We have found ourselves yet again under confinement and isolation where once more appropriate training conditions and organized competitions have been delayed or postponed. With a reduction of monitored training and an elevation of stress, altering sleep patterns, many athletes have not been able to figure out how to modify their sport nutrition plan to match these changes - knowing what, how much, and when to eat - it can be challenging to know how to get back on track.
Quality and quantity of sleep, as you may already know, is necessary for optimal performance and is required for both physiological and psychological recovery processes. COVID-19 confinement has led to sleep disturbances for many and therefore may be impacting health status, such as the ability to focus, train, and make smart food choices. Poor sleep can change up hormones that impact hunger and fullness cues. Trying to make better choices when sleep deprived will be frustrating to say the least.
During this time nutrition for performance should be modified. You know that appropriate sports nutrition impacts performance, reduces fatigue, and limits risk for injury and illness. A well-designed sports nutrition plan allows you to optimize training and recover more quickly. The challenge is that with the change in quality of training and change in sleep patterns, adjusting your sport nutrition plan to support the level of performance and to maintain/optimize health has been a big unknown.
Managing and matching your training load, nutrition, and sleep during this time is essential to being prepared to head back to the higher level of training and the demands of competition that are just around the corner. It is time to retrain and reframe your mindset around training for health, wellness, and performance. As an athlete it may be beneficial for you to work with your coach, trainers, sports dietitian, and mental performance trainer to individualize guidelines specific to your current needs.
Let’s focus on the nutrition side of things to get you through this time best you can!
1. Plan Ahead
- Stay on schedule (or develop one if need be) with your sleep, training, fueling, hydration, and rest.
- Plan what meals and snacks you need for the week ahead.
- Grocery shop once a week based on your weekly needs – create a grocery list and stick to it.
- Prepare meals and snacks in advance to match your training volume.
- Know when you will train – have a start and end time.
- Know if you will need to eat and drink during – you for sure will need to eat and hydrate before and after!
- Pack what you will need and bring it with you.
2. Eat Around Training
- Know where you will train – home/gym/outside etc.
- Eating every 3-4 hours will allow you to spread out your fuel sources throughout the day. When you have the fuel available when you need it, you perform and recover and stay healthy.
- Match your energy in and energy out. As training volume increases, your energy intake will also increase to help you get the most out of those sessions.
- Generally aim for 3-8 g of carbs/kg body weight, depending on your goals for the session. When training volume and intensity change, your carbohydrate intake will most likely need to be modified to support the increase or decrease in training volume and intensity.
- Protein intake will range from 1.4-2.2 g/kg body weight – and spread out evenly throughout the day.
- Fat intake generally falls in at 1 g/kg body weight or 20-35% of total dietary energy needs.
3. Eat to Support a Healthy Immune System
- Make sure you have energy available! Eating too little can lead to energy deficiency which impacts physical and mental health and performance outcomes.
- Eat a variety! A sport nutrition plan that includes a variety of foods from all food categories keeps a strong immune system.
- Dark green, red, yellow, and orange vegetables and fruit that are deep blue/purple, red, and orange are generally high in immune enhancing antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, and E.
- Whole grains include fibre and vitamins and minerals that are an excellent source of energy to support performance and health.
- Lean protein (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, yogurt, etc.) and plant-based protein foods (tofu, nuts/seeds, nut butters, lentils, beans, etc.) help muscle recovery and muscle growth.
- Heart healthy fats and oils (avocado, olive oil, nuts/seeds, coconut oil, etc.) help absorb fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K), add energy, and keep you feeling fuller longer.
- Pantry additions to add flavor and help support the immune system and overall health (turmeric/curcumin, cinnamon, ginger, beetroot, garlic, etc.) can support health and recovery and add flavor.
- Using “Training Plates” as a guide to support your varying training loads within each day in the week can help you stay on track with meeting your energy and nutrition needs.
- Limit high sugar intake, highly processed foods, and alcohol. Excessive intakes can interfere with optimal health and performance – frequency and timing matters.
4. Work with a Sports Dietitian
- Sports dietitians work with an integrated performance team to:
- Modify your sport nutrition plan to support your goals throughout the yearly training and competition plan.
- Demystify all the messaging out there around what to include or not include in your sport nutrition plan – there is a lot of false information out there – buyer be ware!
- A sports dietitian is a registered dietitian with additional education/credentials in sports nutrition.