Eating well is essential for athletes. The bigger your goal, the more nutrition has to play a central part of your training plan. Take shortcuts on how you eat, and you’ll eventually pay for it.
But the topic of diet, what we should and shouldn’t eat, has become touchy and confusing. There are all sorts of diets out there – paleolithic, vegan, gluten-free, low carb, high carb – each one with advocates claiming their way is the one true way.
Matias Anthoni prefers a common sense approach to nutrition.
“Nowadays it’s become a big topic, and everyone has his or her own opinion, and it seems hard to find the real truth,” says Matias Anthoni, Suunto’s in-house personal trainer. “It’s become trendy to follow a kind of diet.”
Anthoni, 26, has a Bachelor in Sports and Health Promotion, and gives nutritional advice to Suunto employees, as well as personal fitness training. He takes a simple, “nonsectarian” approach to nutrition, rather than buying into the hype of one diet over another.
“As long as you get the nutrients it doesn’t really matter what diet you follow,” he says. “You can teach your body to thrive on different diets. The body is quite adaptable. But we do need certain basics. The question I always ask is, would my grandma recognize it as food?”
Here are Anthoni’s five down-to-earth tips for good nutrition:
1. Start with your meal rhythm
This is the first topic Anthoni’s raises with his clients during a consultation. Just improving how often you eat can improve what you eat. Many of his clients skip meals or have long breaks between meals; this results in blood sugar levels dropping, then tiredness, and then cravings and impulses for unhealthy snacks.“With a more steady meal rhythm you avoid big spikes in the blood levels, make better decisions, and are less likely to just reach for a chocolate bar,” he says.
Meals should be about three hours apart, and consist of a good breakfast, lunch and dinner, with smaller, healthy snacks in between. “It leads to healthier choices and you’ll have more energy,” Anthoni says.
2. Plan ahead
“You can’t be a top athlete if you are eating poorly; it’s not just about training, it’s about eating as well,” Anthoni says. “It really helps if you plan your meals like you plan your training. Know what you are going to buy and know what you are going to make. When you come home from work, or after a training session, it’s all ready to go.”
3. Follow the Nordic plate model
Anthoni says in Finland there’s a traditional “plate model” or a way to divide your plate into three sections: one half should be salad and vegetables, one quarter should be carbohydrates, and one quarter protein. This balanced plate ensures you will get enough of all the key nutrients.
4. Eat quality food
Quality can seem like a vague notion, so Anthoni recommends a common sense approach here, too. “Have a look at your plate – are there all the colours – red, green, yellow?” he asks. “Are you eating the same thing every day?” Anthoni suggests finding and following basic nutrition guidelines. “They provide a good start, and then make small changes to fit yourself from there,” he says.
5. There’s no one size fits all diet
Deciding what to eat depends on your goals. “The more you move the more you need,” Anthoni says. “If your goal is building muscle mass, then you need more protein. If you are an endurance athlete, eating enough carbohydrates becomes more important. There is no one size fits all, no one plan can fit everyone. You need to have your own plan.”