When you’re exercising regularly, you need to eat a diet that provides all the nutrients fundamental for growth, plus additional energy for exercising and maximising your recovery from exercise.
When we work with young athletes, there are always the same core problems that crop up. Sometimes you already know the answer but the solution requires discipline to break long-standing bad habits or you need a little help with your knowledge. So, here are our top tips to help you make better food choices to support your training and competition:
1. No foods should be banned – moderation is the key
Balance and moderation is the key. You should eat a wide variety of foods from a range of food groups to provide both the energy to train and compete but also for growth. This doesn’t mean you can live off chocolate and pizza but it also means you shouldn’t live off apples and cucumber! Junk foods, chocolate and sweets are treats and should be eaten sparingly. Fresh, unprocessed foods, that contain less than 5 ingredients, should form the basis of your diet (e.g. fruit, vegetables, rice, pasta, meat, poultry, fish, milk).
2. Eat a variety of different foods
Try new foods and new flavours as often as possible. Restricting your food choices potentially limits both the nutrient intake and the ability to be flexible when circumstance are challenging such as when travelling or eating out in unfamiliar places. Take the time to wonder around the supermarket and see what else is on offer. Something as simple as trying different breads, different meats and different dairy foods is a simple way to start.
3. Drink fluids to keep hydrated
It’s not glamorous and it’s certainly not ground breaking however, maintaining your hydration levels are a simple and easy way to boost your health and performance. You should be drinking 1.5-2 litres of fluid a day – not including the fluids you drink to replace sweat loss during exercise.
Sports drinks are only required during exercise lasting longer than 90 minutes, assuming you have fuelled your session correctly prior to starting. You will have more than enough energy stored in your muscles to last the distance. For exercise lasting less than 90 minutes, squash or water are suitable choices.
4. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables
Aim to eat at least 3 different vegetables (including salad) and at least 2 different fruits each day. Different colours of fruits and vegetables provide different nutrients so vary your colour intake. Eating fruit and vegetables regularly provides the body with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants for growth and performance. Use a range of fresh, frozen and dried. If you currently eat just one piece of fruit a day, it may be unrealistic to try for 5 a day. Simply increase your intake one at a time until it becomes habit.
5. Choose snacks wisely
We tend to be either a savoury or sweet snacker! Treat foods are suitable now and again but should not feature in your diet every day. Treat yourself on occasions away from training– be careful you’re not using these foods to fuel a session or recover from a session.
Snacks should provide a boost of essential nutrients. Great choices include fruit, oatcakes, yoghurt, oat based bars, beef jerky, plain popcorn, houmous with raw vegetables and home made smoothies.