• Instagram
  • Google Plus
  • Facebook
  • Twitter

Athlete's nutrition; the balancing act

Organising your training around work or studies may not pose a problem, but are you finding the time for nutritional preparation and recovery to make the most of your training?




Juggling the demands of work or study with intense training sessions is tough and can make life hectic. If you’re dragging yourself out of bed at the crack of dawn every morning to put in some extra miles before rushing off to work or studies, and then putting in that second session later in the day/evening, chances are that food is something you pay little attention to but grab whenever and wherever you can. 

Next, the weekend arrives, with double training sessions and little time in-between. If you don’t have a adequate recovery strategy in place you will soon start to feel over-tired and under-recovered. Eating the right types of food at the right time can help you cope with the demands of a busy lifestyle and maximise the physiological benefit from the many precious hours spent training.   


Always Eat Breakfast

After an overnight fast, it’s important to top up your glycogen stores with a good carbohydrate-rich breakfast to fuel that early morning training session. Try to allow 45 – 60 minutes after eating before you begin training so that you don’t feel too uncomfortable during the session. 

Suitable breakfast ideas include:

-      Porridge made with large rolled oats and low fat milk with banana and raisins or honey/golden syrup {8 tips to make the best porridge}

-      Muesli mixed with yoghurt and raspberries

-      Other cereals like Oatbix, Just Right and Special K or granola with milk and chopped dried apricots and dates

-      Wholegrain toast with low fat spread and jam or honey

-      Banana, strawberry and raspberry smoothie with juice and yogurt (adding oats to make this more substantial)

-      Wholegrain bagels with peanut butter and banana

-      Hot cross buns or raison bread with low fat spread


Cereal or toast are good quick options but if you choose a lower glycaemic index (slow release) carbohydrate, such as those listed above, there will sustain your energy levels over the length of the training session.



Nutritional Recovery Strategies

Recovery from training refers to the adaptations that occur in the body following physiological stress which then allows the body to become fitter, stronger and faster. When planning post-exercise nutritional recovery strategies, there are 3 key goals to be considered. One is the replenishment of carbohydrate stores (glycogen), the second is the repair and growth of muscle and the third is the replacement of fluid. All of these are important for athletes particularly when there is little time between training sessions. 

After that early morning session, it’s important to have a recovery drink or snack which you consume before you dash off to work or study. During weekend training, when there may be only a couple of hours between the 2 sessions, it’s crucial to take food and fluid to consume after the first session to ensure you also have a good performance during the second session.


Carbohydrate Stores

It’s important to replace carbohydrate stores as soon as possible after training to optimise recovery for the next session. 

The highest rates of glycogen storage occur during the first hour after exercise, so consuming carbohydrates as soon as possible after training is crucial, particularly when there’s less than 8 hours between sessions. The aim should be to have 1 – 1.2 grams of carbohydrate per kg of bodyweight within 30 minutes, and then repeat after 2 hours until normal meal patterns are resumed. Isotonic sports drinks can be a useful source of carbohydrate after training and can also provide the fluid required for rehydration.


Repair and growth of muscle

The inclusion of protein within the recovery mix can help enhance muscle growth and repair. Carbohydrate and protein, when consumed together after exercise, enhance the movement of protein into the muscle and also decrease muscle protein break-down and increase synthesis. 

For those athletes wanting to gain muscle mass, consuming a protein and carbohydrate containing snack or drink both immediately before and after resistance training may help maximise training adaptations because there is a greater uptake of protein by the muscle due to the increased blood flow during exercise. 

A snack or drink containing 10 – 20 grams of protein and 1 gram of carbohydrates per kg of bodyweight 30 – 60 minutes before the session will be sufficient, plus a similar amounts afterwards. 

Commercial recovery drinks, milkshakes, yoghurt drinks and fruit smoothies are useful sources of carbohydrate and protein for this purpose. 

Recovery snacks or drinks providing approximately 50 -60 grams of carbohydrate and 10 – 20 grams of protein include;

-      500ml milkshake

-      1 sachet of meal replacement powder made with milk and a banana

-      500ml of semi-skimmed milk plus 1 cereal bar

-      Homemade fruit smoothie with 150g yoghurt, half a pint of fruit juice, 1 banana plus 3 tablespoons of skimmed milk powder

-      1 round od sandwiches (thick sliced bread) or bagel with low fat spread and tuna, chicken, ham or cheese plus one piece of fruit.

-      200g of low fat yoghurt plus a cereal bar and banana

-      2 slices of malt loaf and a yoghurt drink


You can add in additional cereal bars, sports drinks, bananas, dried fruit and so on to add more carbohydrate to meet your needs.


Replacement of Fluid

During training, fluids should be replaced in sufficient amounts to minimise weight loss to less than 2% bodyweight because if greater dehydration occurs, it may start to adversely affect both physical and mental performance. The amount required will depend on your sweat rate, which can vary between 500 – 2,000 ml per hour depending on a range of factors. 

Establishing sweat rate and monitoring pre and post exercise body weight is an important monitoring tool and only requires a set of scales. 

Sweat Rate is calculated using the below factors and calculation.     

A = Pre exercise weight
B= Post exercise weight
C= Fluid intake
D = Urine volume
E = Exercise time in hours


Sweat Rate = (A – B) + (C – D)


So, if body weight stays the same pre and post exercise, no urine is passed and 1 litre of fluid is consumed during an hour of exercise then the sweat rate is 1 litre per hour. 

Ideally, body weight should stay about the same pre and post exercise and if not, then a greater amount of fluid is required. A 1kg weight loss equates to 1 litre fluid loss. You should aim to start training in a fully hydrated state with pale coloured pee. 





During the day, hydration should be maintained by drinking water, fruit juices, squash and so on. Sports drinks can be useful both before and during exercise to top up carbohydrate stores and the sodium they contain also enhances the hydration process. Remember to carry a bottle with you during the day so hydration becomes part of your daily routine and you don’t turn up to your evening training session dehydrated.


Planning for mealtimes

If you have a busy schedule either at work or place of study, it’s important to be organised when it comes to meal times so you’re not leaving your food choices to chance. 

If you have a training session planned for the evening, it’s important to have a good intake of carbohydrate at lunch time to fuel that session as well as remembering to have breakfast before your early morning session. 

You may also need to add an afternoon snack if the gap between lunch and training is more than 4 hours. This could be a banana, cereal bar, bowl of cereal and milk, toast and jam, fruit and yoghurt, a fruit smoothie, or a sandwich depending on appetite.


Ideas for meals include the following;

-      Jacket potato with baked beans or Bolognese chilli, cheese, cottage cheese and salad

-      Pasta with tomato or arrabiata sauce with chicken or tuna, plus salad

-      Wholegrain sandwiches with ham, chicken, turkey, low fat cheese, salad, pickle

-      Chicken and mushroom risotto plus salad

-      Cold meat, chicken, or tuna with cous-cous, rice or pasta salad

-      Grilled tuna or salmon steak with new potatoes and salad or vegetables

-      Grilled steak with jacket potatoes and salad

-      Chicken curry with rive and vegetables

-      Roasted chicken with roasted vegetables and sweet potatoes

-      Stir fry prawns or chicken with noodles, vegetables and sweat chilli sauce


Keeping well fuelled and hydrated during the day will not only help your training sessions but will also help you mental performance at work or at your place of study



You may also like to read   

Training Camps for     

Athletics | Cycling | Rowing | Running | Swimming | Triathlon | 


Articles about   

Nutrition Sports - General | Location & Facilities | Training Equipment | 


Categories: All topics