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Eating for training and competition

One of the biggest challenges for endurance athletes at any level can be consuming sufficient calories to support their energy needs.

Training and competition place increased demands for fuel availability on our bodies. Whilst I don't like to dwell on the idea of calories in versus calories out, the realities are that calorie needs can be twice as high or even more in the lead up to an event. At the same time, our stomach can only comfortably hold so much food in a single sitting and it is not uncommon to find training suppresses appetite. Unfortunately, this can leave an athlete in a predicament - needing to consume more food, but struggling to do so.

It's no surprise really, that the consequences can range from fatigue, less effective training to weight loss, weight gain and anywhere inbetween.

The good news though, is that there are techniques that can help train your body to consume more, without forcing food down or relying on bucket loads of sugary foods and supplements. Some of my personal favourites that I recommend include:

  • Eating more frequently: rather than trying to consume enormous meals, try to spread the load over the day. You should easily be able to get up to 6 more manageable sized meals in this way.
  • Drink your calories: If, like me, you find that the absolute last thing you want to do after a training session is eat, then experiment with drinking your calories. There are lots of options available on the market but to be honest, I think the best drink is a smoothie or a milkshake. It will give you a nice hit of protein for recovery and you can keep it nice and simple with your favourite chocolate flavouring (yep, chocolate milk - that old gem) or experiment with adding different fruits of your choice. Just remember, if berries are a favourite of yours, they don't provide you with quite enough carbohydrates compared to other fruits.
  • Match your diet to your training day: You don't need to eat the same amount of food every day, the same way that most people will vary the type, intensity and duration of training each day. So save those bigger food days for your bigger training days so that recovery and training are well supported. You may even find that if you aren't trying to force food down on lighter training days you may still have an increased appetite from the previous day anyway.
  • Go Slow: I'm going to illustrate this one with an example. Yesterday I did back to back training - one session in the morning and another in the afternoon, with only a few hours of recovery inbetween. I was not hungry at all. In fact eating made me feel sick even though I knew I needed to refuel for recovery and I wouldn't make it through my second training session without fuel. So I stopped eating once I felt I couldn't anymore, and I waited, and then when I felt ready I came back and finished my leftovers. It wasn't ideal but it was a compromise, because there's no point if competing stops being fun because I have to do things that make me feel bad.
But how do you even know how much food you should be eating?

I suggest asking yourself these questions:

  1. How do you feel during training?
  2. Are you exhausted between training sessions or feeling like you're getting progressively more exhausted over the week?
  3. How sore are you following a hard session?
  4. Are you losing weight in the lead up to competition?
  5. Are you struggling with body fat percentage?

All of these things can possibly be indicators that something isn't quite 100% and its worth getting a bit of outside help.

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