A Nutritionist’s Dos and Don’ts

Tuesday, February 20th, 2024

Marine LENEHAN, Sports Nutritionist, Massage Therapist & Yoga Teacher

When it comes to nutrition, it is hard to know which road to follow. There is so much information available that it is very easy to get lost. And the truth is, there is no real magical formula. We are all unique, we all function differently by having different needs based on our metabolism, gender, age and training load. But there are some general recommendations that are good for everyone. Here are my top 10 do’s and don’ts.

DOs

1. Eat Wholefoods

There is no better source of energy than whole foods. Of course if you pop a sports gel, you will get an instant energy burst but it’s a quick fix. As an athlete you also need to look at your overall health. Not transformed, wholefoods offer a great range of nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Sports foods are essential to fuel the body and necessary to perform but in the long run they cannot be classified in the healthy foods category. The key as an athlete is finding the balance between sports foods and wholefoods. 

2. Have a breakfast rich in protein

The way you start the day can have a huge impact on your general energy levels for the day. Starting the day with protein will not only keep you fuelled for longer but will optimize your recovery and your training adaptations. 

3. Diversify your protein intake

If I ask you what is a protein source, 90% of you are going to answer “meat” which is a good answer but not the only answer. Protein can be found in fish, eggs, dairy and plants. Plant based protein can be found in tofu, nuts, seeds, beans, pulses and some grains.

4. Eat more carbohydrates

When exercising, especially as a cyclist, you have a strong awareness of your weight. And a lot of us want to drop a few kilos and for that we often cut the carbs to lose weight which is not a healthy strategy in the long run. You are not going to get anywhere with no fuel.

5. Eat at regular hours

The body is a machine that likes eating at regular intervals. Especially recommended if you are trying to manage weight. Eating at regular hours will make you eat less, and less prone to snacking. Meals are designed to fuel your body. By skipping meals, you are not giving your body all the energy it needs to function all day long. This can cause a drop in blood sugar levels, making you more tired and sleepy. By skipping meals consistently, your metabolism slows, making you feel tired and slowing down your training adaptations.

6. Eat slowly and in conscience

Have you ever heard of leptin or ghrelin?

Leptin is the hunger hormone. Ghrelin is the satiety hormone. If you eat too fast, ghrelin won’t have the time to send the signal to the brain to say that you are not hungry any more, causing you to eat more than you should.

7. Optimise your recovery with a whey protein shake

Whey protein is a highly absorbable source of protein rich in essential amino acid’s, branched amino acids optimizing your recovery, muscle and bone health. 

8. Limit your saturated, transformed fat intake

Instead go for healthy fats such as avocados, dark chocolate, whole eggs, fatty fish, nuts (almonds, walnuts), seeds ( chia, flax, hemp), olive oil, full fat yogurt (Greek yogurt), nut butters (peanut, almond, tahini) …

9. Drink at least 2 litres of water a day

Water is very important : 60% of our body is made of water. It helps your body and skin in many ways, including keeping our body hydrated and a healthy digestion. It helps break down the food we eat, which allows the nutrients to be absorbed by the body.

10. Get creative in the kitchen

Don’t just eat rice and eggs, diversify your diet.

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DON'Ts

1. Obsess on calories

Although counting calories can be beneficial towards weight loss and weight management, obsessing over calories can contribute to stress and guilt. Controlling every calorie can cause stress which is counter to a healthy lifestyle. Counting calories can also stop you from eating balanced meals and overlooking the nutritional values of certain high-calorie foods. You should take into account the quality of the calories over the quantity.

2. Consume foods high in added sugars

Bad sugars are hidden everywhere. Many foods we consume have sugar. It is important to be aware of the added sugars in your diet. High consumption of added sugars can contribute to rapid swings in your blood sugar. Stable blood glucose levels are key to a healthy performing body.

3. Eat store bought bread

Bread should be 4 ingredients not 20. Bread is made with flour, water, yeast and sugar or olive oil.

Usually high in added sugars in the form of processed fructose, corn syrup or dextrose, which are just empty calories. Store-bought bread is also often higher in sodium and contains more transformed fats due to margarine and vegetable shortening.

4. Deprive yourself of certain food groups

While it is important to eat balanced meals containing carbohydrates, protein, fats and fiber. It is not necessary to eat all of these in every meal. By making sure that you are eating a balanced daily diet, you will get all the nutrients your body needs throughout the day promoting performance and recovery.  This way of eating can prevent cravings, binge eating, and overeating.

5. Drink store bought juices

They are filled with added sugars and have no vitamins or minerals left in them.

6. Eat meat at every meal

Like I said, meat is a great source of protein but also very high in fat. If you do eat meat, make sure it is lean meat from your local butchers. Avoid store bought meat which is full of additives.

7. Overeat before a workout

You don’t want to slow down your gastric emptying or cause nausea.

8. Forget to eat on the bike

You don’t want to deplete your glycogen stores after every training session. And getting tired out on the bike is not a nice feeling. Carbohydrates are your best friends when it comes to fuelling on the bike. 

9. Eat too much before going to bed

The reason for this is much simpler than you might expect. Eating before bed makes you more likely to gain weight simply because a bedtime snack is an extra meal and, therefore, extra calories.

10. Give up

Healthy eating is a learning process for everyone. If you happen to make a mistake, don’t feel disappointed and continue with choosing junk food over healthy ones. Remember that it’s about small steps that will accumulate into what truly matters, your health.