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Eating for Performance

The simple calories in vs. calories out concept is very limited and does not relate to optimising performance goals, whether it’s muscle gain, fat loss, endurance or sprint sports or CrossFit.

Athletes and sportsmen are usually aware of the need for protein for muscle repair, carbohydrate for glycogen store replenishment and fats for energy, vitamin absorption and neurological function.

How do I know if I’m eating the right amount?

eat-for-performanceThe difficulty comes at knowing how much to eat for your size and goals, and when is the best time to eat it. Simply, protein should be eaten at every meal, fats in the morning and carbs in the evening (if you train in the evening). If you have been doing this for some time and are either not seeing changes to body composition or are experiencing a plateau in your training it may be necessary to rethink your food quantities and nutrient timing.


Carbohydrates are necessary for glycogen store replenishment, insulin production and energy for the nervous system. Depriving the body of carbohydrates can result in fatigue, reduced motivation, poor performance both short and long term and a decrease in muscle mass. Due to the recent popularity of low-carb diets for weight loss (weight loss = less water weight, less fat and less muscle), they appear to be the macronutrient that lots of people are scared of. But if you are feeling tired, irritable, have prolonged soreness and are at a plateau in your training you are probably not eating the right amount of carbs and proteins. These symptoms are also more likely to lead you into temptation of over eating on sugar and fats as you grab that chocolate bar or biscuit. Essentially if you feel bad, you probably aren’t fuelling your body correctly.

Eating the right amount depends on your goals and current size; so firstly it is important to get out a piece of paper, write down what you want to achieve and record your current weight. Eating for a lean, bikini body is going to look different to eating for maximum strength; if performance is a priority then write down what weights or times you would like to achieve. Many find that if they focus on a performance goal, they usually achieve what they want aesthetically and have more fun doing it too.

For personalised nutrition plans, I would recommend the team at Renaissance Periodization

What are the best carbs, proteins and fats to eat?

High quality, organic, grass-fed, local sourced meats and vegetables are the best option if available and affordable.
 
Carbohydrates
 
Proteins Fats
Fruit
 
Grass-fed red meat Nuts and Seeds
Vegetables
 
Poultry Coconut Oil
Sweet potatoes
 
Fish Avocadoes
Rice
 
Ham Omega -3
Gluten free bread/pasta/oats
 
Protein Powder Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Beans/lentils
 
Eggs Fish
Honey
 
  Butter
 

What else do I need to consider?

Bodytype – ectomorphs (skinny, hard gainers) will require greater amounts of carbs and protein than their endomorph counterparts. This is where there is some discrepancy to the g of macronutrient to kg of body weight table. If you are trying to increase weight and muscle mass you may have to increase your carbohydrate intake greater than the recommended amount for your bodyweight. However, everyone is an individual, so play around with increasing either carbs or fats for a few weeks each and see what makes you feel better and is also getting you to your goals. Conversely for endomorphs, their carbohydrate intake may be a lot lower than they would like. It is best to start low (50g per day) and increase from there. Current body fat – start sustainably if you are cutting carbs to try to lose body fat. You will feel much better if you have a moderate activity level and fuel yourself correctly afterwards than if you try to just cut calories and so have no energy left to do anything. Try to stick to the principle of eat carbohydrates for what you have done not what you will do. This reminds you that carbs should be eaten after training and in the evening and not for breakfast in anticipation of your busy day. Refuelling yourself correctly in the evening will set you up for the next day. The higher your muscle mass to body fat ratio, the more carbohydrates you can consume daily, whilst maintaining your physique. An 90kg man who has a sub 15% body fat will require a higher number of carbohydrates to the man with 35% body fat.
   
Exercise level – as mentioned, the more intensely you are training the more food you will need. High repetitions of moderate loads can deplete muscle glycogen stores by 40% and this may only be part of the athlete’s training if they are a sprinter, sportsman or crossfitter. Fuelling yourself during and after a training session is essential for glycogen replenishment and reducing muscle soreness, especially if you train multiple times per day. Supplements – whilst food is the most important thing to get right, supplements are an easy way to ensure you are receiving the right amount of vitamins and minerals. In addition, if you are training hard and pushing yourself to the limit, then you are placing extra stresses on the body, which require extra nutrients to aid recovery. Increasing natural levels of vitamins and minerals is essential to health and performance, especially when our quality of food and environment is so much lower than out Palaeolithic ancestors.