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Nutrition, Recovery & Sports Performance (5 tips)

You've got your match on Saturday afternoon... you are all prepped, sitting down to a massive fry up and the biggest glass of orange juice known to mankind... Is this a good meal if you are about to play 60-90 minutes of sport? Why? Why not?

For this discussion today, it could be a game of hockey, football or tennis, perhaps basketball. Anything with high cardiovascular demands. Perhaps it's your lycra'd-up ritual around Richmond Park...

Think about your pre-match consumption. Do you have habits? Where do they come from?

In relation to sports performance, what to eat and when is of the most common questions I get. There is so much information out there that often it can be hard to see clearly through the fog. Here I help to lay out a few basic principles that can help you on your way to performing and competing at the level you want to. For more information, send me an email and we can get started working on some ideas for you.

I know what you are thinking... "Damn this looks boring"

1. The night before

This first one is the toughest... try to avoid alcohol and salty foods. So a burger and 3 glasses of wine isn't ideal... but you know that already! However, it isn't necessarily only for the reasons you think, the hangover! Alcohol can severely impact sleep quality, so your body is already running below optimal when you wake up, even without the fuzziness that a few G&T's can bring...

A personal favourite for a dinner the night before would be salmon, pasta and a stack of veggies. This is a well balanced meal with enough carbohydrates to fill up your energy reserves for the next day. The salmon has some good fats but not too many that will have you feeling sluggish. The veggies have loads of fibre which can help you feel full and prevent you from over-eating.

You also want to make sure that you stay hydrated in the days leading up to a game, not just the morning of.

2. Game day breakfast

So let's say that you have done your training through the week, you've eaten well the night before, stayed off the Jager bombs, got a good night's sleep... then you go and have a fry up. Don't ruin the hard work and self sabotage by not getting a good pre-match meal...!

Ideally you would have a well balanced meal across the 3 macros (carbohydrates, protein & fats) that is a little more orientated towards the carbs, your primary energy source for exercise with intensity. This will be about 3-4 hrs before you play, with a little extra hit of carbs maybe 20mins before you get out there. You will burn carbs for your energy. So if you haven't eaten them... well, where is the energy coming from? Less reliable and less efficient sources (fats and proteins) and as such your performance will be compromised. The sluggish legs in the second half... among other things, that's a carb deficit right there.

For me, it's eggs on toast with a medium bowl of porridge stacked with fruits, a sprinkle of seeds and a dash of honey. Someone else might prefer a peanut butter bagel...(sounds bad but think about it - some carbs, decent fats and a hit of protein), just add some fruit and off you go.

3. Fluids & hydration

Hydration is already critical, even pre-match before you have started sweating it out. You need to get your electrolyte balance up so that fatigue onset is later on in the match and you can replenish easier. My go to drink for pre and during a match is 50% water with 50% 'proper' orange juice (not concentrated crap) with a decent pinch of salt. Yep, simple table salt... You get used to the taste, promise...

Energy drinks are not a good idea because they create spikes in your blood sugar levels. This might feel great for a short while but the crash is coming... not a matter of if but when... In any case, if you have eaten a decent meal in the lead up, you shouldn't need a sudden spike of energy to start the match, your reserves should be full and you should feel alert and ready to go.

Try some different combinations and see what works for you. Everyone is different.

(A QUICK PHYSIOLOGY LESSON... the salts and minerals in our body are required for effective muscular contraction. H2O is the conduit here, feeding the muscles with all of the nutrients and minerals. So if you are low in water, delivery is too slow to the muscle, then if the electrolytes are low, the muscles don't have the required chemistry to perform efficient muscular contraction. This is fatigue 101. Mitigate it by being hydrated with adequate salts/foods and so on).

4. Fuel (during the game)

Staying hydrated is critical, we know that (and also now know why). Some people also have isotonic energy gels. If you do, this should be at half time for when your energy reserves have been somewhat depleted. Energy gels give you a quick burst. They are digested into the bloodstream super quickly so energy (carbs) are available double time. As above, you shouldn't need it pre-match (just a couple of sweets should suffice).

At half time, as well as staying hydrated, you may want to consume a couple of simple crackers (easily digestible carbs) or a few more Haribo to build up those energy reserves. This will help to stave off the fatigue onset.

As mentioned, my weird water/salt/orange juice mix is good for when you come onto the bench for a short break or for half time.

5. Recovery

Even if you are a weekend warrior (or perhaps especially so!) you need to start recovery as soon as possible. It doesn't have to be a big deal. When you finish, try to avoid the temptation of consuming alcohol as the very first thing... I know you don't necessarily feel like eating straight after a match, so this is where a well balanced nutrition shake can be spot on. This should have a carb emphasis not a protein emphasis, and it should be consumed within 20 mins of finishing the match and should be the first thing that you consume. If you are thinking, "oh I'm not that hardcore I'm not drinking a shake" I totally get it... but you do need something...! So perhaps try cheese and crackers with some fruit (I've just described a summer picnic, no one can argue with that, right?!)

When your body has settled down after the exercise, you will want to have a decent meal within 2 hours of finishing. This means that while you are getting changed and getting showered etc you have literally started the recovery process.

Tip: 50% water + 50% OJ and a pinch of salt = hydration, sugar and electrolytes!

Questions?! Only about a million. Feel free to get in touch through my website:


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