Introduction

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Hello,
My name is Kevin Beasley and I’m a performance nutritionist. I have worked with inter-county Gaelic football teams (male and female) at both senior and underage levels for the past eight years. I also have vast experience of working with clients from a variety of different sports.
If you are someone who enjoys working out but can’t get to the gym now because of the current lock-down, you may be fretting over your nutrition. You may be unsure over what you should be eating due to reduced training intensity or frequency. However, there are some easy steps you can take to remain in good shape, maintain a good body composition and most importantly remain healthy.

Introduction

I’ve spent the last two blog posts going through some basic concepts in nutrition. It is important that you understand these concepts as these will be the foundation for what will we cover in the next few posts.

As a sports nutritionist, I look at food from a functional perspective. That is, what function a food or meal will serve in relation to training, performance and recovery.

Some of the functions that food provides:

  • Fueling before training and re-fueling afterwards (carbohydrates)
  • Repairing and rebuilding muscle (protein)
  • Hydration (fluid)
  • Health (whole fruits, vegetables, small amounts of healthy fats)
  • Body Composition (energy balance – total calorie intake and proportion of carbohydrate, protein and fat in the diet)

The secret is to balance out your meals based on your daily training schedule and your body composition goals.

Fueling (Carbohydrate)

A basic rule in sports nutrition is – “Fuel for the Work Required”. Basically, if you have a long duration and/or high intensity session, you need to consume more carbohydrate. If you have a rest day, you consume less. This relates back to the table below from the first blog post.

ACTIVITY LEVELS RECOMMENDED CARBOHYDRATE INTAKE

(g/kg BM/day)

Low Intensity or Skill based activities 3 – 5
Moderate exercise program (approx. 1 hour per day) 5 – 7
1 – 3 hours per day or moderate to high-intensity exercise 6 – 10

On high carbohydrate intake days (higher activity levels), you will eat bigger carbohydrate portions, more carbohydrate containing snacks etc.

On lower carbohydrate intake days (rest days or shorter duration training sessions), you will eat smaller carbohydrate portions.

The reason for this is that in the long-term,  over-consumption of carbohydrate on a rest or low-activity day can lead to accumulation of body fat. Our bodies can only store a limited amount of carbohydrate in our muscles and liver (approx. 500g). If out body stores are full and we continue to consume a high carbohydrate diet, the additional carbohydrate we eat can be converted and stored as body fat.

Now, everybody is different, we all know people who can eat whatever they want and they never put on body fat. These people have the ability to burn off excess calories and not put on body fat. However, others must watch what they consume carefully.

By matching your carbohydrate intake with your activity levels, you will ensure that you fuel up for a session and refuel afterwards. It also ensures that you don’t over fuel up on a day when you don’t need to (i.e. rest or low-activity day).

Repairing and rebuilding muscle (Protein)

As mentioned previously, protein intake is very important for athletes, especially if you go the gym or play a sport where having more muscle is an important factor in performance (e.g. team sports).

Every time you train or compete, you get microscopic tears in your muscle. This is actually a good thing – when these tears are repaired through diet and rest, your muscles bounce back stronger. However, if you don’t recover with a proper diet and rest between training sessions, these microscopic tears can lead to bigger tears and may lead to injury.

Remember, your muscles are made in the most part from protein and you need protein in your diet to repair and build them. When eating protein, you should consume it spaced out over breakfast, lunch and dinner. Most peoples protein intake is skewed towards the end of the day (dinner). Make sure you consume a portion of protein with breakfast and lunch as well. If your goal is to build muscle, you should consider protein containing snacks as well.

We have all heard the term “use it or lose it”. In sports, this refers to many things such as technique, skill, cardiovascular endurance etc. Given the situation we find ourselves in the moment, many of us are a lot more sedentary due to physical distancing, closing of work, lack of access to gyms etc. By being less active we are in danger of losing muscle. One way to protect our muscle is to consume a higher than normal amount of protein in our diet. The consumption target for protein is 1.5 – 2 g/ kg/BM. A higher intake of protein when we are less active can have a protective effect on muscle loss. Following the advice to eat a large portion of protein with every main meal as well as protein containing snacks will help you to hit these targets.

