As you go through your training program and your goals start to change, your food choices should change as well. Losing weight and building muscle obviously require different diets, as in one case you are burning more than you eat while in the other you are trying to gain mass. However, what kind of training you do, and your goals will also impact your diet.
When people first start training, it is often out of a desire to lose weight. A big mistake that many people make is trying to radically change their dietary habits immediately, which almost always proves unrealistic and unsustainable. Immediately swapping to a high protein, low carb diet is much harder than it sounds, and people tend to be a lot more successful if they gradually change their habits.
For example, lets assume you eat 21 meals a week. If 14 of those could be classified as high in carbs (for example a footlong sub) then you could try to bring this number down by 1 or 2 each week, rather than trying to halve or eliminate your carbie meals in one go. Simply replacing one extra meal with a low carb, high protein dish like this zucchini and parmesan topped chicken is more likely to lead to a long-term habit than trying to do everything at once – and really, when you are making a change that you hope will last forever, you have the time to ease into it.
The logic behind changing up your diet this way is the same as working towards your fitness goals. If your aim is to complete a marathon, for example, you wouldn’t expect to run 42 kilometres in your first week! You would gradually increase how far you run until you can do the full run through.
The other main reason people get into training is to build muscle (plenty of people want to both lose weight and build muscle, but it’s most effective to focus on one at a time). Building muscle requires you to increase your energy intake quite substantially, as you are trying to gain weight while training a lot at the same time.
However, just eating a lot of sugar or junk food will not be particularly effective in building muscle. You need to make sure that you are eating the right kinds of foods to get stronger – complex carbohydrates and plenty of protein.
When you want to up your energy intake without just eating empty calories, wholegrains are your friend. Wholegrain breads, pasta and rice will provide your body with longer lasting energy than the refined versions of all these staples, as well as more fibre and other essential nutrients.
Luckily, people typically find it a lot easier to eat more than to eat less! Carbohydrate-heavy meals are also very easy to prepare – after all, these foods are the staples of traditional diets for a reason. You need to make sure that your protein intake remains high as well, and it is best to eat clean, whole proteins (typically sourced from meats). If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you will need to take care to get enough of the right proteins.
Preparing for an event
If you have a specific event in the next few days – a race, a big game, a competition etc. – then you need to make sure you eat the right foods to prepare for it. When you are exercising, your body burns carbs, fats and proteins (in that order) for energy, with carbs being the most efficient source and protein the least.
This means that you want to make sure that your body has enough carbs to carry you through, as that will give you optimal performance and the best source of energy. That doesn’t give you carte blanche to eat whatever you want though – you need to eat for the event you have on.
For a long distance or high intensity event that lasts a while (think marathon running, tennis and boxing) you can go nuts on the carb loading in the short term. For a sports match like football or rugby, you should eat close to your normal diet, but maybe beef up the protein the night before your game (or the morning of if you play at night). Have some extra bread a few hours before the game and a piece of fruit an hour before you play.
For shorter events, what you eat in the immediate lead up to the event has less of an impact – Usain Bolt famously ate 100 McDonalds chicken nuggets a day at the Beijing Olympics. Subsequently, he broke three world records in sprinting. However, if you aren’t a freak of nature like Bolt, then you will probably want to eat small meals so that you have energy without being weighed down.