Eating for Performance

by Chloe McLeod

Nutrition is one of the most important aspects of an athlete’s life. It provides the fuel we use for training and competing. Whether you’re working out to cut weight, trying to build muscle, developing speed and endurance, or you just want to improve your mood and quality of life, the food that you eat matters a lot to the success of your workout sessions and overall goal.

Even though everyone’s nutritional needs are different due to goals, current body composition, and even genetics, there are general rules that anyone can follow when eating to maximize your training. From the nutrients you must include, when you should eat, how being consistent matters, and some suggestions what to eat before and after a workout, we got you covered.

Get Your Protein

Protein is the macronutrient that’s responsible for building and repairing muscle that you damage during your workouts. It’s important that you have enough protein so your muscles can repair themselves and grow stronger especially after an intense training session. Protein also works as an appetite suppressant, helping with weight loss.

How much protein should you eat in a day? It’s recommended to take .75 per kilogram of your body weight per day. If you train often or are a professional athlete, the recommended protein intake increases to around 1.3 - 1.8 of protein per kilogram of your body weight.

Aside from regularly hitting your protein count, make sure to spread out your protein consumption. This is because the body can only use a small amount of protein at one time. Eating protein after a workout is important to gain muscle and minimize muscle breakdown.

Some examples of protein-rich food are: lean cuts of meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, dairy products, legumes, and protein powders.

Carbs Are Not the Enemy

Carbohydrates are often wrongly maligned as being the cause of unwanted fat. However, carbs are also very important because they fuel workouts and training sessions. Carbohydrate also helps you maintain the effort and intensity of each workout as well as help prevent cramps.

How much carbohydrate should you consume per day? It varies. Stock up more during training days as you’ll expend more energy. You can have less carbs during your rest days. Foods such as whole grains, pasta, bread, fruits, and vegetables are great sources of carbohydrates.

Stay Hydrated

The human body is made up of 60% water, which is why staying hydrated is very important to allow the body to function at peak performance during and after your workout. Try to drink at least 2 to 3 liters of water per day.

To make sure you’re sufficiently hydrated, check if you’re peeing regularly (every 3 to 4 hours when awake), start your day with a glass of water, make sure there’s a bottle of water near you and regularly take a sip during the day. You can also try to drink sparkling water or herbal teas to change things up. Finally, adjust your water intake to support increases in training intensity and competition.

Eat Enough

It’s very important that you eat enough to supplement your workouts. Having low energy levels is usually caused by low energy intake and high energy being expended in workouts. As a result, your performance, workout results, and overall health suffers a lot. Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport or RED-S is very harmful to your body as it causes impediments to your menstrual cycle, bone health, immune system, heart health, and gastrointestinal function. Symptoms of RED-S are frequent illness, low energy levels, stress fractures, low sex drive, and disruptions to your menstrual function for women.

What To Eat Before and After Workouts

Generally, a meal should be 3 to 4 hours before and a snack should be 1 to 2 hours before training. A pre-workout mix or coffee can also be consumed 30 to 60 minutes before. Just make sure that your snack or pre-workout has enough carbohydrates and can be digested easily.

Carbohydrates are the primary nutrient to be consumed before workouts. Add in some protein as well, especially if you have your snack at least 1 to 2 hours before your training session. This snack prepares the body to perform at a high level during the workout and keep you sated throughout the day.

After workouts are all about recovery and refuelling. Quality carbohydrates and protein are needed for such. Don’t forget to stock up on fluids to keep you hydrated throughout the rest of your day and replenish what you lost during your workout.

Chloe McLeod is an Advanced Sports Dietitian and Accredited Practicing Dietitian for MX Endurance. Get in touch with her.

(Header photo by Morgan Sarkissian on Unsplash.)

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