Alessia is a post-graduate student in history at the university of Edinburgh. She has recently earned a certificate in sports nutrition so that she could learn for herself all that she needs for a healthy lifestyle. She loves ballet and ballet-inspired workouts but doesn’t do enough of them. She is on Twitter and Instagram at @theblondpond.
Tips for creating your sport nutrition plan
Whether you train to support weight loss, tone up or just to be healthy and have fun, having a sports nutrition plan is something you need to think about. Nutrition is individualised, and what works for someone else may not work for you, so the first step is to work out your own personal energy requirements.
Personal energy requirements
Calories (kcal) are the basic unit of energy, and when you eat as many as you consume you have a neutral energy balance. When you consume more than you eat you will lose weight, but you need to be mindful that physical activity is not the only way you consume calories, and that your fitness performance will be impacted by what energy you have available when exercising.
We spend energy in three main ways: our metabolism (10%), physical activity (which is more than just exercising, it’s all that we do which is active; 15-30%) and bodily growth (which changes throughout the lifecycle). This is why the first thing to calculate is your resting metabolic rate, which accounts for 60-80% of your daily energy expenditure. You can do it easily with the Harris-Benedict Equation, or one of the online calculators that do it for you. The equation for women is (447.6 + 9.25 x weight) + (3.10 x height) – (4.33 x age).
The next step is working out your physical activity level (PAL). This table from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) lists a number of activities and their rage. Otherwise you can calculate it with the Mifflin St Jeor Equation (or an online calculator). Your energy requirement is then the RMR multiplied by the PAL For example, if you run 1h a day at a good pace your PAL range would be 1.70-1.99.
So let’s use an example to make it clearer. A woman of 28, 85kg x 167cm. Her RMR with the equation above is 1630.31. When running, her energy requirement becomes 2771 kcal.
How to plan meals for training
Energy during training is broken down in three systems, and just before exercise you need to load in your glycogen (a polysaccharide of glucose that is the energy storage in the body) to avoid the breaking down of muscle and impaired performance (fatigue or even injuries). You need to experiment with the type of foods, timing and sizes that allow to train without discomfort and with the maximum energy (and don’t forget optimal hydration), but in general in the 4h before training or a competition you should focus on easily digested, high glycaemic index (GI) foods. However, in the 24h before, 60-70% of each meal should be carbs.
You should also add protein to them, because protein delays hunger and decreases muscle breakdown (and instead helps building it). Proteins take longer to digest so should be eaten furthest away from training to avoid discomfort, however it is fat that you really should avoid in the last 4h before training. Your aim with you pre-training food is to make sure you’re not hungry and so your body won’t use muscle for energy.
During exercise if you exercise intensely for over 1h the same principles apply: low-fat, high GI foods to make sure you keep your energy levels up. There are many options on the market for sports-specific products but also a banana or low-fat yogurt will do just fine.
After exercise is also very important, as that’s when you recover and you burn the most fat. You need to eat a carb heavy meal within 2h of exercising to replenish the glycogen store. However, proteins are the key food because they impact recovery directly. You should aim at 3:1 ration between carbs and protein, and whey and casein are good types of the latter to use when recovering. It’s also important to focus on rehydrating as well.
Once you have individuated the key meals around your training plan, it’s important t0 make sure you get your unsaturated fats and micronutrients through diet or, if needed, through supplements (your doctor can check your blood levels for deficiencies, which can be really damaging if not addressed. The World Health Organisation has issued guidelines for what you need for your body to be healthy), so that your body can function at its best, and you’re ready to write your meal plan. This blog is full of amazing recipes to help eating healthily while enjoying what you eat to fill the plan with. Since your fitness goals and body weight fluctuate with time, it is advisable to update the plan every 4 to 6 weeks.
With this advice you will be better prepared to meet your fitness goals, whether it’s more strength, weight loss, weight gain, you name it. You’ll enjoy great and varied food and, I hope, have a lot of fun! Good luck with your fitness journey, and don’t forget to let us know how you get on in the comments.