This month top nutritionist James Collins helps you assess what’s important to focus on when you’re preparing your body for nutritional success
It’s February and thank goodness we’re passed the yearly circus of “New Year, New You”, followed by tales of ‘detox’. What doesn’t change, however, is the daily media outpouring of conflicting information for quick hits and surreptitious advertising, dressed as balanced journalism.
In this column, I’m going to give you what I give to my elite level performers – the tools to cut through this noise. That way, you can support yourself no matter how demanding your schedule may be or what your goals are.
The key message behind performance nutrition is to eat in a more structured way to get the best out of your body. It promotes a positive food ethos – enjoying a social life, not hibernating – and this is fundamental for improving your body.
The first thing I really stress with my clients is how to think about nutrition and your body. We are exposed to so much information from our friends, partners, personal trainers and other experts, that the answer we’re looking for becomes hazy. I ask you to ask yourself, what do you specifically want to achieve?
Here are the first four stages you need to consider for better understanding of how to shape your nutrition to match your goals.
1. THE GOAL
As soon as there’s a goal, you can structure your nutrition. I encourage clients to be specific about their targets. ‘Get leaner and get rid of body fat’, ‘maintain energy levels during training’ and ‘stay well during travel and demanding work schedules’ are some of the most common, and each requires a different emphasis to a client’s nutrition programme. Decide what your realistic aim is and you’re in the driving seat.
2. THE INDIVIDUAL
Everyone has a very different body and physiology beneath the skin, which determines our metabolism, fat storage, and how we produce energy during our training. Lifestyles are often completely different, too, and can dictate when you eat or train. Gauge your lifestyle, and you’ll understand how flexible you can be with your diet and exercise.
It’s important to get some baseline information before you start a programme. An accurate body composition (measure of body fat and lean mass) is a valuable tool to assess progress (rather than just weight) and as a motivational tool. Also a fitness test, although painful at the start, will highlight your progress.
3. THE ACTIVITY
Is your training programme sufficient? One of the most common problems is a client trying to achieve too much, too soon. Training seven days a week with no recovery will exhaust you after a month. Make time to achieve your goal and plan your training sessions in advance, then commit to them.
Your body requires different types of fuel depending on the different workouts. Altering your diet to suit your levels of activity is crucial. Longer workdays or harder training days require more fuel – that means being clever with carbs, not avoiding them!
4. MIND & BODY
Those who spend time understanding their body and how it responds to different foods always get the most from performance nutrition. There’s a degree of problem solving to find out what suits your body – the static meal plan has become extinct. We hear a lot about planning and preparation – less so about the power of reflection.
I encourage clients to protect 15 minutes each week to do this. My Olympic athletes used to keep a training diary where they would write down how they are feeling each day – energy levels, sleep quality, appetite – as the memory blurs over time. It’s important to look back and really understand when your body has been in sync.
Next month, we will be exploring how to fuel your body for different types of training.
Photo: Tom Watkins