For athletes competing for some of the most prestigious prizes in sport, a lot of the hard work has already been done. Preparations take place over many years, and the final race is where everything comes together to enable the performance of a lifetime.
Nutrition is an essential part of competition preparations. Food provides fuel for energy, supports focus and concentration and enables muscle growth and repair. The right food can also help athletes to stay well enough to train and compete. Without the correct nutrition, all of these processes can be compromised, especially with the demands of training and competing at such a high level.
Sports nutrition at this level is a complex area, however there are a few key recommendations that are absolutely crucial. And the good news is that anyone involved in sport, whether heading for an Olympic medal or training for their first 5K, would benefit from putting these recommendations into practice.
Nutrition tips for an Olympic performance that you can use too:
Energy fuel – Any type of exercise needs energy fuel - intensity level and duration are the main factors that influence the amount of fuel needed. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred fuel source so it’s important that the diet supplies plenty of these if your energy demands increase. Good sources include wholegrains such as oats, rye, corn, millet, rice, wheat and buckwheat; and it’s good to get plenty of variety instead of just relying on wheat-based carbs such as bread and pasta. Fruits and vegetables supply carbohydrates too; denser vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips and beetroot, and fruits such as bananas are great sources of energy fuel for anyone exercising regularly and especially for athletes like Jessica Ennis-Hill.
Fight free radicals – The body makes energy via a series of reactions. The more energy that’s needed, the more of these reactions will take place. An unfortunate by-product of these reactions is the production of free radicals. As energy-producing reactions speed up during exercise, so too does free radical production. Free radicals are harmful molecules that can wreak havoc in the body, causing damage, destruction of bodily tissues, inflammation and ultimately increase the risks of chronic disease. Free radicals are bad news when it comes to injuries too – the last thing any athlete needs in the run up to the Olympics! The body’s first line of defence against free radicals is antioxidants. Antioxidants prevent free radicals from causing damage, so its crucial that anyone involved in sport has a diet that contains plenty of these beneficial compounds. The more exercise you do, the more antioxidants you need – they come in many different forms and are found in rich supply in brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds and their oils and wholegrains too. Additional antioxidant sources include green tea catechins, resveratrol (red wine), lycopene (tomatoes), cocoa and curcumin - the beneficial phytonutrient found in turmeric.
Omega-3s – A typical Western diet is high in omega-6 fats (meat, dairy, vegetables oils) and low in omega-3 fats (nuts, seeds and oily fish). Omega-6 fats tend to be pro-inflammatory, whereas omega-3 fats have an anti inflammatory effect. It’s essential that athletes and anyone exercising regularly get plenty of omega-3s to keep inflammation in balance. A higher intake of omega-3s has additional benefits for athletes too – they can help to support energy production, recovery after exercise, VO2 Max and support balanced mood and concentration too, which is absolutely key for ensuring a winning performance when it matters most. This can easily be achieved by increasing intake of nuts, seeds and oily fish, and through supplementation with a daily dose of omega-3 rich fish oil; aim for 1-2g daily.
Recovery fuel – A post exercise recovery meal or snack is absolutely essential for Olympic athletes like Jessica Ennis-Hill. A recovery meal or snack helps the body to adapt to the effects of training and ensures that it is fully ready for the next race or training session. This should be a combination of carbohydrate and protein. Carbohydrate helps to replenish energy stores that have been used during exercise whilst protein helps to support muscle recovery and rebuilding. The recovery snack should ideally be consumed within half an hour of exercise so needs to be convenient. A powder formula that can be mixed into a shake is ideal at this point.
Jessica Ennis-Hill Nutrition Tips Summary:
• Make sure your diet contains plenty of energy fuel. Choose wholegrains such as oats, rye, bulgar wheat, buckwheat, corn, millet, rice and wheat. Bananas, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips and beetroot are good energy fuel too.
• Make sure your diet is high in antioxidants. Choose a wide variety of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables and aim for at least 7-9 portions daily. Wholegrains, nuts, seeds and their oils, beans, chickpeas and lentils help to boost antioxidant intake too. Increase your intake of phytochemicals such as green tea catechins, lycopene, resveratrol, cocoa and curcumin as these are all high in beneficial antioxidants too.
• Make sure you get at least 1-2g/day omega 3 rich fish oil. Choose a fish oil formula that has been shown to be pure and stable as many mainstream products are contaminated with PCBs and heavy metals such as mercury, and would do more harm than good.
• Make sure you eat a recovery meal or snack after every training session and competitive event. Choose a convenient powder formula that contains protein and carbohydrates, and can be mixed into an easy-to-drink shake.