One of the first questions people ask me when they find out I am a professional athlete is “So, do you follow a special diet”. Whenever I hear this question, I let out a big sigh in my head, because I know that I am going to have to spend the next ten minutes explaining my diet to them. Which isn’t necessarily a problem, I enjoy talking about nutrition, and it just gets repetitive. Athletes in general are always looking at ways to increase their individual performance, particularly in the run up to London, and so interest in sports nutrition has increased dramatically. So I thought it might be a good idea to show what I do. Remember, what works for me, might not work for everyone else.
I start off by setting some basic guidelines for myself. These are:
1) Diet is the most important. Before even considering supplements, my diet has to contain the correct amounts and ratios of macronutrients for me. It also has to contain other health giving foods.
2) Once diet is correctly in place, I have to think about what I term “general supplements”. These are supplements such as vitamin tablets, which are necessary for complete health.
3) Once I know that I am getting all the health benefits from my diet, I can then look at adding sports specific supplements to improve my performance.
So, lets start by talking about diet. For me and my goals, I have to make sure that I keep my body fat levels low, whilst maintaining or increasing muscle mass. At the start of my winter training, I am probably around about 12% body fat. My first goal is to get this down to around 7.5% by Christmas. The next step after that is to maintain this level of body fat throughout the competition season. To achieve this, I usually go for a low-carbohydrate diet approach, probably around about 3.5g of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight, so for me that is around 300g per day. I get this mostly in the form of low-GI carbohydrates, except directly after training. The low GI carbs that I base most of my diet around are porridge oats, fruits, wholemeal pitta bread, and sweet potato. Low-GI carbohydrates are useful as they disrupt blood sugar levels less than high sugar forms of carbohydrate.
I also try to include as many “healthy” foods in my diet as possible. This is to increase my exposure to phytochemicals, which are naturally occurring substances on foods that are good for health. This means eating a large variety of fruit and vegetables. I either eat these raw, or steamed, in order to preserve the natural substances. It is also important to eat a large amount of vegetables as these are mostly alkaline, and help offset the acidic effect of proteins.
Protein also plays a large part in my diet. It is important for growth and repair, as well as hormonal reasons. I try to get my protein in the form of low-fat produce, which I mostly eggs, chicken, fish, lean cuts of beef, and various protein powders. I try to eat at least one serving of fish every day, due to the health benefits of fish oils. I get quite a lot of my daily fat intake from these fish oils, along with various nuts that I snack on throughout the day.
I have recently switched to buying organic milk, as opposed to normal milk. I did this in an effort to reduce the levels of synthetic hormones and antibiotics that I was taking in from my diet. Where cost allows, I make an effort to buy other organic products, especially when it comes to meats and eggs.
The composition of my meals is as follows: 1 x protein source (this is around 30g of pure protein, i.e. 200g chicken or 150g beef), 1 x carb source (this is somewhere between 30g and 60g of carbs, e.g. 40g porridge, 100g sweet potato) plus “free foods” (vegetables, low-calorie fruits, etc.). I also have three snacks per day, which might be something simple like a protein shake, or a bit more substantial like fruit and a yoghurt.
If you are looking for further information on this subject, Patrick Holford's book “The Optimum Nutrition Bible” is very good, and has been a big influence on how I set up my diet. If you have any questions, please post them in the reply section and I will try to answer them all.
Part 2 of this blog will look at the general supplements that I take. Part 3 will look at the sport specific supplements, and Part 4 will put everything together, and I will show you my diet plan. Part 5 will look at special circumstances, such as race day nutrition, and areas where I want to experiment with my diet further.