Photo credit - Matt Pearson
So, you’ve set yourself a goal. A charity run? Perhaps an ironman event? Or maybe you’re an athlete aiming to improve your training and stamina? Regardless of the goal, the food that you eat and drink plays a large role in your performance.
We recently spoke to Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Jonathan Steedman about his advice for fuelling for endurance, speed, strength, and power performance. He also explains how people can adapt their nutrition choices to achieve a weight loss goal in a healthy and sustainable manner.
Jono is passionate about cutting through the noise, and delivering simple and informed nutrition advice, so you just know that this is going to be a great chat! Continue reading for Jono’s advice when it comes to fuelling your body for performance.
Nutrition for Endurance Performance
Question: What are the main nutrition considerations for someone training for an endurance sport?
The two mains areas of focus for endurance athletes should be total energy intake and hydration.
Unless you’re doing ultra-endurance events or competing in high heat, hydration is relatively straight forward. Make sure you’re keeping your water intake at a level where your urine is light-straw coloured to clear throughout the day, and drink to thirst during your training session or event. Follow this with a salty meal or snack and some more water, and this will get you through most normal situations.
When it comes to food, we can’t talk about endurance sports without talking about carbohydrates. During longer events, your body is going to slowly shift from using mostly carbohydrate as fuel to using mostly fat as fuel. Our goal is to delay this shift to using fat as fuel for as long as possible, as using carbohydrate as fuel allows you to perform at a higher intensity.
This goal, paired with the energy demands of some endurance sports, can result in some rather insane recommendations for carbohydrate intake. Some athletes will require up to 12g of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight. If you’re a 60kg athlete, that’s 720g of carbohydrate per day. To put that in context, 200g of potato provides around 35g of carbohydrate. You’re basically going to have to quit your job and take up eating potato full time.
Fortunately, including some processed carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta, cereal, and other snack foods can help provide you with a much easier, job-sparing way to hit your carbohydrate intake. Focus on including these processed carbohydrates in the meals immediately before and after your sessions, and include more complex sources of carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes) in the meals further away from these sessions. This is a good way of finding a balance between the two.
Although we tend to focus initially on carbohydrates, adequate protein (lean meats, eggs, fish beans, legumes, high-quality protein powders), healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, fatty fish, nuts and seeds), fruits and vegetables are still extremely important to help with overall health and recovery. If you can tick off these boxes each day, whilst hitting your total calorie and hydration needs, you’ll be on the money.
Question: Should nutrition plans look different on training days vs event days?
Nutrition on event days should look quite similar to the nutrition you’ve already practiced around your training sessions. Event days are not the time to test out new foods or amounts, only to find out that they don’t agree with you (which is putting it extremely politely). It’s very common for people to feel the pressure to add gels, bars or powders to their race day nutrition, in an attempt to maximise their performance. These things can be useful additions to your nutrition plan, but it’s important that you’ve trialled them in training to make sure that your carbohydrate gel doesn’t go through you a little too quickly.
Examples of endurance sports: long distance running, cycling or swimming
Nutrition for Speed, Strength and Power Performance
Question: What should the main nutrition priorities be for someone training for speed, strength or power sports?
The demands of speed, strength and power sports pair very nicely with a carbohydrate-rich diet (anyone sensing a theme here?). These sports are all about explosive bouts of energy: you don’t have to do all that much, but you have to do a LOT of it in a very short amount of time.
The types of carbohydrates I’d recommend for these sports are pretty similar to what I’d recommend for endurance sports, just in amounts that are a little more appropriate for the energy and body composition requirements for that specific sport. It’s unlikely that an Olympic weightlifter is going to burn as much energy as a triathlete, so it’s important their overall carbohydrate and energy intake is adapted to account for this.
Dietary protein recommendations also tend to be a little higher for these sports, as total muscle mass plays a bit more of a role in generating the speed, strength and power needed to excel. Its particularly important to make sure that we’re aiming for four to six decent serves of protein spaced out fairly evenly throughout the day. Don’t get too hung up on this though! Just aim to eat a decent meal/snack every two to four hours and you’ll be smashing your muscle growth and recovery.
If you’re finding it hard to get protein into every meal, supplementing with a high-quality protein powder, such as Clean Lean Protein, can help support your protein-intake without the worry of digestive issues. It’s a high-performance protein containing all nine essential amino acids, that’s a natural source of iron, tasty and 100% plant based. It’s perfect for every diet and every-body.
Examples of speed sports: sprinting, ice hockey, speed skating
Examples of strength and power sports: powerlifting, gymnastics, football
Nutrition for Weight Loss
Question: What is the healthiest way for ‘the everyday person’ to lose weight?
Hands down, the number one mistake I see with weight loss is people trying to eat as little as possible. Most of us understand that we need to eat less to lose weight, but somewhere along the way that message morphs into “be as hungry as possible, all of the time”. This approach is very difficult to maintain, and probably isn’t going to last for very long.
Yes, you might need to reduce your food a little, but please remember the phrase “slow and steady wins the race”. A slower, more sustainable approach to weight loss is one that still contains all of the food groups, as it is the one that is going to give you the long term, more permanent results, instead of fleeting weight loss.
Question: Does this approach differ to the way that someone competing in a weight class sport should approach weight loss?
This approach is actually not that dissimilar to the way I’d approach reducing an athlete’s body weight to fit into a weight class. Losing weight as quickly as possible greatly impacts someone’s ability to perform in their chosen sport. Not good. Instead, slower rates of weight loss allow us to reduce bodyweight without having a detrimental effect on performance.
For weight class sports, we may also manipulate some of the food choices (opting for foods lower in carbohydrate and fibre) and/or water intake in the final week before competition, to lose some body weight that is neither fat nor muscle. Unfortunately, it’s quite easy to get these strategies wrong, so I wouldn’t recommend them if you’re new to a sport and aren’t working with someone who knows what they’re doing.
Examples of weight-class sports: boxing, rowing, wrestling