Hi all, the NutriKate team here, (and after another Micheál Martin national announcement) we are delighted to finally be talking about some return to play protocols (not the Covid protocols, but the nutritional ones!)
With turf burn and pulling grass from your studs, on the horizon, it's time to think about the importance of fuelling our bodies timely and appropriately for training. Important considerations are; energy intake on training days and what this should look like in regards to the macronutrients & timing, hydration, and sleep.
As we have been off the training grounds for a while now, we must ensure that we nail our nutrition to account for the excess stress that will be re-introduced to our bodies with a return to training, and most importantly to reduce injury risk and maintain a healthy immune system. Optimal nutrition around training can give you the edge you require to peak during a training session/competition!
Return to training- Nutrition:
The importance of carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are the main source of energy used in our bodies, and vitally important when it comes to training and match days. Our body needs fuel (in the form of carbohydrates) for a number of reasons:
● To allow your brain to work efficiently (glucose is our brains preferred choice of energy)
● Maintain & perform normal bodily functions e.g. immune function
● Maximise workout performance
● Delay time to fatigue during exercise
Carbohydrates are the macronutrient that will fluctuate the most daily depending on your training load.
Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred fuel source during high-intensity exercise such as a pitch-based session. If we have not provided the body with enough energy in the form of carbohydrates to support this session it can result in early fatigue which will hinder performance & impair your ability to get the most from the training session. You wouldn’t expect your car to run on empty fuel so why would you expect your body to?
An easy way to ensure you are consuming enough carbohydrates to support your training is by following the traffic light system:
It is important to ensure that your pre-training meal is sufficient to support optimal & sustained performance. We therefore recommend increasing your carbohydrate intake in this meal. A simple rule of thumb to follow is that with increased training load, duration or intensity, carbohydrate intake should be increased.
NK Tip – one portion of dry carbohydrates such as pasta, rice, oats, couscous = 1 fist In your pre-training meal add an extra fist!
Protein should also be included in our pre-exercise meal to keep our appetite at bay, and support muscle retention, as well as priming our muscles for the training stimulus whether it’s out on the field/ in the gym. Avoid high fat, spicy, and high fibre foods (veggies, brown carbohydrates, skin on fruit), as well as carbonated drinks as they all may cause GI discomfort during exercise.
The pre training meal should be consumed 2-4 hours prior to exercise to ensure enough time for ample digestion, however you may require a small carbohydrate-based snack to top up energy stores 30-60 minutes before training e.g. handful of dried fruit/jellies, granola/cereal bar, banana. This will depend on individual preference and needs.
The power of protein:
Protein aids satiety, muscle retention & growth, as well as supporting recovery after exercise. It is important that we try to spread out our protein intake evenly throughout the day to optimise muscle protein growth. We recommend trying to have 4 meals/snacks containing 20-40g of protein in each serving (for example, a small sirloin steak or medium chicken fillet contain ~28g & 31g of protein respectively). This becomes even more important after the long period we have had off the training ground. With a return to training there can be an increase in protein breakdown in the body.
Therefore, aim for a protein intake of ~ 1.8-2g/kg/day. Unlike carbohydrates, protein intake should remain consistent on both training & rest days.
If following a vegetarian/vegan diet there are still a multitude of foods that can provide us with the protein we need. However, we must ensure a mixture of nuts, legumes, grains, seeds and tofu in our diet to ensure adequate protein requirements are met. Some easy vegan and vegetarian protein options include: 200g baked beans = 9.5g protein, ½ block of Tofu = 26g protein, 50g uncooked lentils = 12g protein.
Focusing on the 4 R’s post exercise will allow for optimal recovery. With an increase of stress on our bodies after a long period off the pitch, this is even more important!
Refuel (carbohydrate), Repair (protein), Rehydrate (fluid) & Rest (sleep)
Carbohydrates are important to restore any depleted glycogen stores. Topping up our lost glycogen stores post high intensity training is essential to ensure that performance isn’t impaired by low glycogen stores in our next session. (this is especially important if you have another session/competition within 8 hours).
