Nutrition plays a huge roll in performance no matter your sport. I hope that’s pretty obvious to you. Unfortunately for most, it tends to take a back seat. My guess is that this is because of two reasons. 1. Most young athletes have crazy fast metabolisms as they try to grow and churn out energy for you to burn so you can pretty much eat what you want without thinking it’s affecting performance; and 2. There is so much information out there, its really hard to know what to eat so we just do what we think.
The overarching principle needs to be, did it fly, run, swim, grow on a tree, grow in the ground or have eyes? If not, there is probably a better option out there.
My diet used to consist of cereal sometimes twice a day, chicken salad roll for lunch, piece of fruit, some type of frozen mini-pizzas in the afternoon, muesli bars and meat with some veg + potato for dinner. Sound familiar?
Essentially everyone is different and no one method is exactly right for everyone, and its different for different goals. I believe in a balanced, sustainable approach that is enjoyable. In saying that it might not be too enjoyable at the start as you try to develop better habits, but once you do realise how good you can feel, it will be an easy decision to eat better.
1. YOU HAVE TO NEED IT
Wanting a better body or performance doesn’t cut it. You have to need it. It has to be a part of your plan and vision otherwise it’s not going to happen. Energy balance is key here. Our bodies like homeostasis. We want to stay the same so staying the same is easy. Change is hard so if you want change you’re going to have to work for it. You must earn the body you want to live in. Habits are hard to start, but easy to keep.
2. HYDRATION & SALT.
Our bodies are made mostly of water so it would make sense to make sure we are hydrating and replenishing these stores, particularly on training or game days. Salt plays a HUGE role in keeping our bodies going, particularly for athletes when you sweat a lot. Restricting salt could be disastrous if you are an athlete who sweats a lot. If you don’t get enough salt, your performance could be severely hindered because sodium plays a primary role in heart function and hydration.
If you cramp a lot or lack energy even if you have eaten enough, there is a good chance you could be low in salt. You lose salts when you sweat, but don’t be fooled by how much you sweat. Your body needs sodium and other electrolytes for your body to retain the water you drink. A pinch of Himalayan Sea Salt in your water can be as effective if not more than any sports drink.
Each day should start with hydration - 2 big glasses of water. Use warm lemon water or 1 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar in the mornings if you can. Sounds disgusting, but is legit. You’ll also likely want to eat less and get more nutritional value from food. Formulate a plan to make sure you’re drinking around 30mL x Body Weight (ie 70kg = 2100 mL) per day and even more if you’re active. This could be any calorie free liquids such as herbal teas, filtered water, infused water (cucumber, lemon etc.) particularly for weight loss unless you are actively trying to replace other nutrients.
3. MEAL TIMING AND GAME DAY NUTRITION
In summary, for athletes, eating really well throughout the entire week will yield the best results. We like to follow a higher fat diet to help sustain energy for longer without having to eat every 2hrs.
In general - Get a really good balanced diet throughout the day for training. For us, increasing healthy fat consumption (avocado, nuts, coconut oil etc) is critical, as well as probably protein consumption for a lot of young athletes. Eggs are your friend. If you do this, you will be less likely to need 4 slices of bread and honey pre-training to ‘perform’ well. Fuel your body with nutrients that help your body in multiple ways, not just fast acting simple carbs for energy.
>2hrs Pre-Game – Eat 2-3 hours before training/game to have amino acids in the blood during your session/game. Eating a really well-balanced meal with healthy fats, high quality protein and complex carbs >2hrs out is ideal. Some of the best complex carbs include colourful veggies, leafy greens, sweet potato and quinoa. There aren’t any rules saying you can’t have turkey, veggies and avo for breakfast.
1-3hrs Pre-Game – A banana plus maybe a protein shake ~1-3hrs out from the game should set you up well. Play a little with your diet though and see what works well for you. Lollies and sports drinks are definitely NOT the best option here.
Post-game – This importance of this window depends on a number of things, but it’s very important to get a good meal within about 90min of finishing to help your body recover faster. Get some quality carbs and protein into you asap. A protein shake with no added sugar is a good option if you can’t get a food protein source.
4. PREPARATION is EVERYTHING!
“If you fail to plan, you plan to FAIL”. Spending an hour preparing lunches on a Sunday will save you 3-4hrs through the week, AND you will eat a lot healthier. (STOP LETTING MUM MAKE YOUR SANDWICHES). Every weekend, head to the shops to stock up cook/make it all. We guarantee it’s worth it.
We have been programmed to think we need a tonne of different supplements to get the most out of ourselves. We encourage you to get all your nutritional requirements from food and depending on your level or sport, the cost of many supplements is not likely to provide you the rewards you are looking for. If you can eat around your training and get your protein and carb requirements from food, then perfect, but if not, a protein powder might be a good option. Just eat well and you generally won’t have to worry. Some of the best supplements out there are those you can find at the supermarket. They include almonds, beetroot (not caned) and blueberries.
If you have an actual deficiency, take a whole-food, natural, and organic nutrition-supplement-type product. Things like multi-vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, collagen, MCT oil and exercise recovery products (magnesium) can be very beneficial. Magnesium, zinc, selenium, vitamin D and B12 are common deficiencies but anything can become deficient if it’s being constantly depleted or not being ingested or absorbed.
A varied nutrient dense diet can help avoid most imbalances, but if you do feel like you need something, its best to consult experienced nutritionist and naturopaths, not your local supplement store guy.
We know its a massive part of our culture, but alcohol is toxic to the body and is prioritised for processing and excretion compared to protein and fat. Your body will therefore try to store any other nutrients during this time as fat. Alcohol is proven to impair muscle strength and power, decreasing your training intensity and overall ability to build lean muscle mass. So going out on student night and after games is not helping you be the best you can be.
Alcohol dehydrates the body, increasing the recovery time and risk of injury and directly lowers your metabolic rate. Reduce or eliminate if you are serious about getting the best results. Low carb beer is an minor improvement, but it’s still toxic.
We hope this has helped in some way to giving you the knowledge on how to improve performance through nutrition. All our athletes get nutrition guidance and coaching, so if this is an area you need help with, get in contact with us today.