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James Collins // Nutrition

Arsenal's head nutritionist James Collins knows a thing or two about sports nutrition. He gives us some top tips to help you reach your goals

Today, the nutrition industry in the UK is extremely cluttered and confused. From the rise of the food blogger to the online nutrition ‘expert’, everyone is trying to tell (or sell) you the latest diet or supplements.

To cut through this I’d like to provide some insight from elite sport’s perspective, and show how the same science that supports medal-winning performances can be applied to help you reach your fitness goals.

// Be goal-orientated //
First things first, you need to understand what your goal is before shaping the nutrition that’s going to fuel you. For example, the diet to fuel a 75kg competitive triathlete will look very different to that of 55kg female attending exercise classes and looking to stay lean, so it’s vital you understand your training demands. Ask yourself:
– What’s the overall goal? Is it weight loss? Boosting your energy levels? Recovering from high-intensity workouts?
– Does my training plan accommodate my diet?
– Am I training enough to reach my desired results?

Once you have answered these questions you can start to apply nutrition to your training. Some use an outlook diary, where the workout specifics and intensity of exercise are logged, so they can form an overall plan where the level of recovery can be scaled.

Those who know they’re just looking to lose weight will try fasted training (training before breakfast), whereas others who will be completing harder sessions in the gym will understand that they have to eat beforehand.

// Match your body's energy demands //
There is a term called Relative Energy Deficiency (REDS) that is used in sport. This describes how an insufficient energy intake can have negative symptoms on the body physically. The result of low energy levels could mean lowered immunity levels, reduced muscle strength, and increased likelihood of injury.

There are also other common symptoms, which aren’t as obvious – especially on a weight loss diet – such as irritability, decreased concentration and impaired judgement.

If the nutrition is not up to your body’s physical demands, then the negative side effects can be myriad. This is where generic diets need to be refined to match energy expenditure levels. Remember, it’s no good simply having a good-looking body if you’re not able to use it properly!

// Fuel your body with smarter carbs //
So how do you maintain your energy levels? The science around how much carbohydrate the body needs has changed over the past ten years. Previously, many athletes had a high carbohydrate diet and became fat. Now many athletes have swung in the opposite direction and go low carb, which makes them energy deficient. You must find a sensible balance between the two.

Carbohydrate provides the best energy currency for muscle fibres during high intensity training. As a general rule, for your hardest training you need to start ‘fuelled’ if you are to get the most from the session.

Your body has a limited ability to store carbohydrate (in the liver and muscles as glycogen), so it needs to be topped up, little and often. It’s all about that sensible balance – too much causes weight gain and not enough reduces energy levels.

For those with high training volumes, carbohydrate intakes need to match training demands. For those who train just a little, your starting point needs to be a fibrous, nutrient-rich carbohydrate-based meal before heavy/key training sessions (see our meal of the month for example).

You might want to try switching to new grains such as quinoa, buckwheat and pearl barley, too, to see how these nutrient-rich alternatives to pasta can work wonders for your energy levels.


James Collins
Currently head nutritionist for Arsenal, James was also England’s lead nutritionist at the 2014 World Cup, and advised Team GB athletes for the London 2012 Olympic Games and now Rio 2016.
W: jamescollinsnutrition.com
T: @JC_Nutrition

Image: Thinkstock


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