If you think of training as the stimulus, then nutrition and rest is your time to adapt. During the recovery process we actually get stronger, fitter and faster too. We sat down with Emma Storey-Gordon, personal trainer and sports scientist, to talk nutrition and why it’s an integral part of an athletes performance.
Protein is one of three macronutrients - carbs, fats, and protein. Carbs and fats are stored in your body for later. Protein is different. The only store of protein in your body is your muscle mass. We want to ensure we have enough protein in our diet so our body isn’t breaking down its own tissue for essential functions.
How much protein should we eat?
To maintain or build muscle, research suggests eating between 1.6-2.5g of protein per 1kg of bodyweight.
How should I spread protein intake throughout the day?
Splitting protein intake throughout the day, 20-25g per meal, is optimal to stimulate muscle protein synthesis (MPS). MPS can be stimulated by resistance training and protein intake, and effective MPS will lead to muscle growth.
Often people think that the more protein you eat the better. According to research, around 25g of protein saturates muscle protein synthesis rates. Above this amount of protein, the law of diminishing returns comes into play. If you increased protein intake in one meal to 40g, it would only increase muscle protein synthesis by around 10%.
Another misconception is that when maintaining or building muscle, your protein needs are higher. Protein is very important when you are trying to lose body weight. During this time your body is in a catabolic state - this is when you’re breaking down tissue - higher levels of protein will help you maintain lean body mass.
One thing to consider is the environmental cost of your nutrition. If you’re trying to reduce your consumption of animal protein you may need to adjust your protein target or use alternative sources. If you are consuming less animal protein make sure to focus on protein distribution across the day. Some examples of protein sources: 2 eggs (12g P), half a tin of chickpeas (10g P), cod fillet (22g P), 100g tofu (20g P).
Fuelling around your training
As an everyday athlete it’s likely you’re training no more than once a day. If that’s the case you’ll probably eat carbs at some point between sessions. This is important for your body to restock it’s glycogen. Most people will usually eat within an hour before or after training.
If you are an elite level athlete and train 2+ times a day, then nutrient timing becomes much more important. You will need to ensure you’re getting sufficient carbs before and after your training sessions.
This comes down to preference. Research shows that if you train fasted you will burn a higher amount of fat than you will carbohydrates. But if you look at the day as a whole, this is what will dictate how much fat you’ve used, and how many calories you’ve burned. What matters is your energy balance at the end of the day, or even week, more so than whether you trained fasted or not.
Often training fasted is an option because it fits in with your schedule, for example training first thing in the morning. But do remember that if you’re doing an endurance session you’ll be unlikely to perform as well.
----You can find out more about Emma here. She has a nutrition course - EIQ Nutrition - which provides education in a more applied and practical way. She also has a great podcast serving up very actionable content - definitely give it a listen.