I should be focusing on preparing (or buying) better meals and snacks?
- Where am I falling down in my nutrition due to lack of time?
- What can I do about it (bringing snacks with you, prepping 2 or 3 days meals at once, not buying foods at service stations etc.)
So, there you have it, 3 basic things to focus on with your health and nutrition. It seems obvious and simple but that’s exactly what your health should be.
Yes you can read all the latest books on different diets and superfoods or how to make a great green smoothie but if you don’t get the foundations right, no amount of kale or coconut oil is going to help you go faster.
Kira Sutherland is a nutritionist & naturopath that specialises in Sports Nutrition. With over 20 years of clinical experience Kira is passionate about working with athletes of all levels. She is the previous Head of Nutrition Department at Nature Care College in Sydney and has lectured in Natural Medicine for well over 15 years both within Australia and overseas.
As a health educator, Kira has worked / consulted with an array of clients including: private colleges, health conferences,corporates, sports teams, individual athletes and the media.
In her spare time Kira is undertaking her Masters of Sports Nutrition,competes in Ironman triathlon and practices what she preaches.