Last time we talked about some very general basic nutritional guidelines for the average newbie who is looking to lose a little weight and feel better throughout the day. You can find that post here. If you aren’t doing the basics, refer back and get on board. The biggest mistake a lot of athletes make in the intermediate stage is trying out exotic nutritional strategies because famous athlete X does it and it works for them. The basics are the basics for everyone. No supplement that you can buy over the counter is going to make up for not sleeping, eating poorly, and not giving yourself time to recover from workouts.
With that public service announcement taken care of, let’s move on to the topic for today. How would a hard-charging, fire-breathing athlete get an edge on the competition through nutrition? We’re assuming you’re already eating enough protein, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats. (As an aside: you should probably know your rough daily macros already if you’re serious about competing. You track your workouts meticulously and in some cases they might be less important than your food.) So now that we’ve taken care of the basic ground work, let’s get a little more nuanced.
When are you eating your food?
Nutrient timing can provide a noticeable boost to athletes, especially athletes who train multiple times a day at high intensity. Carbohydrates are generally your main source of fuel for high intensity training and the main point of this article. You have probably experienced the drag of running out of juice mid workout and then went for a higher dose of pre-workout the next training day. You can only do that so many times before you start to warp the space-time continuum with a 4 scoop day that gets adapted to film with Charlie Sheen cast as you.
Generally speaking, I like to partition carbs closer to and fats further away from the training window. Carbs are available for quick energy, while fats tend to slow gastric emptying a little bit and are a little slower to break down into fuel for training. You will also rehydrate post exercise a lot better since for each gram of carbs your body stores it will also hold 3-4g of water. Remember, we’re not talking walking across a bodybuilding stage here. You need that water to keep functioning as an athlete, so rehydrating post exercise is key to having a great performance tomorrow.
This also means that if I’m not training, I can eat less carbs. You don’t stand at the pump at the gas station and spray an extra 5 gallons of gas on the ground when you finish filling up the tank of your car. Don’t do that to your body either. Save the energy for when you need it. Some people will say things like, “you have to earn your carbs.” While I get the sentiment, I don’t love the underlying message that you have to kill yourself for food. Just do what makes sense and don’t overthink it.
For the athlete who is training 2x a day with 1 lifting session and 1 metcon session, you don’t need as much food as you think. A starting guideline could be on days off you eat about .5-.75g of carbs per pound of body weight. On days as described above with some lifting and a metcon we go from 1-1.5g of carbs per pound. If you’re really doing 2 marathon training sessions a day, you could be as high as 3g of carbs per pound of body weight. At the higher levels of carb intake, the challenge becomes how to actually get all of the carbs in while still being able to train. It’s agonizingly uncomfortable to eat 300g of carbs in rice, and that’s only 1.5g for a 200lb athlete. Start on the low end of the recommendation and see how you feel. Are you bloated or putting on fat? Your estimate of how much work you’re doing was probably a little high. Do you feel incredible? Great! Don’t monkey with it anymore. Leave it alone and focus on other things, like your kids and paying your mortgage.
Remember, if you’re not doing the basics, nutrient timing is the least of your worries. However, if you’re doing a pretty good job of eating enough protein, sleeping enough, and drinking enough water, it might be a helpful next step to improving your performance. Give it a try and let me know how it goes!
If this article was super helpful to you and it gets you to the games, remember me and let everyone know. If it’s still confusing, and you’re not sure what you should be doing (or even what carbs are), please get in touch with me! Having a coach who is a teacher makes the process much smoother and helps to avoid some common mistakes that cost valuable time and money. You can find me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on instagram.
When he’s not asking why or saying it depends, Brandon is trying to pick up progressively heavier things and recording the disruptivecast, a strength and conditioning podcast. He loves working with athletes 1 on 1 to teach and correct movement, helping them do things they didn’t even know were possible. Brandon is a Precision Nutrition certified nutrition coach who serves clients with a light touch understanding that making big life changes is tough and having someone in your corner makes a huge difference.