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Back to training after lockdown? A sports nutritionist shares her advice

The fuel we put into our bodies goes a long way in getting the most out of physical activity, says Kate McDaid.

Image: Shutterstock/Potential Filmmaker

AS A SPORTS nutritionist, I watched and listened with interest to one of the common threads from lockdown emerged: people talking about their nutrition and fitness regimes, or lack thereof.

Whether trialing banana bread recipes, or running marathons in their back gardens, lots of us found solace in movement and the food we ate.

Did you go hell for leather with your fitness for the first few weeks, slowly but surely taking your foot off that pedal as the uncertainty that Covid-19 brought started to take a toll on your best efforts?

Or maybe you became more active and have stuck with it – I salute you!

For a lot of us, with some restrictions lifting, sport resuming (even behind closed doors) and gyms opening, it means that our activity levels are going to increase.

So, are you now training more? Are you training harder and for longer? Here are a few nutritional tips that will help you to get the most out of those sessions.

Understanding what you are putting your body through will help you to make informed and conscientious decisions around your diet so you can actually enjoy the exercise you do.

Energy intake and training demands

Fueling our bodies appropriately is crucial. I cannot stress this enough.

Firstly, recognising that before we ever exercise, our body needs energy, in the form of calories to keep us alive, to keep our heart beating, our brain working for example.

When it comes to these requirements, it’s important to remember that we are all different. Different shapes, sizes, heights, and with different responsibilities and lifestyles.

Taking this into account, you need to recognise that any additional exercise you do means your body is burning more fuel which needs to be accounted for in your diet for you to function optimally.

The more exercise you do, the more energy i.e. food, you’ll need. How much more will depend on how active you are.

If you’re looking for specifics, there are many calorie calculation tools online. It is important to note that these only provide estimations and your targets may need to be tweaked.

Are you hydrated?

Hydration. This is an easy win. Water makes up 40-75% of our total body mass, so you can imagine how important it is for our body’s daily functions.

Arrive to your session hydrated your session will be easier, I promise you.

Being dehydrated by as little as 2% can make your training feel harder than it should, it can impair your focus, your skills, and your decision making.

You may even experience a headache, and the list goes on.

One really easy way to know if you’re starting your session hydrated is if your urine is a pale, yellow-to-clear in colour. Yep, it’s as easy as that.

It can of course change over the course of the day, but by and large this is a safe marker to use.

You could also multiply your body weight (kg) by 35ml. That should give you a good idea of the amount of fluid your body requires on a day to day basis.  

Drinking water is the most efficient way to stay hydrated on a daily basis, but you can also get fluid in through tea and coffee (not including an espresso unfortunately), fruit, vegetables, soup, and smoothies.

If you struggle to drink water, try adding some no added sugar squash to it or some sliced lemon/ lime to make it more palatable.

Hydration is also an important part of recovery. When we work out, we sweat, losing fluid which in turns need to be replenished.

Similar to energy intake, the more we exercise or are active, our fluid requirements may increase.

When and what are you eating before training?

The timing of your meals is something that can make you a lot more comfortable when training.

Recommendations as to what this timing looks like varies anywhere between 2-4 hours, ultimately coming down to what works best for you.

Remember you’re an individual. To figure out what that looks like for you, is a case of trial and error.

What this meal should consist of, you’ll be happy to hear, is a little more straightforward.

You want it to contain some protein, which supports our muscles and some carbohydrates which will fuel our sessions.

It’s usually a good idea to opt for foods that aren’t creamy, spicy, fried or high in fibre or fat as these can all cause some stomach discomfort.

Some ideas include lean mince Bolognese and baked potato or chicken stir-fry and rice. Again, try out a few things and take note of what worked and what didn’t.

When and what are you eating after training?

Pre and post-training meals can actually be very similar, however, you’re looking to eat a little sooner after your session, aiming to get your meal in within an hour after finishing.

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Remember, fluid intake is an important part of recovery so that shouldn’t be forgotten about.

Protein is essential here too because it helps us adapt and ultimately get fitter, faster and stronger. It also alleviates some of the muscle soreness you may experience. It is essential to your recovery.

The importance of carbohydrates post-training, on the other hand, really depends on when your next training session is.

If you have training again in less than 8 hours, absolutely get those carbohydrates in your post-training recovery meal. If not, you can omit them.

Take into account your energy needs to make the most appropriate decision for you.

If you’re finishing your session and it’s rather late, opting for something like milk, protein milk or whey could be a nice way to support recovery if your appetite isn’t there before bed.

Day to day

Our day to day nutrition is also a really important part of the puzzle.

Looking after your health will compliment your training efforts. This can look different for everyone, but good principles include getting some fruit and veggies in, including protein in your main meals and getting a variety of other nutrient-dense foods daily.

We can still enjoy less nutritious foods of course, we just don’t want them to be the backbone of our diet.

Other lifestyle factors like stress management, menstrual cycle, and sleep will have an impact too, but that’s for another day!

Lockdown has emphasised the importance of our wellbeing both mentally and physically.

Helping yourself get the most from your training helps you to reap its rewards in both of those areas.

Here are some nutrient-dense sources of protein, carbohydrates and fats that you should look to include in your diet which will help you to implement the points above.

  • Animal-based protein sources: Fish, poultry, meat (lean, high-quality cuts), dairy, eggs
  • Plant-based protein sources: Seitan, tofu, lentils, beans, tempeh, Quorn
  • Carbohydrates: Basmati/ brown rice, couscous, legumes, oats, fruit, vegetables, buckwheat, white/ sweet potatoes
  • Fat: Avocado, nuts, seeds, full-fat dairy, oily fish, olive oil

Kate McDaid is a health and performance nutritionist who runs a nutrition consultancy called NutriKate. Visit or @NutriKate_com on Instagram for more information.



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