Dietary fibre is an essential component of a healthy diet for all individuals, including athletes.
It is found in plant-based foods including fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, and it plays a fundamental role in keeping our guts healthy and happy.
There are three different types of fibre – soluble fibre, insoluble fibre and resistant starch. Aim to include each type in your diet.
- Soluble fibre = helps to soften stools, regulate blood sugar levels and regulate cholesterol.
- Insoluble fibre = adds bulk and aids bowel movement regularity.
- Resistant starch = helps to grow good gut bacteria/inhibit the growth of bad gut bacteria.
See table below for examples of each:
An important reason to include fibre in your diet is because it slows digestion of food and can increase satiety. For an athlete this may not be ideal around training and competition as at this time athletes need fast-acting energy to fuel performance.
Furthermore, when fibre is combined with pre-competition nerves, it can contribute to adverse gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhoea.
It’s important for athletes to know when to choose fibre-dense foods and when to avoid to optimally fuel performance while still maximising health. Athletes should choose fibrous foods in main meals and snacks away from training and competition, and choose low-fibre options before and during.
Below is an example of a day of eating that is high in fibre, with a low-fibre snack before training:
- Breakfast: Porridge with nuts/seeds + banana
- Morning snack: Yoghurt + piece of fruit
- Lunch: Wholemeal sandwich with hommus, baby spinach, tomato, cucumber, grated carrot, cheese and chicken
- Pre-training snack: White toast with honey
- Post-training snack: Smoothie
- Dinner: Spag bol using wholemeal pasta and with kidney beans & veggies in the sauce
If you do not currently include much fibre in your diet, avoid suddenly ramping it up as this could have acute negative impacts on the gut. Slowly introduce more fibrous foods and increase as per tolerance.