Protein is vital to facilitate muscle repair. Post gym session meals should have more of an emphasis on protein than carbohydrates. We recommend always including a protein feeding in your post-exercise meal, be it a match, gym session or even a lighter mobility class
Fluids are important to replace losses due to sweat. Look to drink water with your post-training meal. Cow’s milk is a nice option too as you’ve got fluid, electrolytes, protein & carbohydrates all in one!
Fruit & Veg: Consuming 6+ portions of fruit and veg per day will aid our recovery post exercise, and support optimal immune function - due to their antioxidant content. Aim for a variety of colours on your plate!
Some quick and easy examples of meals that target the 3 R’s:
Scrambled eggs & beans on toast with a piece of fruit and a glass of water
Tuna, lettuce & tomato bagel with a glass of water.
Yoghurt, berries, fruit & nuts with a glass of water.
Chilli and a baked potato/rice with a piece of fruit & glass of water
If you have a journey home from training of <30-40 minutes a snack is not necessary. However, should it be any longer aim for a protein & carbohydrate-based snack to kick start your recovery before the main meal. This might look like a banana and protein recovery shake, or greek yoghurt with fruit, or full fat milk.
If training late and you cannot stomach a large meal before bed, it is still important to get something in, so here are some ideas of condensed recovery meals:
Drinking your calories in a homemade smoothie containing oats and whey protein.
High protein yoghurt, handful of berries & 1tbsp of granola
Whey porridge made with milk.
Scrambled eggs (2 whole, 3 white) with 2 slices of brown bread.
Water makes up 40-75% of our total body mass so don’t forget about it! Did you know that being just 2% dehydrated can impede your performance? Small margins, right? Some of the performance consequences of dehydration include impaired concentration, increased reaction time, as well as inducing early fatigue in endurance & strength/power sports due to increasing the rate of glycogen utilisation (not ideal!)
Aim for a fluid intake of 35ml/kg body weight every day = (e.g. 80kg person= 2.8L of fluid intake per day). As the summer months sneak up on us and the warm weather arrives (we’re maintaining optimism for another good summer), we may sweat more which will increase fluid & electrolyte losses so hydration becomes even more important then.
Some strategies to help counteract this include;
Checking your urine colour- I know it’s not something we may regularly do but it’s a great indication of hydration levels. We are aiming for a pale straw like yellow colour.
Drink to prevent thirst through regular sipping, rather than big gulps that may induce GI discomfort
Make your own electrolyte drink to replace fluids & electrolytes lost as sweat during exercise, and provide some carbohydrates e.g. 500ml water, 500ml fruit juice, 1g salt
Get yourself a personal water bottle you like that you can carry around all of the time.
Sleep is another factor that we don’t always think of when it comes to performance nutrition, even though it impacts us mentally and physically. While many of us exercise the same nutritional practices around training, sleep practices vary. Recovery is where the gains are made!
Daily recommendations are 7-9 hours for an adult. A prolonged lack of sleep can take away from all the work we have put into training by causing performance deficits such as:
Impaired immune system ( can pick up colds and flus easier)
Appetite control (appetite increases with lack of sleep and we may crave foods that are not very nutrient dense) Don’t be Hungry!
So how can we use nutrition to help sleep?
Avoid tea, coffee, caffeinated drinks after lunch time- caffeine is a stimulant and has a half life of ~6 hours which can impede our ability to fall asleep, as well as sleep quality. Opt for decaffeinated options or milk/water instead!
Large meals close to bed don’t agree with everyone so if you are one of these, have lighter meals in the evening.
Having a meal containing high GI carbohydrates (potatoes, rice pasta) ~ 4 hours pre bed can aid sleep.
Some evidence indicates that consuming 2 kiwi’s pre bed can promote sleep, as well as tryptophan rich foods such as turkey, pumpkin seeds, chicken & beans.
Nutrition is extremely individual based on your training needs, however maintaining a balanced diet day to day, along with applying these performance-based nutrition practices can help you ease back into your training with reduced injury risk and optimal performance. Your health is your wealth. Supporting your health by implementing the key nutrition principles we’ve mentioned will help to facilitate recovery and performance in all aspects of your life, both on and off the pitch!
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