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Nutrition Tips For New Athletes – what to eat and when

April 2nd, 2019 | by Sarah Wills
Nutrition Tips For New Athletes – what to eat and when
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So you’ve made the big decision and booked on your first race! You may be running, swimming, cycling or you’ve gone for the full house and signed up for your first triathlon…well done! No doubt you will already be downloading training plans, working out what distances you need to achieve by what dates, figuring out when you are going to fit in the extra training sessions and still have time for your family, friends and work.  You may even be shopping for some shiny new kit to help you zip over that finish line? However, one of the most overlooked elements and critical for a successful day, is nutrition and hydration.

Fuelling properly is not only vital on race day for you to optimise your performance but is essential from day one of your training.  If you get your fuel right and your training plan, your body will respond to the best of its potential.

Remember: 

  • The right fuel will optimise your training sessions and your race day
  • It will allow your body to adapt to its new regime and also aid your recovery
  • Reduce muscle damage and excessive fatigue
  • Decrease your risk of illness
  • Prevent excessive weight loss from over training.

Lots of new athletes assume that nutritional plans are only for the seasoned pros…this is absolutely not the case.  So start as you mean to go on!

 

  1. How much should I be eating?

The amount you need to eat during training or whilst competing will depend on several factors:

  • Your body weight
  • Metabolic rate
  • Duration and intensity of exercise
  • Age
  • Environmental conditions such as extreme heat, or strong winds

 

A further consideration is whether you are trying to lose weight, maintain your weight, or even add weight.  Excessive weight loss through intensive training regimes can result in some athletes losing too much body mass and therefore power, so maintaining a good weight is key.

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A good indicator that you have got your food intake correct whilst training is a stable body weight and the ability to sustain a consistent output of energy throughout the session.

 

Keeping a nutrition diary when you start training is a great way to monitor what works best for you.

The Science bit….

If you want a more scientific approach to your calorie intake and energy expenditure you can either get in touch with a nutritionist who will devise a specific plan for you,  or if that is not a feasible option, use the following Basal Metabolic Rate Formula (The Harris Benedict Equation) to calculate your own calorie intake and energy expenditure:

Metric BMR Formula
Women: BMR = 655 + (9.6 x weight in kilos) + (1.8 x height in cm) – (4.7 x age in years)
Men: BMR = 66 + (13.7 x weight in kilos) + (5 x height in cm) – (6.8 x age in years)

 

To calculate your daily total calorific needs multiply your BMR by the appropriate activity factor:

 

Sedentary (little or no exercise): Calorie – Calculation = BMR x 1.2
Lightly active (light exercise 1-3 days a week) Calorie – Calculation = BMR x 1.375
Moderately active (moderate exercise 3-5 days a week Calorie – Calculation = BMR x 1.55
Very Active (intense exercise 6-7 days a week) Calorie – Calculation = BMR x 1.725
Extra Active (very intense exercise & physical job) Calorie – Calculation = BMR x 1.9

 

  1. What should I be eating?

 

There is no one size fits all answer, we are all different and have different requirements but here are a few top tips:

 

  • Eat whole foods
  • Avoid processed foods – if you can’t see the ingredients DON’T EAT IT!!
  • Have a balance of carbohydrates ( see below for suggestions), proteins and fats in your diet…they are all essential

 

Carbohydrates

 

Carbs are a great source of energy and a must for athletes in training and on race day. Slow burning carbs have a low glycemic index because they are digested and absorbed by the body more slowly than those with a high index, and are perfect for endurance sports.  Slow burning carbs come in many forms, here are some of our favourites:

 

Slow Burning Carbs
Fruits Vegetables Healthy Grains Legumes Dairy
Cherries Peas Oat bran Kidney beans Milk
Plums Carrots Rolled Oats Chickpeas Yoghurt
Grapefruit Aubergine Wholewheat bread Butterbeans Soy Milk
Apples Brocoli Wholemeal pasta Black-Eyed Peas  
Pears Cauliflower Brown Rice Lentils  
Grapes Onions Wholegrain bread Split peas  
Oranges Lettuce      
Prunes Green Beans      
Dried Apricots

Kiwi

Red Peppers      
Peaches        

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Protein

 

All diets need protein to help the body grow and repair.  If you eat a well-balanced diet, you should not need to add protein to your new diet.  On average we require between 1 – 2g/Kg body mass per day.

If you are training intensively you may want to increase your protein to help repair after sessions.

Fats

Your body needs fats for energy, to support cell growth, to protect your organs and to help absorb vital nutrients. So don’t avoid fats!!!  Just choose the right ones….we love eating oily fish, nuts, avocados and using olive oil for our cooking and salads.

  1. When should I be eating?

 

The usual advice for athletes in training is to fuel up with some carbs approximately 30 -60 minutes prior to exercise, preferably eating something which is easy to digest suggest as porridge and fruit.

This should be sufficient if your session if less than 90 minutes long and not at an extreme intensity.

For sessions longer than 90 minutes, you may want to increase your portions beforehand and also refuel at the 90 minute stage.  Here are some options that you can take with you:

  • Sports bars
  • Energy gels
  • Sports drinks
  • Sweets
  • Dried Fruit
  • Flapjacks

 

There are numerous energy drinks, gels, and sports bars available.  Make sure you read the labels as their carbohydrate concentrations will vary widely.  Some are more suitable for maximising fluid intake in hot conditions, others have high concentrations of carbs where fluid is not so easily absorbed.

 

 

  1. To fast, or not to fast? ….that is the question

 

As with most things in life, balance is key.  When it comes to fasting there are some circumstances when not “carbing up” can be useful.

 

  • If you are looking to lose weight, then training on a fasted stomach will help – however, if you plan on doing anything intensive you will struggle
  • Long, low intensity training sessions can be done on an empty stomach and will help your body to learn to use your fats as fuel.
  • Early morning sessions, where you can take some fluids beforehand but skip breakfast are a great way to utilise your fats, once again, helping your body hold on to carbohydrate stores. This can be critical in endurance events.

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The secret is…

 

  • Eat a balanced diet with the vitamins and minerals your body needs
  • Monitor your food intake and training sessions to see what works for you
  • Use fasting training sessions to help your body utilise fat stores
  • Hydrate!!
  • Test out your refuelling strategies in training, DON’T LEAVE IT TO RACE DAY!!!

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