By Paul Cadman, pro sports coach and manager, sports nutritionist and endurance athlete
Optimal performance requires a solid foundation of nutrition. How we fuel our bodies is a key component to ensure energy balance to aid optimal performance and helps us to recover after intense training loads.
It’s not just how we fuel our bodies but when which is important, as each stage of training has different goals. Here we've broken it down into three phases: pre-, during and post- training; plus we provide tips for maintaining these habits. While you’ll need to experiment to land on the best approach for yourself, we recommend you use this simple framework to help build your individual strategies.
The goal of pre-training fuelling is to ensure adequate levels of glycogen, hydration and stable blood glucose.
For best results you’re going to need to experiment with the make-up of your pre training fuel based on timing.
2 to 3 hours from start of training
A well balanced nutrient dense meal made up of protein, carbohydrate and fats from natural, whole and unprocessed sources is a good pre-training option. An example of a good meal at this time could be an omelette with black beans, mushrooms, capsicum and avocado.
1 to 2 hours from start of training
Have a small snack containing protein and a minimal amount of carbohydrate and fats. An example of this could be a small smoothie made of 1 scoop of protein powder, 1 handful of spinach, 1/2 a banana, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter and unsweetened almond milk.
Under 1 hour from start of training
Focus on hydrating properly and then begin fuelling (see below) once training has commenced.
Believe it or not most athletes go into their training sessions dehydrated to some degree. Making sure you’ve taken adequate fluid onboard prior to exercise is vital. The easiest way to understand your hydration status is to analyze your urine (yes, we said that).
- Pale, light yellow, clear or transparent - you’re well hydrated
- Cloudy yellow or darker - you’re in a dehydrated state and need more fluid
- Dark in color – the darker the color the more dehydrated you are, fluid intake is essential
If your training exceeds 90 minutes or is high intensity, you may find that your body needs more fuel to help increase performance and endurance. During training your focus is to provide fuel to aid performance and extend the period to exhaustion.
The main source of fuel during the majority of events is carbohydrate. As intensity rises so too does the need for carbohydrates because it takes time for them to be processed and absorbed. In order to avoid running out of gas, you need to start fuelling early and maintain consistency. This is especially true for the longer or more intense sessions as once the tank is empty it’s pretty hard to recover!
Carbohydrates are your bodies main fuel source when exercising so keeping your levels topped up is key. A good rule of thumb to aim for is around 60 - 80g of carbohydrates per hour while training. What you use is entirely up to you and your personal preferences so experimenting with different fuel sources is important.
One of the keys to success when building a during training and racing fuelling strategy is to focus on utilizing as much fat for fuel as possible. This is because we all have an almost infinite supply of this type of fuel.
Fuelling post training is all about aiding repair, rebuilding and replenishment.
As we know consistency in training is a cornerstone of success, so what you put in your body and when has a massive impact on your recovery. Effective recovery fuel will help your body repair more quickly so you can get up the next morning and go again. Recovery fuel is generally required after bouts of training that are either: over 90 minutes in duration and of high intensity, or when a day contains multiple training sessions. The focus should be on restoring lost fluids and electrolytes, replenishing glycogen stores and aiding in repair. It’s commonly accepted that having a meal immediately after training made up of carbohydrate to protein at a ratio of 4 to 1 based on 1 to 1.5g carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight, is a sensible approach. Chocolate milk makes for a great convenient post-workout recovery meal.
Rehydrating is pivotal for good recovery. During exercise you will have lost fluid and electrolytes so it’s important to replace these. Weigh yourself after exercise, for every kg of lost body weight you should aim for 1.5 liters of fluid intake to rehydrate.
Finish your post-training fuelling with a well-rounded meal about 2 hours after training containing natural, whole and unprocessed sources of protein, fat and carbohydrate.
Bonus points – Supplementation
While I strongly recommend an approach of real food first, supplementation can play a role in maintaining optimal balance. Athletes generally place a lot more stress on their bodies so supplementing to ensure optimal health and recovery from training is a good idea. As a powerful antioxidant, MitoQ will play a role in helping reduce the oxidative stress that results from strenuous exercise and help you recover more quickly, making your training more effective.
3 tips for maintaining good food habits
You can wheel out numerous plans, strategies and calculations to help maintain a healthful overall diet, but if you can tick these three boxes, you’re going to be 99% of the way there:
Plan and prepare
You can have all the knowledge and do all the fancy calculations you like but if you aren’t planned and don’t do your preparation you won’t succeed! Draw up a meal plan, shop based on it and prepare meals in advance.
Keep it simple
Make sure at least 80% of your diet is a variety of natural, whole and unprocessed foods.
Make it fun as well as functional
While we know our daily nutrition needs to deliver all the nutrients we need, food needs to be fun, enjoyable and taste great.