Hydration

Water is a requirement for optimal physical and mental performance. The requirements for properly hydrating are relatively straight forward.

You should drink water or other suitable beverages every time you eat a meal. Fluid that is drank in combination with food will be absorbed better than fluid drank on an empty stomach. Certain foods also contain significant amounts of water (e.g. potatoes and most fruits).

To ensure you are hydrated, you should check urine colour and volume when you go to the bathroom. If you pass a small volume of urine and/or dark coloured urine then you should start hydrating immediately. Drink a pint of water immediately and then 250-300ml every 30 mins until urine colour and volume is back to normal.

You can see a nice visual guide here.

Be careful over-consuming fluid late at night! It could mean that you will wake up in the middle of the night to visit the bathroom. If you do exercise late in the evening, drink some fluid and the remainder the following morning.

To calculate your fluid requirements after exercise, weigh yourself before and after training in your shorts. Multiple the weight difference by 1.5 (you should have lost weight) and that is the amount of fluid you must consume to re-hydrate. For example, if you lose 2kg in weight during exercise, then to re-hydrate you should be drinking 3L of water to replace fluid lost through sweating. If you’ve gained weight then you’ve either consumed too much fluid or your scales is broken!

It’s OK to lose a small amount of weight during training or competing (approx. 2% of body weight). However, anything over 2% however may hamper performance.

Fat

Eating fat is mainly for it’s nutritional benefits – it contains essential fatty acids (omega-3 and 6) and the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Certain fats are anti-inflammatory and may also play a role in building muscle (omega-3). However, we normally don’t need to consume high amounts of fat from a performance perspective. It might actually be detrimental to performance as it might lead to excess body fat in consumed in excess.

Fat plays a role in satiety (feeling full) and a good idea is to add a small amount of fat if eating a carb-free meal. This will help to fill you up and keep hunger away until your next meal. You only need to consume small amounts of health fats. Examples would be 1-2 tbsp of salad dressing if eating a salad; a small amount of cheese or avocado on an omelette; a handful of nuts; some seeds with your porridge; full-fat yogurt and fruit salad.

A new type of diet called a keto-genic diet has gained a lot of popularity over the last 5 years. This type of diet consists of eating large amounts of fat, moderate amounts of protein and very small quantities of carbohydrates. This diet has medical benefits – it’s been shown to help control epilepsy and has also helped some people to achieve dramatic weight loss.

However, this type of diet is not recommended for team sports players. When training and competing, your body relies on carbohydrate for fuel. When operating at a high intensity (e.g. sprinting, jumping), your body needs carbohydrate as a fuel. If you follow a high fat/low carbohydrate diet then your muscles carbohydrate energy stores will be low and your performance will suffer.

Conclusion

Protein (1.5 – 2g/kg BM/day)

  • Eat adequate protein with breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday regardless of whether a training or rest day.
  • If a training day, add in extra protein containing snacks through out the day.
  • Eating sufficient protein when inactive or in a period of reduced training will help to preserve muscle.

Carbohydrates (training dependent)

  • If you’re more active (long duration and/or high intensity session) eat more carbohydrates for fueling and refueling.
  • On rest day eat less carbohydrates.
  • Choose healthy carbohydrate sources most of the time.

Fat

  • Eat small amounts of healthy fats sources throughout the day.
  • Add healthy fat sources to carb free meals to promote satiety.

Join me again next week as I will be looking at some of the more practical aspects of sports nutrition such as organisational, shopping, and cooking skills.

If you have any questions, please email me at: kevin@metabolise.ie

Check out my website and my YouTube channel which I update regularly with cooking demonstrations and recipes. I also have videos from Kerry footballing greats discussing the importance of sports nutrition.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel and get a notification every time I post a new video.

Follow me on Twitter: @metabolise

Finally, check out my blog for further posts on sports nutrition related topics.

Stay safe everyone, wash your hands regularly and practice physical distancing!

Kevin