Lessons in badassery - Fuel Like An Athlete: 4 Basic Nutritional Mistakes to Avoid

Photo Credit: Quino Al

Want to improve your endurance sport performance and put an end to delicate race day stomachs into the bargain? It could be as simple as avoiding some basic nutritional mistakes, says sports nutritionist, Kasra Ghaharian. Here’s what you need to know…

Ever thrown yourself into a brand new eating routine a few weeks before an event? Or perhaps you’ve scoured online articles to find the energy gel your sporting hero uses, only to use it for the first time on race day? Chances are, things didn’t go entirely to plan.

“The foundations of sports nutrition are actually rather simple, but it’s amazing how many people don’t get even the basics right,” says Kasra Ghaharian, who has worked with elite athletes across a plethora of endurance sports as part of his role in Will Girling’s team of sports nutritionists. “Many people jump into complex nutritional routines they’ve heard their favourite pros practice, thinking this will boost their performance. But it’s important to remember that these pros often have huge support staff behind them who ensure these strategies are employed correctly.”

Aside from this, “For the aspiring marathoner, beginner triathlete, or weekend cycling warrior, getting the basics right is far more beneficial,” says Kasra, who shares his tips for avoiding the most common nutritional mistakes that novice endurance enthusiasts make.

Fuel Like An Athlete: 4 Basic Nutritional Mistakes to Avoid
Photo Credit: Daniel Llorente

Mistake #1: Your supplements aren’t supplemental
Hoping to ride out a shabby diet with supplements or find yourself reliant on protein shakes to manage a protein drought in your diet? These performance-related scenarios are all too familiar to Kasra. “People often reach for a supplement first before considering real food, thinking it’s superior,” he says. “The clue is in the name, they should be a supplement to your diet, not a staple part of it.”

Kasra suggests picturing a pyramid split into four layers, each representing a fundamental element of sport nutrition according to its importance, with the bottom layer being the most important. “The base would be the total amount of food, above that the type of food, on top of that the timing of nutrition and, finally, the small peak at the top would be supplements. Only when you have the ‘three Ts’ mastered should you consider supplements.”

Bottom line? Don’t rely on supplements to fill the gaps. Your body needs real food to function optimally, particularly during endurance sports, so don’t sell it short.

Lessons in badassery - Fuel Like An Athlete: 4 Basic Nutritional Mistakes to Avoid
Photo Credit: Juan Jose Valencia Atia

Mistake #2: You don’t practice ‘race-day nutrition’ during training
So focused on your training that suddenly you find yourself on the eve of race day, grabbing the closest gel to hand? We all know how this one goes. “You can’t expect your gut to automatically be prepared come race day for nutrition recommendations you looked up online a few days before,” says Kasra. “You prepare your body and muscles for your event, so don’t forget your stomach.”

Embarking on a serious endurance event without having practiced your race fuelling is like playing Russian roulette with your performance – and your insides. Even elite athletes sometimes find they can only tolerate one type of energy source when racing, so come prepared by building your race nutrition run-throughs into training, allowing plenty of time to spare. “I advise my athletes to practice their during-race nutrition strategies in training so we can find out what works best for them, and ensure they are prepared come race day,” Kasra says.

Lessons in badassery - Fuel Like An Athlete: 4 Basic Nutritional Mistakes to Avoid
Photo Credit: Quino Al

Mistake #3: Loading with the ‘wrong’ carbs
As an extension of mistake #2, it’s not wise to expect your stomach to be happy when you suddenly feed it 700g of carbohydrates the day before your race. “In addition to practicing a carb-load strategy in advance, you need to make sure you’re executing it properly,” warns Kasra. “The type of food is important – it can be hard to eat the amount of carbohydrate required, but choosing denser foods and drinks can help you hit targets.”

Kasra recommends his athletes take on a carbohydrate drink such as fruit juice with each meal the day before a race. “I also get them to add higher GI choices like honey to their meals. Using this strategy allows them to hit their carbs without their stomach almost exploding from having to eat bowls and bowls of rice and pasta the night before.”

Kasra’s tip: Decreasing your fibre intake while carb-loading in the days leading up to your race can further reduce the risk of stomach discomfort and GI issues.

Lessons in badassery - Fuel Like An Athlete: 4 Basic Nutritional Mistakes to Avoid
Photo Credit: Chuttersnap

Mistake #4: You start ‘eating clean’ close to race day
So you’re on a high with your training but suddenly you panic about how your diet looks in comparison – cue a ‘clean eating’ overhaul. Often at the expense of calories and carbs. “For most people ‘clean eating’ might be some fruit at breakfast, a salad at lunch, and then a filet of fish with some broccoli for dinner. These are good quality food choices, but they drastically reduce your calories,” says Kasra. “You need calories to train, to recover, and to perform.”

Add to this that carbohydrates often get side-lined completely in this eating approach and you might find yourself rundown come race day. Reducing carbs “can lead to a whole host of problems that can wreak havoc on event preparation, such as an inability to sustain training intensity and a depressed immune system, which can lead to illness,” Kasra warns.

Guilty of one or more of these mistakes? Don’t panic. “They’re all easy to rectify if you get as organised with your food as you are with your training,” says Kasra. The bonus? The only way is up with your performance. And that’s one less thing to worry about come race day.

You can follow Kaz on www.instagram.com/nutritionbykaz. For more nutritional advice from Kaz and the team at Will Girling visit www.willgirling.com/kasra-ghaharian or email Kaz on kasra.ghaharian@gmail.com.