As many of us are looking forward to recommencing club training over the coming weeks, it is important to ensure you turn up ‘ready to train’ and begin to prepare for the small (but likely intense) training block ahead. For many, training intensity has been significantly reduced over the lockdown period (which is to be expected), and therefore now is the time to prepare for the upcoming block, not just physically, but in all aspects of performance.
Think about it like this; you have a limited training window of a few weeks before club games are expected to get going, and during this time you want to 1) do everything in your power to train to the best possible level you can, 2) encourage maximum training adaptations within this window and 3) look after your overall health and prevent injury risk- all aspects which should be considered before turning up to training on day dot.
In response to fluctuations in training load/volume, our immune function fluctuates too. Therefore, going from little to no training over the past months, to getting thrown back into club training, your immune function will fluctuate as a result. And let’s be honest- no one wants to have any sick days during this small window of training that we have, and everyone wants to show up and put in the best shift possible. So, to put it simply; we need to consider our habits around training, and the types and quantities of foods we are putting in our bodies to support health and performance on return to training (RTT).
So, let’s take a closer look at my key considerations for RTT:
1. Establish a regular meal structure.
To ensure you are fuelling and recovering optimally around sessions, it is essential to adapt a regular meal structure within your day. Aim for 3 meals and 2-3 snacks per day, starting with breakfast and taking it from there. It’s simple! Don’t worry if you are back to work and haven’t access to a shop nearby- think about your food choices the evening before. Why not used leftover dinner for lunch and pack easily stored snacks in your bag such as cereal bars, mixed nuts, Greek yoghurt or rice cakes to make snack times that little bit easier?
So, once you have established a regular meal structure, what foods should you be considering at these times?
2. Carbohydrate intake.
Carbohydrates are our bodies energy currency. Therefore, when we require more energy, we require more carbohydrate- it is as simple as that! So, with increasing training volume comes the need to increase the carbohydrate content of our diet on training days. To encourage optimal fuelling around training, support body composition goals and training adaptations:
On training days- aim for 4-4.5g of carbohydrate per kilo of body weight
On rest days- aim for 3-3.5g of carbohydrate per kilo of body weight
With this in mind, regardless of whether it is a training or non-training day; base your meals on starchy carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, potatoes and oats to provide a slow release of energy throughout the day. Further, on tougher training days, consider including quick acting carbohydrate snacks around training such as a banana, fruit juice, Greek yoghurt with berries and honey or a cereal bar to help provide an extra energy kick.
3. Protein intake.
As the demand and stress on our muscles will be increased on RTT, it is important we include protein rich food sources in our diet to help repair existing muscle and build up new muscle in response to training. Include food sources such as chicken, red meat, fish, eggs, milk and other dairy products, beans, lentils and chickpeas in your meals and snacks on both training and rest days in support of muscle function. And remember- the key to protein intake is to spread it throughout the day in both meals and snacks to support muscle development!
As I mentioned earlier, our immune function fluctuates when our training volume is altered. As a result, we need to support our immune system as much as possible on RTT to prevent unwanted illness or injury occurrence. And how do we do this? Fill up your plate with colour! Include a variety of veg in soups. Add lots of fruit to smoothies. Blend up veg into sauces to hide them in your dinner. Make it exciting but most importantly, make it work for you!
For some, your hydration routine may have become a little more relaxed during the lockdown period but now is the time to get back into the routine of it. When we sweat, essential electrolytes are lost from our body which we need for our body to function (and to perform!).
Therefore, we should aim for optimal hydration around sessions (and rehydration post session) which allows us to perform at a higher intensity and prevent fatigue onset.
Make sure to fill up a bottle of water (or dilute juice) and take it to your pitch session with you (and label with your name to avoid communal use). Go for fluids such as sport drinks or diluted juice before and during sessions for electrolyte provision and try a glass of milk post session. It isn’t as difficult as you may think.
I am sure you have heard it before, but there is a lot to be said for a good night’s sleep. Sleep is a key element of recovery from exercise and also plays a crucial role in immune function and therefore it is something that we can’t underestimate! For some, late nights and even later starts are the new norm, and so my advice: use the coming weeks to your advantage and get back into a regular routine, aiming for 7-9 hours per night! Once training is in full swing, your recovery process will be crucial and to be taken seriously! You have a limited training window and therefore each element of recovery should be utilised effectively.
And there you have it, a few tips to help with preparations for returning to train. And remember. Continue to wash your hands, adhere to social distancing regulations and enjoy getting back to it!
Anne-Marie is a Sport Dietitian with a BSc in Dietetics and MSc in Sport Nutrition. Anne-Marie has experience in both Clinical and Sport environments and currently works within the IRFU as a Performance Nutritionist. You can catch Anne-Marie on Instagram @theperformancedietitian and Twitter @AnneMarie_Mul