How the right nutrients can power you to success
It’s good to focus on your diet and nutrition at the best of times, but when you’re training for a specific goal or event, it’s even more important.
If you’re challenging yourself and working towards completing a charity event, or simply taking part in an event for fun, such as a run, triathlon, cycle ride or marathon, getting your diet and nutrition right could help fuel your performance, both on the day and whilst training.
It’s true, food is fuel. But not any food will do. What you eat can make or break your performance and stamina, which is one of the reasons why it’s important to carefully choose your diet and nutrition options. To get you into peak performance, it’s good to combine both a sensible fitness plan with good nutrition. Plus, it’s good to do so early on in your training. If you leave it until halfway through or near the end, you’re much less likely to reap the potential benefits.
Beneficial food groups
As is the case for everyone, eating a healthy balanced diet, with plenty of fruits and vegetables, should provide you with a good level of essential vitamins and minerals. But when you’re training, you need to ensure you eat a diet that will help provide you with stamina, energy and the ability to recover quickly from the effects of exercising and there are some foods that are particularly good for this.
Carbohydrates are beneficial as they help provide essential fuel for training.  When you exercise, your levels of muscle glycogen (energy) are reduced, so eating the optimum amount of carbohydrates can ensure you have enough energy to perform effectively.
To get the most from carbohydrates, eat options rich in low GI (glycaemic index), such as wholegrain pasta or rice. This will help provide you with a slower release of energy which will keep you going for longer – just what you need when you’re training.
Moderate amounts of protein are good to include with each meal, as protein is involved in helping to boost muscle growth.  It’s also worth including some iron-rich foods in your diet, such as spinach, other leafy green vegetables or sardines.
When you’re training, aim for two carbohydrate-based meals per day, such as for breakfast and lunch or breakfast and supper (you can tweak this depending on the time of day you’re scheduling your training for).
On days when you’re resting and not training, you won’t need to consume so many carbohydrate-based meals and one carb heavy meal, instead of two, should be sufficient. Instead, focus on protein-based meals that will fill you up  and keep hunger pangs at bay. Protein is also believed to help support the repair of muscle tissue, so is useful to consume after busy training days.
Foods to consider eating
Some good examples of foods you could include in your diet include:
- Salmon. It’s rich in protein and omega-3 essential fatty oils. Try it poached, grilled or baked.
- Eggs. They’re a great source of protein, with just one egg providing you with about 10 per cent of your daily protein needs. Eggs are versatile too – you can poach, scramble, boil or even dry fry them.
- Chicken. It’s a good source of protein and it’s particularly ideal to include in your diet as it’s very versatile and works well as part of hot dishes, as well as eaten cold in salads, pasta or sandwiches.
- Wholegrain bread. If you’re going to be eating sandwiches, opted for a 100 per cent wholegrain bread for ultimate goodness.
- Strawberries. Like many other fruits, these juicy berries are low in fat and contain high levels of antioxidant vitamins, such as A and C. Plus, they’re a good source of fluid too so useful as an additional way of keeping you hydrated.
- Oranges. Packed with vitamin C, the antioxidant benefits of oranges are not to be missed. Eat them fresh, or enjoy a glass of orange juice after a workout.
- Semi-skimmed milk. Milk is a great source of calcium, which helps bone health. Drink it fresh, although perhaps avoid it just before exercising, as it some people suggest it can cause stitches.
- Pasta. One of the most popular foods for trainees, pasta is a good carbohydrate to help you refuel and restock your levels of glycogen. For the most filling pasta, aiming for a high fibre wholegrain option.
Nutrition prior to your challenge event
In the days leading up to the event you’ve been training for, focusing on your food intake is even more important. Up to three days before, think about beginning to carb-loading your diet, to help ensure your body has all the fuel it needs for the big day.
Carbohydrate-rich foods, such as porridge for breakfast and pasta for lunch or supper, are important before an event, as your muscles burn carbohydrates more easily than fats or protein.  Stick to foods and meals you’re familiar with, rather than introducing anything new at this point, as you want your body to be in prime condition.
For your pre-event meal, aim for foods that are rich in slow-release low GI carbohydrates and protein. Avoid consuming any fatty foods and remember to keep well hydrated. Sports drinks containing carbohydrates and electrolytes can be useful to consume, especially if your event has an early morning start and you’re worried you won’t want to eat much beforehand.
Although carbohydrates and proteins should definitely be on your radar and on your plate if you’re training for an event, it doesn’t mean you need to obsess about them.
By far the best healthy eating plan is one that involves a balanced range of foods, so you gain a variety of proteins, healthy fats, fruits, vegetables and carbohydrates, and a range of nutrients and micronutrients. Beyond this, you should tailor your intake to match the event you are training for – endurance, speed, strength…nutrients can help support you in achieving great results in all three, and will often make the difference between ‘good enough’ and ‘personal best!’
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