Anne Marie Mulholland

Are sweets a treat?

Are you caught up in the notion that training 2-3 nights a week allows you to overindulge on those McDonalds/Boojums/Doughnuts/Biscuits/Crisps etc and eat whatever you want?

If yes, then you have a few things to consider. Think about it this way; you can fill a diesel car with petrol which is technically its fuel source, but is the car likely to run? Similarly, by fuelling your body with mostly high fat food choices, you are unlikely to reach your athletic potential due to failure to fuel properly. I for one really don’t believe a heavy training schedule should compensate or be an excuse for a poorly balanced diet. Of course, during intense training blocks we need to provide our bodies with energy to support the demands of training, however by basing your diet around high fat/energy dense options, are you really supporting your training, body composition or health goals? The answer is no! Is that Chinese REALLY the best option?

 I am the first to admit there most definitely is no such thing as the ‘perfect diet’. I also believe it is important we associate food with enjoyment rather than merely a means to ‘keep going’. Low nutrient foods such as takeaways, chocolate and crisps are in fact known as the ‘bad foods’ of today, however these foods will only prove detrimental to health and performance if we consume these foods beyond moderation. If we think about it logically; by filling up your plate with fatty/energy dense foods, where is the space for other foods groups such as carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals- all required to optimise performance and immune health? So, if your diet is predominantly made up of high fat foods, don’t you think it is time for change?

Changes to dietary habits are never an overnight occurrence. In fact, if it does occur overnight, the likelihood of this change being sustainable in the long-term is unlikely. Therefore, it is about tackling small improvements in your diet one at a time, working towards those all-important marginal gains. This could be something as simple as considering your hydration around training or having an extra piece of fruit per day- the change does not have to be major!

So, let’s take a look at a few small steps we can take to eat like the elite:

1.Consider what your carbohydrate intake looks like? 

Carbohydrates are macronutrients needed to fuel our sessions; however, players tend to either under or over fuel with these foods and so we need to consider how we get this right. It is pretty straightforward- correlate your carbohydrate intake in accordance with training completed. On training days, rather than lapping up fried foods and takeaways, fill up at least half of your plate with a starchy carbohydrate at each meal i.e. pasta, bread, oats, potatoes, cereal and couscous. But remember, on a rest day, when energy expenditure is reduced, reduce your starchy carbohydrate portion size to around 1/4 to 1/3 of the plate! Portion size is key!

2. Spread out protein intake

We must spread our protein intake throughout the day to encourage muscle mass development and repair. Our main sources of protein tend to come from animal-based products such as meat, fish, dairy products and eggs, however we can also consume these in plant-based foods such as kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils and soy-based products. Take a look at your diet and see whether you include at least one of these foods every 3-4 hours. If not, why not make your initial change to include an extra protein ‘hit’ per day?  Why not start before bed and keep it consistent? A pint of milk or a meat-based sandwich would suffice. 

3.Limit those saturated fats!

It has been well documented within scientific literature that excess saturated fat intake can lead to a wealth of adverse health outcomes including increased risk of stroke and heart disease. Further, from an athlete’s perspective, excess fat intake can lead to fat mass accumulation and subsequent adverse effects on performance. So, to put it bluntly- cut these foods down! But how can this be done?

Cut down on your current takeaway consumption

Reduce consumption of crisps, doughnuts, chocolate, cakes and buns

Cut off visible fat on meats 

Choose lean meat options e.g. turkey and chicken or fish fillets

Consider your cooking methods (grill and bake instead of frying foods)

4. 5 a day?

You may have got to this point in the article and thought ‘my diet is pretty good’ however the fruit and vegetables tend to catch most of us out. Are you getting your five a day? Well, if not, then why not? The Department of Health recommends 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day to aid digestion as a result of their fibre content and to provide vitamins and minerals for overall health/wellbeing and to aid healing from injury. Let’s take a small step; why not try to increase fruit/vegetable intake by making a smoothie in the morning? Add at least 2 fruits and 1 vegetable and a fruit juice of choice (counts as 1 of your 5 a day) and blend together. Take it in a flask with you en route to school or work. Done!

5. Hydration 

As I have previously touched on in previous articles, dehydration can act as a form of fatigue during training and matches limiting performance capacity during this time.

However, hydration should not only be considered around training/matches and should be a daily consideration. The simplest method of checking hydration status is being aware of your urine colour- the darker the colour the more dehydrated you are. So, how can you encourage improved hydration on a daily basis?

Take a full water bottle (with your name on it) to training/matches


Choose a drink you enjoy- liquids are more palatable when chilled with a little flavour

Meal consumption is critical to ensure full hydration on a day-to-day basis. Eating food promotes fluid retention.

A tough or hot session? – why not consider adding Dioralyte to further aid hydration?

So, what do you think? Is that Chinese really needed after training? Is training compensating for poor dietary choices? Can you honestly say your nutrition is supporting your athletic goals? If not, then what can YOU do to make a change? It’s up to you!x

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 @amulhollandrd and Twitter @AnneMarie_Mul

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