As a triathlete, runner or cyclist, the decisions you make about nutrition – when and what to eat – play an important role in enabling you to get the most out of your training, optimising your recovery and supporting your general health. Planning your meals and snacks to match the demands of your training means that you are more likely to be adequately fuelled for your sessions, to achieve the adaptations that you seek and to recover properly before your next session. It also increases the likelihood that you will make healthy food choices, rather than simply grabbing what’s available from your fridge or a convenient café or shop.
Following on from my popular posts on Breakfast Ideas for Endurance Athletes and Lunch Ideas for Endurance Athletes, I’d now like to look at how to plan your evening meals, based on different training scenarios.
You have just completed a high intensity training session
The priority here is to replenish your glycogen stores with carbohydrate, around 1-2g per kg of body weight. This is best achieved with starchy foods such as bread, rice, potato or pasta, plus some vegetables and fruit. You also need 15-25g of protein to help repair muscle damage.
- Example meal: Thai green curry with rice. Choose chicken, prawns or tofu for your protein source. Choosing whole grain rice will increase your fibre intake. See here for a recipe. Use a pack of pre-chopped stir-fry vegetables and a pre-cooked rice sachet if you are tight on time.
You have just completed a low intensity training session
Your need to replace glycogen is going to be lower than if you had trained at a higher intensity. Your carbohydrate could come from legumes, vegetables and fruit rather than more starchy options. Add in one or two protein sources to aid recovery and help you feel full.
- Example meal: Cauliflower, egg and lentil curry, with optional potatoes – see here for the recipe.
You are going to train before breakfast the next morning (moderate or high intensity)
Ensure that you consume enough carbohydrate to provide the energy for your morning training session. Choose starchy foods plus vegetables, fruit and a source of protein. If you have done a training session prior to your meal as well, choose two sources of protein to aid a quick recovery (25-30g in total).
- Example meal: Baked Mackerel and Sweet Potato – find a recipe here. As an oily fish, mackerel is a good source of healthy omega 3 fats. It’s also cheaper than salmon and quick to cook. Sweet potato is high in fibre and beta-carotene as well as carbohydrate. Add two extra vegetables. Finish your meal with a pot of Greek yogurt (if you need the extra protein) and a portion of fresh fruit.
You want to “train low” the next morning (to improve fat oxidation)
Research has shown that training with low glycogen stores promotes physiological adaptations that help to improve your ability to use fat as fuel – read my blog here for more on this topic. If you want to “train low” before breakfast the next day, make your evening meal a low carb one.
- Example meal: For minimal carbohydrate, choose a steak or salmon fillet with three different vegetables, tossed in olive oil (no potatoes). For slightly more carbohydrate try egg fried quinoa with chicken or tofu – see recipe here.
You are going to do a long ride or run the next morning
Your evening meal the night before is an essential part of preparing for your long ride or run. Ensure that you are including plenty of carbohydrate from a variety of sources: grains, potatoes, legumes, vegetables and fruit.
- Example meal: Chilli con carne or veggie chilli with rice and mashed sweet potato. See here for the meat based recipe and here for the vegetarian version. Followed by fruit topped with Greek yogurt and honey.
You are racing the next day
Your pre-race meal should be high in easily digested carbohydrates for energy and relatively low in protein, fat and fibre to minimise the risk of stomach issues. Avoid spicy or unfamiliar foods as well. Practise your pre-race meal in training to make sure that it suits you. It’s best not to eat your evening meal later than 7pm if you have a race start time before 9am.
- Example meal: chicken pasta with tomato sauce and peas. Or jacket potato with tuna and tomatoes. Or mushroom risotto with parmesan cheese. Finish with fruit salad and honey. Leave out high fibre vegetables like broccoli.
I hope you will see benefits from matching your evening meals to your training.
Jo Scott-Dalgleish BSc (Hons) is a BANT Registered Nutritionist, writing and giving talks about nutrition for endurance sport. Based in London, she also works as a Registered Nutritional Therapist, conducting one–to–one consultations with triathletes, distance runners and cyclists to help them eat well, be healthy and perform better through the creation of an individual nutritional plan. To learn more about these consultations, please visit www.nutritionforendurancesports.co.uk