Updated: Nov 4, 2020
A massively underestimated necessity of many Men, Women, and Athletes in general on a day to day basis, is food and hydration. It's a surprisingly simple yet complex way that you can improve your day to day life!
Now, nutrition is a difficult topic to cover, and there are many recommended diets, FAD or not, that work and don't work for different people. I'm going to try and go from outlining the basics of how you can simply improve your day to day life in and around exercise or work, and work my way down to some of the more specifics in and around training and racing.
Disclaimer: I'm no nutritionist and anything recommended here is from my own experience and advice i've picked up along my own journey. I have had my own negative run ins with poor nutritional choices and still struggle to get it right on a day to day basis.
Before we Begin.
No nutritional choices will counteract poor programming or scheduling. If you are living your life unsustainably, whether that be from an exercise or work standpoint, then focusing on nutrition is not necessarily the answer. Ensure you or, someone else that you trust, takes a step back and has a look over your schedule or program from time to time so that you're not 'overworking' yourself or living an unbalanced lifestyle. I have a team around me that I work alongside to make sure that everything is balanced well so that I can sustain day to day life to the best of my ability. My coach plays a massive part in this as well as a few key players who I can rely on.
Have a plan and stick to it, be sure to factor in everything. Timings, intensity distribution etc. I use Training peaks but a calendar works just the same.
Before - 'Fuel' for the day ahead.
Now, who else has found themselves in a vegetable like state towards the end of the day, with no drive to do anything, getting a bit ratty and agitated at the smallest of things, all relatively unexplained. I fall victim to this every now and again.
It's an easy trap to fall into.
We have undoubtably had a busy day of exercise or work and neglected eating and drinking enough in the process. Don't just have a big meal at the end of the day if you have a stressful day of work or exercise... it's just not sensible for a number or reasons. You'll not recover properly, be in a calorie deficit, and be a bit spaced out come the evening.
Fuel for the day ahead. Have a good breakfast and lunch to fuel yourself for the ongoing activities. You want to have energy available to use. You don't tend to use too much energy after your evening of exercise and a day at work, so it's not as important...
... or is it? Having a decent meal in the evening could be equally important as it will then aid the fueling of the next day and the recover in your sleep. After all, why do people have a good bowl of pasta the night before a big race? I'm guilty of many a pizza the night before a race or big day of training... Not that guilty though... I love it.
During - Avoid the Bonk.
If your exercise exceeds 90 minutes of aerobic work then consider consuming roughly 60 grams of carbs an hour after the first hour. This seems like a lot. Trust me.
But is so important... If you don't consume during that exercise, you'll be in a big calorie deficit afterwards, and your body will go into a 'starvation mode' (excuse the non technical term) and essentially try and retain any fuel you give it thereafter and store it as fat rather than utilising it effectively as energy and recovery. This is a common mistake made by many athletes both professional, age group, and amateur.
You don't want to BONK.
Not only will you avoid storing unnecessary fat, you'll also enjoy your exercise far more! Having energy towards the end of the session to continue as you began is far more enjoyable than hitting a wall and having to crawl home.
My go to sources of food: flapjacks, bananas and soreen, not to mention the odd gel.
It's good to have multiple sources of carbohydrate, not just the same source of energy.
After - Recovery
Smaller meals, or recovery snacks should also be considered within 30 minutes of your exercise to encourage recovery! Some form of protein and carbohydrate is usually good for this to repair muscle fibers.
I use chocolate milk shakes and Healthspan Halo bars as snacks, and Eggs on toast as my second breakfast. Milk is great as it has an ideal ratio of carbs to protein!
The key to all of this for daily energy availability is that you have enough energy to go about your daily activities. So for example, if you're too tired to do something (something social, cleaning, cooking, even watching tv) you're unbalanced somewhere along the line. Reflect, and if it's probable that it's due to poor fueling, then make amendments.
Athletes can easily fall into this trap and experience RED-S (relative energy deficiency in sport) both voluntary and involuntary. I won't get into this, other than mentioning it's importance and worth acknowledging and cluing yourself up about it.
In short some signs (but by no means an extensive list) to look out for:
Reduction in hormone production resulting in low sex drive, unexplained / reoccurring bone stresses or fractures, niggles or injuries.
Men: Lack of consistent morning erections
Women: Missing Periods
CLICK HERE for more info.
Don't mistake hunger for Dehydration!
Post Everesting carnage
I suffer big time from dehydration. I sweat heavily and i'm a salty sweater, meaning that I have to drink a lot and replenish any nutrients that are being lost through that. I do this through Healthspan's hydration tabs.
For perspective, i've measured my sweat rate, and it works out that its around 1.2 litres per hour. That's what I should be replenishing whilst on the Turbo... per hour. This is a struggle to say the least and I don't think I ever come off the bike in a good hydration state.
I mistake dehydration (which causes similar symptoms as energy deficiency) for hunger on a regular basis. Constantly searching the cupboards for more food and endlessly eating... i'm sure people can relate. Never ending unexplained hunger.
Throughout the day
As endurance based athletes we need a lot of calories to replenish what we burn... A lot of these come from carbohydrates in general so that forms the basis of our diets. More on larger aerobic days and then introducing more protein along side carbs on days with higher intensity. I eat pretty consistently throughout the day and make sure to always fuel before each session in one way or another, never anything fasted.
Race Day - and some specifics
Fuel well the day before and the week leading in. However this doesn't mean introduce anything new into your diet, this includes race day. If you have specific nutritional needs during the race then utilize that in training as well. Roughly the same rules apply as before, 60g carbs an hour after the first hour etc.
Bret Sutton had a great blog explaining how an athlete ate mars bars and coke whilst breaking a world record as that was what he was used to, it's definitely worth a read.
When hydrating, use carbohydrate and isotonic powders, not just during but before hand as well, as if you over hydrate and need to go to the loo a lot before hand, you could end up flushing out all of the important nutrients needed to perform! I've suffered from this in the Dakhla Continental Cup where it was very hot and I lost before I even started!
If you use everything you intend to on race day in your day to day life, then you shouldn't falter during the race if you've calculated it all correctly.
That being said, everyone is different and 60g of carbs an hour is generic and can actually be worked out properly with regards to body weight, but please refer to a qualified nutritionist.
As can sweat rates and makeups through companies such as precision hydration.
All in All.
If you race to your ability (true ability), have trained sufficiently, what you're doing isn't completely abnormal, and don't over do it, then you shouldn't suffer from cramps or otherwise. A lot of body cramp can be put down to overuse and not to do with nutritional factors, so bare that in mind.
I like the mantra of everything in moderation. I don't tend to avoid anything in particular, eat a balanced diet and a lot of it. Burning in excess of 4000 calories a day on top of 3000 from my metabolic rate gives you an idea of just how much I need to eat just to be neutral.
Eat sufficiently, Hydrate well, and don't do anything new on race day, and you'll race to your potential and have a great time doing it!!
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