Performance nutrition is all about context. When you are a full time athlete and training is your job - your nutrition is definitely geared towards performance. When you are preparing to compete at the CrossFit Games, you are definitely eating for performance.
While not all of us are elite athletes, it’s always interesting to get an insight into the habits and routines of those at the top of their sport - and draw upon these to see what we can apply to our own lives, and what is best left to the pros!
I caught up with the fittest woman in the UK, CrossFit Games-bound athlete Megan Lovegrove to chat about all things ‘nutrition in lockdown’.
I asked Meg if her routine around nutrition had changed much since quarantine began. “On the whole, no. There are some foods I usually eat that I’ve not been able to get in the supermarkets, but I’ve just subbed those out for similar alternatives. Because I’m still preparing for the Games - nutrition is a big part of that process and a top priority. There were a few days at the beginning when I was adjusting to a new routine, and that was really hard - when my routine isn’t in place, I find that challenging.” We can all benefit from establishing a routine around eating to help keep us consistent. Swopping out habitual foods that aren’t available for new normal alternatives and eating meals at the same time each day can be a great way to start building this.
Because nutrition has such an important role in recovery, it really is part of the responsibility of being a competitive athlete. Just as those of us who are working still log on to our email and crack on with our to-do lists, elite athletes must have the same mindset towards their nutrition. “If I wasn’t in full training, my goal would probably just be to get adequate nutrition from real food & not having too many treats!”, says Meg. Including plenty of fruits and veggies alongside some protein and a little fat at each meal and limiting sugary/junk foods is a simple but effective approach to stay on track with your nutrition.
For those who prefer a bit more precision, diligently tracking macros is a great tool to ensure you are fuelling adequately for performance. Meg works closely with her nutrition coach constantly adjusting based on hunger, training & other subjective measures which help them determine what the right intake looks like. We agreed that for people who are already in the habit of tracking macros, this could be a helpful measure to continue throughout lockdown to make sure they are eating the right quantity (not forgetting quality!) of food.
However, now is perhaps not the best time to embark on a strict routine of weighing and measuring for the first time as for some people it could add undue pressure to an already stressful time. Focusing on developing sustainable healthy eating habits and a system of accountability could be a better approach for most.
One concern being thrown around is that now we are all stuck inside - our daily activity level is much lower and we should eat less to align with that. Meg explains that her intake has not dropped since lockdown has started - and although her social calendar is not as busy, her training volume has remained the same so she continues to fuel for that, even on rest days - macros stay the same.
If you think you are moving a lot less, make sure you know for sure before you adjust your food intake. You may not be commuting to work each day but some people are becoming even more consistent with their training as it provides a break within the day, and long runs have become a staple of some training routines. Use your hunger, mood & energy levels to determine your food intake, rather than your perceived activity level.
“Have you been sleeping more?” I ask, an enthusiastic “YES!” in response, “everyone knows just how beneficial sleep is in helping recovery and driving performance, and with less social appointments in the diary - there’s no excuse not to be in bed before 10pm!”. There’s one we can all get on board with.
So, whether you are training for performance or trying to keep your fitness up for when the gym re-opens keep it simple, stick to your routine and get plenty of sleep!