Diet. It’s all rather confusing isn’t it? There’s so much conflicting advice out there. High carb or low carb? Red meat or no red meat? Gluten or gluten free? To a large extent it depends on your personal goals, whether you’re an avid athlete training for greatness or someone who just want to keep healthy. Here at Gentoo we’ve been lucky enough to train at a reasonably elite level so have picked up a few tricks and tips along the way. The most important thing is to not get too bogged down in the details, however there are some key tips you can follow to maintain a healthy diet (and improve performance!) no matter what your goals are.
Calories are king:
If your goal is to lose weight and you’re eating 5000 calories a day it just wont happen, even if it’s all salads, nuts and fruit. Conversely if you’re aiming to bulk up a bit your body needs enough calories to maintain all its daily functions and a decent surplus to convert into muscle. There are some great calorie counting apps out there such as myfitnesspal. You don’t need to religiously monitor your intake but we found doing 3 days properly really made us think about what we were putting into our body and found some quite surprising results! You can then see what areas you can work on and whether your calories come from a good range of sources.
Fat is great:
Okay, of course fat can make you fat but its name is a bit of a misnomer and quite frankly, just a bit unfair. Fat is fantastic. There has been tons of research on it recently, focusing on its numerous benefits. It can reduce cholesterol, help prevent heart disease and even help brain function. Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble vitamins, meaning they are better absorbed and utilized in the presence of fat, so you get the most out of all those veggies you are eating! Fat also plays a vital role in hormone production, keeping you healthy and performing at your best.
When you are doing a long session or race your body relies on its fat stores to obtain its energy as carbohydrate stores run out. It has been estimated that the average human male can store about 2500 calories as glycogen, which is the body’s readily accessed carbohydrate store. However, there are well over 100 000 calories stored in fat in an average man! Several studies have reported that diets in elite endurance athletes that contained a medium amount of fat compared to a low fat diet lasted up to 16% longer with no change in their intensity or VO2 Max.
We would like to add a small caveat here (without getting too technical!) that not all fat is created equal – the fat in an avocado is very different from the fat in a chocolate bar. If you stick to natural fat found in produce such as fruit, veg and meat and avoid heavily processed foods, you won’t go too far wrong. We have it on good authority that Olympic champ Ed McKeever enjoys a good fry up so you no longer have to feel guilty! So yes, be aware that fat is very calorie dense but also that it is an essential part of our diets and can boost everything from mood to performance.
So above we just told you it was all about calories but the truth is it gets a bit more complicated! This is a bit more technical and for all the people who are really looking to optimise their performance. Put simply your body processes food differently depending on the time you eat and also the conditions in which you eat. In other words, you should try and match your diet to your training.
Carbohydrates are great for supplying energy but for the same reason its very easy to over compensate for training by eating far to much. We know how hard it can be to try and lose weight to achieve that ideal athletic physique while still performing in your sport but this simple principle can really help to find a good balance. If you have a very long or intense session make sure you have a good helping of carbohydrates as this will help you get the most out of your session and get maximum gains. However, if your session is less intense such a technique or flush out session, consider reducing or even cutting out your carbs around these sessions. This has an added benefit of training your body to use its fat stores more effectively which will be a massive benefit to racing. Don’t be afraid to play around to find a balance where you can still enjoy a productive session without feeling like you’re running on fumes. We don’t recommend not eating anything but having something like a small natural yoghurt with nuts and protein instead of a carb heavy breakfast can make a big difference. We found that the first few times can be hard but like most things our bodies learnt to adapt and improve running on different fuel sources.
Protein is another one of the major food groups which is important to get the timing right. Protein is essential in helping muscles to repair and grow as well as performing several other vital tasks around the body. To promote maximum muscle growth you need to consume protein as close to exercise as possible. In practical terms this often means a whey protein shake straight after gym although it would be worth considering a protein shake after a hard resistance session as well. This will help repair muscles which means you will be better prepared for the next days training.
Fruit and Veg:
Now we don’t want to sound like your mum but good old fruit and veg is really rather important. It provides both fibre and key nutrients and that provide a huge range of benefits such as reducing the risk of heart disease, protecting against certain types of cancers, promoting red blood cell count, and stopping you getting deficiency diseases like scurvy! These not only make you feel and perform better but also provide immune functions which stop you getting ill. And there is nothing worse that having to miss training because of a cold. Did you know that most other countries recommend 7-10 pieces of fruit and veg a day? This is in line with current top nutritionists so there really is every reason to start eating more greens. Your mum will be so proud!
Everything in moderation:
The most important thing is that your diet shouldn’t be considered a diet in the traditional sense of the word, as in restricting food. Your diet should just be what you eat to keep you healthy and able to do what you want to do. If you have aspirations of Olympic glory you have to be prepared to have more self control that someone who just wants to get their heart rate up once a week. But even if you want to be an elite athlete, the odd cake wont ruin that, as long as you’re honest about how often it happens! If you find it hard to cut out rubbish allowing yourself a treat a day can be a great way to avoid binging and ruining all that good work you put in. We found that as you eat more healthy, it becomes far less of a chore and even our craving for treats is massively reduced. We do find it hard to resist some freshly made brownies though!
To help you get started here are a few of Gentoo’s favourite recipes that utilise the tips above:
Ideal for a high quality snack between sessions or as a tasty treat.
1 scoop protein powder
Berries to throw on top
Method: blend everything apart from the berries together. Add to an oiled pan and cook on medium-high heat for about a minute each side. Top with berries and you’ve got a nutritious, delicious and quick snack.
High in calories which make them perfect for long sessions or at competitions when its important to keep your energy levels up.
1 cup oats
½ cup mixed nuts
½ cup of dried fruit
½ cup of nut butter (we love almond but peanut is also good!)
2 scoops protein
4 tablespoons of honey
Oil to bind together (we use coconut)
Mix all the ingredients together and shape into balls. We like to pop them the fridge to help them firm up.
Smoothies are a great way of getting a large amount of fruit and veg in your diet that would otherwise be really hard to manage. We’ve found that doing a fruit and veg combo helps to get all the extra nutrients in without overloading on fruit sugar.
Juice of one lime
Small piece of ginger
Blend all of the above for a refreshing drink that delivers a big hit of nutrients.
To conclude: Don’t get overwhelmed by all the complicated and conflicting advice knocking around, try and get all the basics covered and you’ll be most of the way there. If you’ve got any questions for us just comment below.