Nutrition: Learn strategies for sporting performance

Photo: Ernst Vikne

Our nutrition expert Sophie Bruno offers tips on investing in your body.

The season for new year resolutions is upon, and we are all trying keep to our promises to ourselves. Regardless of what your motivation is to go running, whether it is a personal goal, charitable affiliation, weight loss endeavour or passion, it implies that you are putting your health first. Moreover, this undertaking also presents the perfect opportunity to ramp up efforts to invest in your body, to tone up, enhance energy levels and to work on looking and feeling good ahead of the summer.

Preparing for a sporting event will place greater demands on your body. However, to ensure peak performance on the day, this extends further than simply focusing on the physical part of the spectrum. Nutrition is paramount as it can help to achieve a quicker time, optimize energy levels and bring about musculoskeletal benefits that can optimize performance.

Nutrition for training
Carbohydrates provide your muscles with fuel. Although you burn a mixture of fat and carbs, carbs are your muscles’ preferred fuel source and are essential for high intensity exercise; the failure to consume sufficient quantities will result in depleted glycogen stores, which in turn will precipitate muscle loss, reduced endurance, fatigue and poor performance.

If you are training to gain muscle and to improve athletic performance it is advisable to have carbohydrates before your workout. If you are looking to lose weight and fat loss is your objective, exercising on an empty stomach, such as first thing in the morning, may encourage your body to burn slightly more fat. Some research indicates that those who exercise on an empty stomach may burn up to 20% more fat compared to those who had breakfast.

Some schools of thought endorse carbohydrate-poor training diets followed by carbohydrate loading prior to the competition (‘train low, compete high’). The theory is that training with low muscle glycogen stores will bring about metabolic adaptations in the muscles, promote the muscles to burn fat over carbohydrates and optimize fat-burning enzymes. However, low carbohydrate diets have not consistently been shown to enhance performance, as the V02 max (maximal aerobic capacity, such as aerobic fitness), an indicator of performance, tends to be depleted in fasting regimes but not in carbohydrate diets.

If you are running for longer than 60–90 minutes you may run out of glycogen stores, so extra carbs may help to improve the quality of your run.

Dietary oversights during training
Although muscles are your bodies’ metabolic powerhouse, and muscle accrual has the secondary effect of accelerating metabolic rate, many people have the tendency to reward themselves rather generously after having worked out. This essentially cancels out the positive effects of the exercise. A few spinning classes are not an excuse to gorge on indulgent foods.

Moreover, many make the mistake of over-prioritizing protein when embarking on a fitness regime. The body only has the capacity to make use of a small quantity of the protein, while surplus protein will place unnecessary strain on your organs as it is processed.

It is recommended to eat 0.25g protein/kg body weight per day, or 15– 25g/meal, which is equivalent to one chicken breast, 500ml milk or four tablespoons of beans.