Perfect your performance diet
An athlete’s diet should be diverse and well rounded, you want to compliment your efforts in training through adequate fuelling for proper recovery and adaptation. A diet which fails to meet these basic requirements will hamper not only your athletic performance but your overall health.
A predominantly plant-based diet is a good approach to ensuring you get a lot of the nutrients you need. Complimenting this with animal sources is also helpful for those who eat meat, as these sources are packed full of nutrients. Dairy products in particular are one of the best sources of high-quality protein. Whichever diet you choose, a primary consideration you should be making sure to avoid deficiencies.
What to include:
Let’s start off with the basics. How much should you actually eat? Your personal daily maintenance caloric intake and macronutrient distribution is of the utmost importance, and this will change slightly depending on your goals e.g gain or lose weight/muscle. The key is getting the numbers to work in your favour. There are many digital calculators that can work this number out for you based on your measurements, or many fitness instructors can do this for you.
After you figure out how many calories you need, you next want to determine the food to make that up:
- Protein should be a big focus in an athlete’s diet. Achieving adequate protein intake is critical for muscular repair and adaptation. Protein allows your muscles to adapt to exercise and leads to improvements in strength and performance. For those who don’t consume animal-based protein sources should consider combining multiple plant-based sources for optimal results. Having a high-quality source of protein pre-or post-exercise stimulates muscle protein synthesis, accelerating your recovery and fuel adaptation.
- Carbs and Fat: A lot of the time your split between carbs and fat can be a personal choice, each person may have a preference for a higher intake of one or the other. As a strength athlete it wont make much of a difference how you split up your carbs and fat to your overall performance. They are both energy nutrients and are going to be responsible for fuelling your workouts. As long as you get a good balance of both, choose to eat in whatever way works for you.
The source of our energy
With the average amount of calories and carb to protein ratio outlined, on the days where you will be doing a strenuous workout, you will want to consider increasing your carbohydrate intake (as it's the primary source of energy during exercise), to about 2.5% to 5%, on top of your usual amount. Experts recommended we increase our food intake to between 44 – 50 kcals per kg of bodyweight when strength and performance are the goal. As discussed, fat should still be included in the diet as it is important for overall health, and specific types of fats, like omega 3’s, can actually assist in recovery and even improve other aspects of health, even mental health.
- Fibre: This plays a number of beneficial roles in the body. It helps you feel fuller for longer, while also reducing any blood sugar spikes after a high carb meal.
- Pre, During, and Post-Workout Nutrition: Your daily intake of nutrients takes priority when considering your food intake. But many would recommend increasing carb intake before exercise as its a primary source of energy. As a strength athlete you do not need fast-digesting carbs immediately post workout, as long as you are consuming a mixed meal of protein and carbs a few hours or so before and after training, your performance will reap the benefits.
- Meal Timing: In addition to nutrient timing, meal timing is largely irrelevant as well. There is no real difference between consuming two meals a day or eight meals a day, as long as your daily calorie intake is met. It all comes down to personal preference. Between 3-5 meals a day seems to be the best and most sustainable option for most people.
The importance of food flexibility
All things considered, having flexibility with your food choices as an athlete is important too. Highly restrictive diets can lead to nutritional deficiencies. However, what’s more concerning, is the role excessive restriction can have on our relationship with food and increasing the risk of developing disordered behaviours around food, health and body image, so it would be advised to incorporate practices around food freedom and flexibility so that you still enjoy it.
Hopefully this will give you some ideas on how you can improve your diet, in general, and for workout days especially. Remember, performance is just as much about what you do or don't consume, as it is about the training and hard hours you put in.