Performance nutritionist Michael Naylor outlines some key lessons all of us can learn from his work with the pros.
Naylor has worked with the likes of England Rugby, Team GB and Southampton FC.
As such, he knows what it takes to keep elite-level sportsmen performing to the peak of their abilities.
And while you might not need to be quite as meticulous as the professionals with your own approach to nutrition, there are several key lessons every one of us – no matter the starting point or the ultimate objective – can learn from the way Naylor advises athletes to eat.
1. Understand your goals
Take a moment to understand who you are and what you want to achieve.
Once you have set your goals, start to adjust your nutrition to match.
For example, if your goal is losing some body fat, adjust your calorie intake accordingly – it’s really quite simple.
To reduce fat you need a lower calorie intake than the amount you expend. A simple guide for many is to aim to consume a calorie deficit of around 500 kcals per day – or roughly 3,500 kcals per week.
2. Think about your fluids
People sometimes think that coffee is bad, but no food should be labelled this way.
Many elite athletes will take on some form of caffeine a short while before a big match or event.
Pre-exercise, caffeine has been shown to increase focus and reduce feelings of effort – making everything feel a bit easier to achieve.
More importantly, water is crucial to optimum health. Drink it regularly to keep the trillions of cells in your body functioning effectively.
Upping your water intake can even help with fat loss, as your body often mistakes dehydration for hunger.
3. Don’t empty the tank
While calories in vs. out is the fundamental equation for fat loss, you also need to consider what else you’re doing.
If you’re training hard, you need to adjust accordingly.
Plan your meals out in line with your exercise and work schedules, and take into account carbohydrate and energy requirements for each.
If you’re exercising less, you may need to decrease the amount of carbs you’re consuming (if fat loss is the aim). But carbs are not the enemy, and if you start exercising more frequently again you should gradually increase your intake.
4. Everything is good in moderation
Carbohydrates play a key role in supporting energy and immune health.
They should nearly always be a part of our diets, but think about wholegrain and fibre-rich sources like sweet potato, wholegrain rice and pasta, or quinoa as your more frequently consumed sources.
Sugar is fine, in moderation. But having cakes and chocolate bars multiple times a week probably isn’t going to do you any favours.
5. Recovery is key
Post-exercise nutrition is every bit as important as fuelling your body pre-exercise.
Elite athletes will focus on replenishing the glycogen utilised (carbohydrates), repairing and promoting muscle growth (protein), and rehydrating (fluid and electrolytes).
And so should you.
Protein is vital for effective recovery, and the anabolic effect of consuming protein post-exercise is long-lasting.
Think about eating meat, fish or event plant-based foods to aid with muscle recovery and development.
Oily fish, such as wild salmon, is high in omega-3 and can also support with inflammation management.