Much like adjusting your dietary intake and nutrition goals were important when COVID-19 restrictions first began, your diet will need to adapt as sport begins to return.
Your health and performance goals may shift again and so should your nutrition strategies to achieve them.
If you notice your fitness or body-weight is in a place you wouldn’t like it to be, or is different to when you left training, don’t be too hard on yourself or try to rush getting back to peak form. Use this time to reintroduce good habits and behaviours that use nutrition strategies as a way to support your training to come back stronger than ever.
Below are four nutrition tips to consider as you begin the return to a more familiar training regime.
1. Match energy in, to energy out
The body receives energy in through the consumption of food and utilises energy out through several processes including physical activity. For maintenance athletes should consume the same amount of food as they are utilising to optimise both health and performance for energy balance. energy in = energy out.
For many athletes, the ease in restrictions will result in an increase in training volume and/or intensity. If energy out through physical activity increases, so must the energy in through food to maintain health and performance. A mismatch between food intake and training output can have several negative consequences, from poor training outcomes to an increased risk of both injury and illness. The greater the mismatch, the more severe the consequences.
Put it this way, if you are eating the same amount as if you weren’t training when training increases there may be an imbalance in your energy. So if training is increasing you may need to have slightly larger portions at main meals, incorporate more snacks during the day or drinking energy-containing fluids to support training like milk or sports drink.
2. Have a plan
As you start returning to school, university, work and/or training environments, food may no longer be as accessible as it once was.
To ensure you maintain a nutrient-dense diet with regular meals and snacks (especially around training sessions), it’s essential to plan ahead. Examples include:
- Packing your lunchbox the night before with enough food for the whole day
- Storing snacks in your training bag, locker or car – for example dried fruit and muesli bars
- Planning meals for the week ahead and organising a grocery shop/delivery to cater for it
- Creating your own recipe book including your favourite quick, easy and nutritious meals so that you are never stuck searching for inspiration
- Cooking meals in bulk so it provides for multiple meals. You could even put some portions in the freezer so they keep for longer
- Ensuring your kitchen is well-stocked with the staples. For example, oats, baked beans, honey and peanut butter in the pantry; bread, frozen fruit and vegetables in the freezer; and eggs, milk, cheese and yoghurt in the fridge
3. Don’t forget hydration
Just because the weather is getting cooler and sweat losses may not be as significant, fluid intake cannot be neglected. Dehydration can still occur in cooler conditions and it only takes 2% loss of fluid to have a significant, detrimental impact on both physical and mental performance. Part of your preparation must involve packing water bottle/s to ensure you are able to maintain adequate hydration and consequently performance.
4. Continue eating to support a healthy immune system
Not only is the threat of COVID-19 ongoing but increasing training loads and the winter “flu” will also put pressure on the immune system.
A few key nutrients involved in optimal immune health include vitamin A – sweet potato, carrot; vitamin C – kiwi fruit, orange, red capsicum; vitamin E – avocado, almonds; zinc – red meat, legumes; and probiotics – natural yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut. Include a variety of these foods to allow your body to consistently perform at its best.