Nutrition for exercise

It goes without saying that exercise and nutrition are two of the most important elements of an athlete’s existence. Throughout my career the amount of importance I place on having a healthy diet has grown significantly and the impact that this has had on my training has been substantial.

As a youngster it was probably more about the sausage sizzle post game on a Saturday morning than anything else, but as I began to climb to a higher level so too did my awareness of the impact diet has on performance. I have heard many times from numerous sources that nutrition has more of an affect on your body than exercise does, often described by the saying ‘you cannot outrun a bad diet’ (no matter how fast you go). This could not be more accurate. For an athlete, the focus is not on weight management (most of the time) but more the quality of the food you choose to use as fuel. I wish I could tell you that I had discovered a secret formula which increased lean muscle, improved your overall strength and allowed you to push harder for longer whilst eating whatever you wanted, however unfortunately this isn’t the case and will never be the case.

I believe the most important factor is consistency, and consistency in every area. If you are consistently having a piece of cake at morning tea, consistently failing to prepare a healthy dinner so you continue to grab takeaways on the way home from work, consistently reaching for sugar, your body will be a reflection of this. On the other end of the scale however, if you are consistently reaching for a healthy snack, consistently having meals rich in vegetables and healthy fats and consistently only saying yes occasionally to an afternoon pick me up then your body will (and I can say this with 100% certainty) be a reflection of this.

My diet consists of three decent meals per day and snacks whenever necessary, however these snacks are tailored to the amount of exercise I do each day as over snacking can be counterproductive. My training consists of seven training sessions per week (four on the turf and three in the gym) and all sessions run for close to two hours. During our turf sessions we can clock between five and ten kilometres, depending on the intensity, and most of this is done at an explosive speed. As you can imagine the amount of energy required for this sort of output is very high, therefore my diet needs to be structured according to this. I choose a diet relatively high in fat as this seems to keep me fuller for longer and I also pay attention to the amount and source of carbohydrates I eat as these are important for the type of exercise I do. My breakfast is either porridge or eggs (scrambled with some form of vegetable), lunch could be leftover dinner, eggs (very versatile), a salad of some sort (I can be a little naughty when it comes to buying lunch from local cafes but I have a great one up my road that does cheap salads full of amazing ingredients so on busier days I sometimes whip up there), dinner then is a range of things - usually a generous portion of vegetables and some protein (fish, red meat or tofu). Dinner varies significantly depending on what I feel like/have in my fridge and I always try to eat early (training dependant). We are advised to eat three hours before a training session, followed by a light snack one hour before to ensure we have sufficient energy stores for training. Post training is equally as important and will consist of a protein supplement (shake) straight away followed by a balanced meal when I get home.

I cannot lie, I have definitely been experimental with what I would call ‘FAD’s’ such as removing gluten from my diet (even though I have no signs of gluten resistance), drinking soy milk instead of dairy, buying coconut yoghurt over normal yoghurt or fasting intermittently and what I will say is the only difference I truly noticed was the way my mind focused on what I did not allow myself to have. I am in no way saying any of these may not be beneficial or necessary for you but for me these were very much only going to be short term as I wasn’t able to sustain that way of eating for very long, therefore would not reflect my principle around consistency in my diet.

Overall, what I put in my body shows in the way I perform out on the field. I am an athlete and I train every day to be able to perform at the highest level I can, therefore it seems illogical to me to eat a diet that doesn’t support that goal. If I am good to my body, my body is good to me.