Eat like an athlete

George Morgan is the nutritionist at Saracens RFC and responsible for all aspects of the professional players’ nutritional needs. Here’s how the elites eat, both to perform at their potential and to enhance the recovery process, so you can follow their strategies and approaches to move closer towards your health and fitness goal

1 Nail your nutrition
“Nutrition is one of the biggest and most important parts of the recovery process because when you’re training hard your body needs a good intake of high-quality protein and a good variety of different coloured fruits and vegetables to get all the nutrients it needs to kickstart the recovery process so you recover quickly to come back fitter,” says Morgan.

“Carbohydrates are an important part of the players nutrition strategy, especially around really tough training sessions and game days, because they fuel intense exercise and we need the players to have high energy to perform at their maximum. Pasta, rice, sweet potatoes, are the kind of carbs we give the guys so their muscle stores are full of energy to keep working hard.”

Perform like a pro: If you’re training hard you need to eat smart. Make sure most meals contain a decent serving of high-quality lean protein, carbohydrate and plenty of different vegetables to give your body more of the essential vitamins and minerals it needs to recover effectively. Also, keep a diary of what you eat and record how you performed and how you felt after each session. Getting some insight and feedback into your diet and how it helps or hinders performance is a huge step in making smarter food and supplement decisions to give your body more of the nutrients it needs, and less of the ones it doesn’t, to help you perform at your best.

2 Cycle your energy intake
“At Saracens players prioritise carbohydrates on harder training days to match their energy expenditure,” says Morgan. “This results in a higher daily calorie intake on these days to fuel their activity. On more intense training days the energy requirement of the players increases and these needs must be met by the food provided, and vice versa for low activity days. We advise the players to include carbohydrates with all meals and snacks on the day before the game. This allows them to arrive at game day fuelled up with energy stores only needing to be topped up during breakfast and their pre-match meal. Players appetites on game day may be lower than usual as they are focused on their job, so fuelling early reduces any risks of under-fuelling.

Perform like a pro: If reducing body fat is your main aim then eating in an energy deficit is vital. One way to do this is periodising your carbohydrate intake around your tough training sessions. Eat the majority of your daily carbohydrate requirements in your pre and post training meals, while the rest of your daily meals are high in protein, vegetables and fat. Then on low activity days lowering carbohydrate to match this activity and increasing protein. . However, remember that an energy deficit is key to facilitate fat loss so you must be aware of your total energy intake and eat below this. If you wish to maintain body composition (muscle and body fat levels) it is important you match your energy intake to your expenditure.

3 Eat smarter before your session
“We keep food simple and familiar on game day, favouring low-fat lean protein sources like chicken and simple-to-digest carbohydrate sources such as white rice or sweet potato,” says Morgan. “The reason behind this is to minimise any stomach issues associated with slow digestion. Foods too high in fat or fibre can slow digestion and increase the risk of stomach cramps when the players start playing. Food is as appetising as possible but on game day it is about preparing the players to perform rather than satisfying cravings. Spicy food is usually avoided due to tastes and potential effects on digestion. Pre-match meals are an important part of athlete preparation to go out and perform, which makes them one of the most important times of the week. We serve meals about four hours before kick off to allow time for digestion.”

Perform like a pro: Remember, the fuelling up process begins up to 24 hours before the start of a game, race or event. It is advisable to increase carbohydrate foods in meals and snacks in this period to maximise energy stores to perform. Protein has an important role for muscle repair, and it is better to choose lean sources that are easy to digest. The most important advice pre-event is to keep food choices and routines familiar, such as meal timing to keep your preparation as consistent as possible. If your approach is working for you, stick to it!

4 Fuel your recovery
“In the build-up to the game, about one hour before kick-off, we will give the players Optimum Nutrition’s Amino Energy which is a caffeinated supplement which that we use,” says Morgan. “Caffeine pre-exercise can increase feelings of alertness and reduce feelings of perceived effort. This can improve focus and is an important part of the build up to the game. We encourage the players to remain well hydrated by having plenty of water available in the changing rooms and encouraging the players to drink regularly. As soon as the game has finished the recovery process begins. On leaving the field we give the players a protein shake containing Optimum Nutrition’s Gold Standard 100% Whey protein and a carbohydrate source, such as milk, blended bananas or other fruits, to begin the repairing and refuelling process. We also ensure the players have access to water and an electrolyte-containing sports drinks to rehydrate effectively. Once the players have finished their post-match duties we provide a meal, such as beef burritos or Cajun chicken burgers with baked potato wedges to continue the recovery process to offer a bit of reward for all the effort of the game. The food intake post-game is very important as the players will need to recovery well to train and play at sessions the following week.”

Perform like a pro: Coming into matches well hydrated and fully fuelled are key to maximising performance. On top of proper food-based nutrition a dose of caffeine 15-30 minutes before the start of the event or session may improve your performance. It is ideal to begin the repairing, refuelling and rehydration process as soon after finishing your workout as possible.

Recovery is the Ultimate Preparation.

If you are in training for a Human Race event you can avail of an exclusive 20% off Optimum Nutrition’s GOLD STANDARD RECOVERY PACK containing Gold Standard 100% Whey and Gold Standard BCAA Train + Sustain and a free shaker. Simply use code HR20 at check out on all purchases.