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Back to Basics Eating for Sports


Posted by Kate Percy of Go Faster Food under Nutrition on 15 February 2013 at 12:00 AM

Athlete and cook, Kate Percy, brings sports nutrition to life with mouth-watering recipes for training and racing. Her new book, FuelSmart for Race Day, will steer you through the critical three days leading up to an endurance event with delicious recipes for optimum performance and advice on what, when and how much to eat for your best race ever.

Go Faster Food Kate P Open your email, read the papers, the world’s gone crazy doing its very best to make us feel guilty about what we eat and drink. We should only eat protein, we should eat like a caveman, we should cut dairy, cut carbs, detox, or even fast!

At Go Faster Food, we believe in balance. As long as you are physically active and eating a balanced diet, a little bit of what you enjoy is good for you; that’s not free rein to feast on 500g bar of milk chocolate every evening, just because you’ve worked out that day! 

It’s your body; know what you fuel it with!

1) Ditch empty calories and eat nutrient-dense foods 

It’s your body; it’s the only one you’ve got, so treat it with care! Would you put diesel into a Ferrari? No. So why fuel your body with any old rubbish. Failing to invest time and effort into what you eat can have catastrophic effects on you general wellbeing and energy levels. Know what you are eating, whether it’s exactly what the ingredients in your burger are, or what’s in that sports fuel you’ve just bought. OK, the burger might satisfy your hunger pangs and the sports fuel might help you race faster in the short term, but what is it doing to you long term?

Sports gels

With the recent inquest of marathon runner, Claire Squires, suggesting that her tragic death was probably caused by a stimulant in her sports drink, perhaps we need to take a step back and look at what we put in our bodies for our sport?  Sport should not be complicated. We do it for pretty straightforward reasons; to improve our fitness, to keep our weight steady or to lose weight, to build muscle etc. What we eat should be straightforward and uncomplicated too. 

Has our obsession with better performance and the perfect body led us to spending small fortunes on diet plans and scientifically- formulated so-called ‘miracle’ elixirs, with very little knowledge of what they actually contain? 

Ditch the ‘empty’ calories and focus on nutrient-dense foods. Stick to unprocessed; that’s fresh, natural ingredients. You’ll find lots of examples and recipes to use them in Go Faster Food and on the Go Faster Food website. Of course, with our busy lifestyles processed foods are virtually impossible to avoid. When you do eat them, check the label for hidden additives, saturated fats and salt.

Know what you are eating! Before you eat, ask yourself this question:

 ”Do I really want to put this into my body?”

2) Keep the balance

Sounds boring, but this is the key to long-term health. Whether training or not, the ideal diet should include a wide variety of foods. Getting Real with Go Faster Food does not cut out any macronutrients. At Go Faster Food we believe that the body needs a good balance all three macronutrients, that’s carbohydrate, protein and fat.  The British Dietetic Association guidelines make sense: that’s a balance of around 60% carbohydrate – that’s bread, pasta, cereal, whole grains, lentils, pulses, rice AND fruit and vegetables, with a good mix of protein (around 15%) and the rest from fats. If you are training hard then you’ll also need to increase your intake of vitamins and minerals. 

3) Follow the 80/20 rule

80/20 rule - do you have cheat days?Please don’t get too hung up on your exact food intake; a relaxed attitude to eating will help you stay focussed, feel good, exercise better and enjoy your training without starting to feel that it is a chore. Eating well for around 80% of the time means that you can afford to stray for the remaining 20% without feeling guilty.

Workout to achieve your goals, of course, but being active, fit and healthy is far more important for your long-term well-being than having the perfect figure. You are beautiful! Don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t got the ultimate 6-pack...

4) Don’t eat more calories than you can burn

It’s not rocket science. The more you move, the more you can eat!  It’s as simple as that. 

Regular exercise and sensible, balanced eating will be far more effective in the long term than dieting.

5) Fuel well during training, not just for competition 

Squash saladDon’t just eat well the week before a competition or race; be smart about eating throughout your training schedule. If you eat well, you’ll train well, you’ll be less prone to injury and, in turn, you’ll compete well. Some people find that they put on weight when they are doing a lot of exercise. Whilst extra muscle will increase overall weight, many people will eat the wrong types of foods with the increase in appetite, and this can also cause weight gain. 

Fuel yourself with the right foods during training, you’ll prevent injury and improve both your performance and your recovery times.

See Go Faster Foods’ interview with Christine Ohuruogu about how she eats during for training.

6) A good diet doesn’t have to break the bank

Eating well doesn’t have to cost a fortune! You don’t have to spend hours shopping at the deli, health store or farmer’s market for the latest Italian super-bread. Good quality, nutrient-dense foods such as fruit, vegetables, pulses and whole grains are easily available at the local supermarket. 

7) Keep it simple! 

Whatever you do, don’t overcomplicate things. Eating well should be simple. If you are not much into cooking, just make sure you buy fresh, natural ingredients and chose meals that are easy to prepare. A bowl of fresh pasta thrown together with some fresh herbs and vegetables, perhaps with a piece of chicken, will take less time to cook than it will to go out for an Indian takeaway.  If you eat ready meals, choose fresh, healthy options, like the Innocent brand. Generally, the shorter the list of ingredients on processed foods the better!

8) Drink lots of water

Keeping well-hydrated throughout the day will make you feel energised and focussed. Keep bottles of water with you, at your desk, in the car, on your bedside table. 

Smoothies!Don’t waste money on expensive sports drinks when you can make your own - nothing beats a good smoothie!

9) Eat well for good recovery

Eating the right foods after exercise is key to maintaining both your level of training and a stable weight. Carbohydrate is stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen. Glycogen levels become depleted after a workout and the quicker they are topped up again, the quicker your recovery will be and the better you will feel for your next session. If you don’t do this, your glycogen levels will gradually become depleted and you’ll start to feel lethargic and heavy-legged.  This will then mean that your next training session is not so good and you risk entering a downward spiral.  You also need to recover with water and electrolytes to replace fluid loss, and protein to repair your muscle cells. Grab something as soon as you finish your workout like a honey sandwich, a slice of toast with scrambled egg, peanut butter or hummus, an energy bar or flapjack, a piece of fruit (melon is good) or a refreshing home-made smoothie made with skimmed milk or yoghurt. 

Eat and drink to refuel within the 15 minute magic window to speed recovery. Check out these recovery recipes on Go Faster Food.

10) Make the most of rest days

Rest days are highly important for recovery as this is the time when your muscles are at their most receptive – it can take up to 20 hours for muscle glycogen stores to be fully replenished after, for instance, a long marathon training run, and it is often when the hunger starts to kick in with a vengeance. 

Make the most of rest days, replenish your depleted energy stores and feed your muscles by eating well.

Enjoy your food. It makes training worthwhile!