Meal Planning for Athletic Training Programs
Is it possible to have an entire years meals planned based on an athlete’s particular training program?
Although its sounds perfect to have a meal plan that correlates well with a training program, all laid out for a year, in my experience, it simply doesn’t work well (sorry). This is why I don’t use this approach:
1) Unlike Training Nutrition, your Daily Nutrition meals do not need to reflect your training program. They should be based on health and wellness. Foods and meals to provide nutrients that support good, consistent energy flow, a healthy metabolism, disease prevention, and overall health. They should be whole-food, slow-digesting foods with a lot of vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, healthy proteins, and fiber. They are appropriate for athletes and non-athletes alike, year round.
2) Training Nutrition, on the other hand, which is made up of easy-to-digest foods and drinks to be consumed immediately before, during, and immediately after training, should reflect your training program. They should be somewhat opposite of healthy Daily Nutrition in that they are quick-digesting, low-fiber foods that promote immediate and ongoing energy, adequate fluids, and adequate electrolytes, without risk of digestion issues. These should be based on the duration and intensity of your training, and if you’re training once or multiple times in a day.
3) For Training Nutrition, while it’s okay to have some variety within your choices, you want to stick with foods and drinks that work well for you. You simply don’t want to “mix it up” on yourself too much – this is more about effectiveness and efficiency of the foods, and not variety. If Hammer Heed works best for you, keep using it. If you like your carbs in gels, and fluid/lytes in water and NUUN caps, stick with it. If a mini Clif bar works well for you, or a smoothie before a ride, use it in training so you’ll have confidence using it before a competition. Plan the ride, and ride the plan, right?
4) For a year-long Daily Nutrition Plan, I’ve learned it doesn’t work well for most people – it simply doesn’t allow enough flexibility to work out. In my practice, I used to plan out full month’s of meals for clients, based on their needs, likes/dislike, etc, and even include a shopping list. What’s I found was that a) my time into it simply demanded too high a price, b) most clients didn’t want or need a different meal option for breakfast, lunches, and snacks each day (variety is good for dinner, though), c) since it had a shopping list it didn’t have the flexibility needed for everyday life, schedule changes, food dislike/like changes, and diet changes.
What I’ve found is using a mix-and-match format, where I suggest 8-12 different recommendations for breakfasts, lunches, and snacks, and then 15-20 different ones with ongoing planning for dinner, works well. It gives clients the details they want and need, with the flexibility to work in real life. And, since every meal meet my standards for health and wellness, any of them are fine to use day to day. Then, for training nutrition, I provide ~5-10 suggestions for pre-training, during training, and recovery fuel that you can experiment with until you find your right mix. I also give you recommendations on when to use each type of training fuel (pre-, during, recovery), and how much based on duration and intensity.
There may be the type of service you’re looking for out there, but I don’t know of any that take this all into account. And, just based on my experience with it, I don’t know how to make it work for long-term planning like you want. In the next month, I am launching a weekly meal planning service that provides all the recipes, shopping list, and menu you need for dinners each week, to compliment the mix-and-match meal planning. This may be a compromise between the two.
Please send us your questions for our Expert Sports Nutritionist, Kelli Jennings to “Ask the Sports Nutritionist“. Kelli Jennings is a Registered Dietitian with a passion for healthy eating, wellness, & sports nutrition. For more information go to www.apexnutritionllc.com.