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Fuelling the engine: 6 principles of nutrition for athletes

SuuntoRun — 5 September 2019

We analyzed what our Suunto athletes said about nutrition in our recent article series and found six basic principles.   

When she's not in the mountains, you can find Emelie Forsberg in her garden or preparing delicious meals. © Matti Bernitz

How and what we eat is personal to each one of us. Some of us feel better and more energised by certain foods, while others feel quite differently. Regardless of our personal view, one thing we all have in common is that eating well is essential for top performance.

In our recent article series “Fuelling the engine” we heard from eight athletes and trainers about how they stay fuelled (see the end for the article list). What’s more interesting than their differences, is what they have in common. We’ve combed through and put together six basic principles of nutrition for athletes.

Find your rhythm

Suunto HQ is lucky to have in-house personal trainer and athlete Matias Anthoni walking around the office. He offers training and nutrition advice to whoever is interested. He says improving how often you eat can improve what you eat. Skipping meals is a no-no for dedicated athletes because it causes energy crashes and bad dietary decisions, which result in poor performance. He advises to get into a rhythm of having a healthy meal every three hours.

Get organized

To eat six or more well balanced meals a day demands forward planning. It’s pretty hard, if not impossible, to maintain this if you’re operating on a day-to-day basis. Ryan Sandes, Emelie Forsberg, Mel Hauschildt and Lucy Bartholomew all emphasised the importance of being well organised and planning ahead. They sometimes make extra portions of meals at the beginning of the week to have later in the week when they know they will be busy. Being organised means making sure there are plenty of easy, go-to meal ingredients available, too.

Balanced meals

There are a number of different aspects to having a balanced diet. Ultracycling man Omar di Felice sees it as maintaining a proper balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat, with fatty food being essential for his epic extreme rides above the Arctic Circle every winter. This balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat is what nutrition expert Dr. Rick Kattouf II also drills into his clients. He believes every meal – for dedicated athletes in training – should include this ratio: 50 to 60 % carbohydrates, 15 to 25 % protein, and 15 to 25 % fat. Balance also means eating a variety of foods to make sure you are taking in enough minerals and vitamins. Ski mountaineer Greg Hill tries to have a balance of colors in his meals.

Fresh is best

One thing that came through loud and clear from all our athletes and experts is the importance of eating fresh foods. For Emelie Forsberg and Lucy Bartholomew this means preferably straight out of the earth. As an avid gardener and farmer, Emelie grows and harvests much of what she eats. Lucy, ski mountaineer Greg Hill, Mel and Ryan all try to avoid eating packaged foods, instead choosing foods that are as close to the source of production as possible.

Whole is the goal

Should go without saying: avoid processed food and food with refined sugar. Instead, all our athletes opt for whole foods. Ryan Sandes questioned the idea that recovery shakes could ever replace the nutritional value of whole food. Don't take shortcuts; take the time to eat well. It’s self kindness.

Enjoy yourself

Emelie, Ryan and Greg all said they don’t get uptight about food. Emelie has a relaxed and intuitive approach to food, and Ryan and Greg are happy to allow themselves to enjoy a pizza or a burger each week. Greg cautions not to try to be perfect; aim to make the bulk of what you eat fresh and healthy. “It’s important to enjoy life as well,” Ryan says.

Click below to read articles in our Fuelling the Engine series:

Lead images:

Photo by ja ma on Unsplash

© Craig Kolesky / Red Bull Content Pool