January 18, 2021

When pools are closed, our schedules are changed and our training changes too, so how do we adapt our fuelling to reflect this?

In our Stay In Stay Well series, Laura Mahony, a Performance Nutritionist at the Sport Ireland Institute, shared how she helped our top athletes during the first lockdown in 2020, and what they learned about the new needs of aquatic athletes confined to dryland.

You can watch or listen to this episode on YouTube – or scroll down for some of the key points

What can good nutrition do for you?

Before we dive into adapting our nutrition for life without pools to train in, it’s important to stress just why we should spend so much time learning how to fuel properly.

  • It allows you to train harder, therefore adapt and become stronger.
  • It keeps your immune system fuelled, thereby reducing your risk of illness.
  • It improves your recovery in-between sessions thereby reducing risk of injury.

What does good nutrition look like?

There are seven key factors to getting your nutrition right, and all are of equal importance, because they do not work independently. Each factor is a link in the chain to good fuelling, so if one is broken, there’s a knock-on effect.

So, here’s what you need to keep your body running at optimum levels:

  • Protein to help muscles grow
  • Carbohydrates to help fuel your body for your training
  • Water to keep your body hydrated
  • Calcium to help your bones grow strong
  • Fruit and Veg to provide vitamins and antioxidants to help body recover from training
  • Fibre to keep your gut healthy
  • Sleep

What lowers immunity?

Even in times outside of a pandemic, it is hugely important for us to maintain our immune systems properly. Think about it this way: whenever we are sick, we lose training time. These are set-backs we can take action to avoid.

The six key factors that lower are immunity are:

  • Heavy exercise
  • Nutritional deficits
  • Life stress
  • Sleep disruption
  • Environmental extremes
  • Long-haul travel

The first four are very much in our control, and the latter two do not apply to us at the moment. Whilst heavy exercise and life stress could well be occurring for you right now, the two factors we will focus on here are sleep disruption and nutritional deficits.

Where can deficits arise?

Fuelling – Not having enough fuel, or enough of the right fuel means you have a fuelling deficit. It’s key at this time to make sure you are looking at your schedule and adapting your fuel depending on what your training volume and intensity is.

Hydration – Yes, it is vital for concentration, but also for your immune system.

Recovery – You might actually put enough food in, but you might not be putting it in at the right time. Having your timing right and the type of food right is essential, along with sleep. When we talk about our four Rs of recovery, Rest, Rehydrate, Refuel and Repair, sleep is often forgotten as the best form of rest.

Be guided by The Athlete’s Plates

The tool I probably use the most to help athletes get the right fuel at the right time is The Athlete’s Plates. These are a visual tool, which get you thinking about exactly what each plate of food should look like, depending on your training load at the time.

All three have the same components – whole grains, protein, fruit and veg – the one thing that changes depending on your training is going to be your carbohydrates and your fats.

(Click titles to see image)

Easy Training Plate

Moderate Training Plate

Hard Training / Race Day Plate

Taking these training plates as a guide, here is the concept applied to breakfast.

Breakfast example:

Easy plate – Omelette with toast

Moderate plate – large porridge bowl + banana + honey + yogurt

Hard plate – 2x toast, glass OJ, bowl of porridge with honey and banana

Stick to these fuelling rules

So we have our training plate guides to help us build our meals, but there are some important rules to stick to, which are especially important during this period where pools are closed and our training is dramatically altered.

  • Plan meals around your schedule to make sure you have the right fuel at the right time. Avoid boredom eating!
  • Keep to usual routine – breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • Keep all food groups in your diet, but be smart. Reduce portions and number of snacks using smaller plates may help
  • Protein at each meal – include 20-30g of protein at every meal to keep you fuller for longer and help maintain your lean mass
  • Fibre at each meal – include fibre rich foods at each meal like wholegrain bread, brown rice, pasta, oats, along with your fruits and veg to maintain fullness and a healthy digestive system

But what about Hydration?

Your hydration needs will vary based on your size and what training you are doing, but there is a simple formula to calculate what you need:

Basic needs = 35ml fluid per KG body weight

For example 60kg athlete needs 2.1L baseline fluid intake. That’s baseline, because every training session will be extra on top of that. A training session could be up to about 750ml extra.

Work this out for yourself. Add up all the liquids you drank today – have you reached your minimum target?

Avoiding Sleep Deficits

Without sleep, our body doesn’t work properly, regardless of what we have eaten and drank, so this needs just as much consideration as nutrition. Optimum sleep for adults is an average of 8hrs, but teenagers and school-children could need up to 11hrs.

Follow this checklist each evening to help achieve that:

  • Phone out of bedroom at night time
  • Routine is key – stick to same bed time and wake time
  • Avoid all caffeine after 2pm
  • Avoid all screens for 1hr before bed
  • Time your fluid intake so you are not getting up during the night to go to the bathroom

You can find out loads more about sleep hygiene via Are You Sleeping Okay? written by Swim Ireland Associate Head of Performance Services (Applied), Dr Cormac Powell.

And to watch or listen to Laura Mahony’s full Stay In Stay Well series webinar, head to Swim Ireland YouTube.