For professional and serious amateur athletes, heaving training schedules can mean massive amounts of calories need to be eaten each day. 4500kcal for a rugby player is normal while for a tour cyclist this could be 7000kcal. That’s a lot of food to eat! So what are the things that regularly appear on the pro’s daily shopping list?
For rugby, the aim of a player’s diet is to fuel training and games, maintain/improve body composition, optimise recovery and the maintain the immunity. All too often there is a focus on protein, carbohydrate and calorie figures, all of which could, in theory, be provided by a commercial sports shake. Sometimes it is necessary to take these if energy needs are very high, and they are much more convenient to take after a training if food isn’t available.
However…….for optimum nutrition, performance and health, there is nothing better than REAL food. The incredibly complex makeup of food simply cannot be artificially produced in a bottle or pill. Food provides phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fibre, and possibly, many other beneficial constituents that science hasn’t discovered yet.
With 15 years of professional rugby under his belt, my husband Dec has used his fair share of sports drinks, supplement shakes and bars. These can be useful as a stop gap, when good food is not readily available, or when calorie requirements are so high that it is difficult to achieve with a balanced diet. But recently, I have seen a move towards using food as the foundations for high performance. I often use an analogy of the bricks of a house being food, and supplements being the chimney. If you don’t have the nutrition basics of food (walls and roof) in place, it is daft to think that there is any point to having a chimney (supplements).
Here are the essentials items that should feature on your shopping list. These are all mostly ‘nutritionally dense’ meaning that they are choca-block full of good nutrition:
- Oats – for breakfast, you can’t go far wrong with oats. The chunkier the better, as these are digested slowly, resulting in a more steady blood sugar level. Oats also have beta glucan, which lowers cholesterol. Dec has porridge every morning: oats, milk, raisins, pureed banana and some sugar provides a high energy mix of slow and fast carbohydrates and some protein from the milk. Perfect for fuelling a morning of intense training.
- Milk – protein, carbohydrate, low fat, calcium for bones and muscle function. Added to tea, coffee, porridge, breakfast cereals and to make rice pudding
- Coffee – because it’s lovely, and as a wake up call in the mornings. Caffeine has been proven to enhance athletic performance, and for reducing the risk of many chronic health conditions eg. Heart disease & Parkinson’s disease.
- Peanut butter – high in protein, energy and good fats. Just don’t go eating the whole jar as it’s very high in calories, and you may turn in to the shape of a rugby ball.
- Eggs – one of the most nutritious foods that you can eat: omega 3 fats, lutein, choline, all the B vitamins, as well as vitamins A, D, E, K, high protein, iron. Health benefits: regulates blood sugar, anti inflammatory, heart, brain, hormone, eye and skin health. Dec usually has eggs in an omelette as a snack, or to make egg fried rice.
- Rice – carbohydrates are very important for fuelling exercise, for recovery, and for the immunity. He has white rice (fast release carbs, but devoid of many other nutrients) or whole grain (higher in fibre, digested more slowly, more filling).
- Chicken – high protein, low fat, and versatile. There are endless ways to use chicken: plain grilled, stir fried, mixed with light mayo and veg in wraps, stuffed with pesto and cheddar cheese. One of the easiest ‘recipes’ is a whole chicken in a slow cooker for 6 hours. By the time I get home from work, there is a perfectly cooked dinner!
- Vegetables – often overlooked in favour of carbohydrates and protein, and served as an after thought with just a spoonful on the plate. Vegetables are absolutely essential to maintain health, providing vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phyto chemicals, fibre etc. all of which simply cannot be bottled or put in a pill. Dec’s staples are broccoli, onions, spring onions, peppers, and carrots – not very adventurous, but that is fine! Fresh, frozen, boiled, steamed, microwaved, stir fried, raw…….just get. them. in!
- Yogurt – we get the high protein ones eg. Total greek yogurt, or Danio. These have double the protein of normal yogurts (greek ‘style’ is not usually higher in protein), so good for muscle repair and maintenance. Yogurt also contains ‘probiotics’ which are good for the digestion and immunity.
- Snack bars – e.g. Eat Natural. I’m not too keen on these as I think they are expensive for what they are (chocolate, rice krispies, nuts, dried fruit and sugar). For some reason he’d rather take these with him as a snack rather than my Seriously Healthy Flapjacks. Weirdo.
Honourable mentions to bagels, nuts, salmon, pasta, Rice Krispies, tinned tuna and tortilla wraps.
For loads of recipes using all of the above ingredients click…….here!