If you want to get the most out of your training – and perform at your highest level – taking your nutrition seriously is key. But when presented with all sorts of nutrition strategies – and products – it can be hard to know what you’re supposed to be putting into your body. Kevin Currell, head of performance nutrition at the English Institute of Sport, recommends keeping things as simple and natural as possible. Working with the Great Britain Triathlon team for over six years and in the lead up to the Rio Olympics this year, Currell is well-versed on the foods that are – and aren’t – needed to see athletes performing at their natural best. We caught up with Currell on nutrition for long-distance training.
Before heading out for a long run, what breakfast would you recommend?
This would depend on your experience level. If you’re new to running, then for a long run look to have a carbohydrate-based meal, maybe a bowl of porridge or a bagel a couple of hours before you head out. If you’re experienced, you might want to think about doing your long run with minimal food, maybe fasted as this will enhance the adaptation to that run.
What are your views on taking supplements compared to natural food before, during and after training?
Food is incredible, it keeps you healthy, helps facilitate adaptation to training and can help you go faster. For the vast majority of people, food is all you need; a pint of milk after training is almost the perfect recovery shake. There will be times when a supplement might be appropriate, to correct a nutrient deficiency, for convenience or just because that is what is needed to perform. For instance, if you’re doing a marathon, you know sugar is going to help you go faster during the race, in theory a banana will provide this, it’s just not as practical as a gel.
What is your advice for adapting your diet in the weeks before a race?
Certainly don’t try anything new at this point. I think having a plan that fits around your life and the logistics of the race is key. If you’re doing a marathon then increasing carbohydrate intake to 8-10g/kg of body weight for a couple of days before the event will help you go faster.
What foods would you suggest for post-exercise nutrition?
You need carbohydrates to replace the fuel you have burnt during exercise – around 1g/kg of body weight. You also need protein to repair the damage done to muscles, aiming for around 0.3g per kg of body weight, and fluid to replace what you have lost through sweating, aiming to replace 150% of the weight you lost during the run. A pint of milk and a banana will do for most people. Or there are plenty of good recovery drinks available.
Would you recommend taking any sports nutrition products while training or racing?
Science tells us that sugar helps us to go faster during endurance events. Aim to take on board 60g per hour of carbohydrate during your run/event. Make sure you practice with whatever drinks and gels you use before the race.
What is your best nutrition advice for vegetarians training for a long-distance race?
The two nutrients which are key for performance, but difficult for vegetarians to take on, are protein and iron. As with any athlete, make sure you have protein in all meals, looking for nuts, seeds, pulses etc. In terms of iron, if you’re a serious athlete, I would suggest seeing your GP and getting a blood test done to regularly check your iron stores.
Are there any foods you would try to avoid?
Very few really. Fatty food before you train is likely to upset your stomach. Personally, I believe the less processed the food the better, so get in the kitchen and get cooking!
Whole Earth has been the official nut butter supplier to The British Triathlon Federation since 2014. Whole Earth Peanut Butter is a natural source of protein and fibre, helping to repair muscles after exercise. For more information about the British Triathlon Federation and Whole Earth please visit: http://wholeearthfoods.com/