For my last blog post of 2017 – or the first of 2018, depending on when you are reading this – I thought I would draw up a short list of suggested New Year’s Resolutions for endurance sports participants to help you improve your diet and nutritional practices in 2018, with a subsequent benefit to performance. I’ve kept the list deliberately short and hopefully manageable:
1. I will eat enough food to fuel my training and support my recovery
Your muscles need a source of energy. Aim to eat more on your heavy training days, choosing good quality foods (see below). Your muscles also need food to help them recover. Replenish your glycogen stores within 60 minutes with a carbohydrate food or drink, eg fruit juice, fruit smoothie, chocolate milk, sandwich, porridge. Then make sure that you have several sources of protein during the 24 hours after training, eg pot of Greek yogurt, chicken breast, protein drink, two eggs, handful of nuts.
2. I will plan my pre and post-training meals and snacks in advance
Think ahead and make sure you have some carbs available to have in the hour or two before training, eg oats, bread, fresh or dried fruit, and then some carbs and protein for your snack or meal after training, eg Greek yogurt and fruit, chicken and rice, recovery drink with both carbs and protein eg chocolate milk.
3. I will eat ‘real foods’ at least 80% of the time
By real foods, I mean vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, eggs, wholegrains, dairy products, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils. Not foods from a packet or ready-made meals. Try to use ‘real foods’ for most of your pre- and post-training meals and snacks, too, rather than using energy bars and protein drinks, although sometimes these will clearly be more convenient and are better than not eating at all.
4. I will increase and decrease my carbohydrate intake in line with my training
This periodisation approach means eating more carbs on days that you train heavily and fewer on less intense training days, which reflects the latest research. Make sure that you fully fuel your hardest sessions, where you will use up much of your glycogen stores as you train at a higher intensity, but consume fewer carbohydrates prior to or during your lower intensity sessions, or even train fasted. This gives you the opportunity to improve your use of fat as fuel, enhance training adaptations such as developing more mitochondria in your muscle cells to improve endurance, and also to manage your body composition. Then consume quality carbs like wholegrains, vegetables and fruit as part of your recovery strategy. You can apply this approach year-round, but I suggest that the base period is the optimal time for it, so January is a great time to try it out. I’m not talking here about a very low carb/high fat or ketogenic diet, which is a different approach altogether.
5. I will practice my race day nutrition strategies in training
Don’t risk your race day this year by trying a gel, drink, bar or other food for the first time. Experiment in training, especially on long runs or rides. Don’t forget to work out the best race day breakfast and when to eat it. Everyone is an individual; what works brilliantly for your friend isn’t necessarily going to work for you, and it’s best to find that out as early as possible.
Good luck in all your races this year!
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