Sports nutrition is for all
It’s a common misconception that sports nutrition is only for elite or serious sportsmen and women. The truth is that successful performance, whoever you are and whatever your level, can be as much about your fuelling and hydration as all the training you’ve done.
Get it right and you may be on for a personal best. Get it wrong and your performance level can easily drop by 10% which can be demoralising after all the effort you’ve put in.
As with many things it’s all in the planning and finding out what works for you, but first it helps to understand a little of the science behind good nutrition and refuelling.
Our bodies burn fats, carbohydrates and some proteins to create energy. A healthy, balanced diet is the starting point but of these carbohydate is arguably the most important source as it provides the energy needed for muscle contractions.
Once eaten, carbs break down into smaller sugars (glucose, fructose and galactose) that get absorbed and used as energy. Any glucose not needed right away gets stored in the muscles and the liver in the form of glycogen. It’s the source of energy most often used for exercise as it is immediately accessible.
Carbs are divided into simple and complex forms. Simple sugars, such as fruit and basic sports drinks like Lucozade, provide quick release energy (instant kick). Complex carborhydrates, such as whole grain breads, cereals, rice and pasta, take longer to be digested, absorbed and later breakdown and therefore provide energy at a slower rate (prolonged kick).
As an important training session or race day approaches top up your glycogen stores with those complex carbohydrates, while on the day itself look to eat a high carb content meal two to three hours before you set out. If I have a morning start, for instance, I’ll often have a bowl of porridge and some wholemeal toast with honey for breakfast.
It’s also important to focus on staying hydrated by drinking water or an electrolyte based drink. Electrolytes are salt minerals and the drinks are naturally sweetened for taste and they keep you better hydrated than just water on its own.
Everyone is different but about an hour before a workout or race I might have a banana (simple sugars) and will keep sipping fluid (especially if it’s warm) to stay hydrated until 30 minutes before setting off. Don’t overdo it or you’ll be looking for a loo stop!
If your session or race is longer than an hour then you will need to take on water and fuel as you exercise. Carry a hand-held water bottle or take advantage of any water stations en route. A lot of people will use energy gels roughly every 45 minutes to give them a kick but they are very much a personal thing. Try a few in training to see what works for you – don’t do or try anything new on race day itself or you may regret it.
After your session or race it’s important to get fuel on board as quickly as possible to aid recovery and reduce muscle soreness. Again, there are plenty of recovery drinks on the market while food-wise Jaffa cakes or a plain cheese sandwich work for me.
Within two hours aim to eat a meal with a balance of carbohydrate and protein (the protein is needed to help repair muscle tissue). My favourites are simple dishes which take just minutes to make such as a jacket potato with cheese and beans or scrambled eggs on toast.
We stock GU energy gels in a variety of flavours (including one without caffeine), GU electrolyte drink tablets, SIS isotonic energy gels, Lucozade Sport and Maxi Protein Bars. For more advice pop in and ask other sportspeople what works for them.