26 Jun 2022

Performance Nutrition Strategy – How to prepare for training or sporting events!

Laurann O'Reilly writing in this week's Nationalist

Six top nutrition tips for boosting your immune health with Laurann O'Reilly

Laurann O'Reilly

For anyone looking to up their performance whether it’s in the gym, on the pitch or if you’re training for an endurance event, nutrition plays an important role.

Developing a nutrition strategy is the key and can really give you that extra edge in terms of training and reaching your goals.

Here, nutritionist Laurann O’Reilly, guides us through how to develop your own nutrition strategy.

The Three Keys To Nutrition For Training or An Event

1) Type: The type of food that you choose in training or in preparation for events is quite important. Most of us are aware that different foods have different functions in the body and keeping this in mind, we can utilise these foods to our advantage.

Carbohydrates: These are our main source of energy or fuel. Interestingly there are 2 types of carbohydrates that we focus on in terms of performance. These are the quick release (of sugar) and the slow-release carbohydrates. The speed at which the sugar is released from these foods is known as the ‘Glycaemic’ (glucose/sugar) Index’ or ‘GI’ for short.

- High GI Carbohydrates: Are quickly absorbed into the blood are considered to be ‘high GI’ because they cause a spike in our blood sugars.
Sources: These include foods such as white bread, white pasta, white rice, biscuits, chocolates, sweets as well as certain fruits such as grapes, melon and bananas.

- Low GI Carbohydrates: Are slowly absorbed into the blood and are considered to be ‘low GI’ as they are gradually and steadily absorbed into our blood. Sources: These include brown or wholegrain carbohydrates such as brown/wholegrain bread, pasta, rice, oats and bran.

Protein: Has many functions in the body such as repair, recovery, enzymes (which break down our foods, hormonal balance as well as immune health to name a few.

Protein is composed of little building-blocks called ‘amino acids’, different combinations of these building blocks are required for different functions so it’s good to get a combination of animal and plant-based proteins in our diets, which is a larger variety of plant-based proteins for anyone who may be vegetarian or vegan.

Sources: these include 1) Animal based: Such as lean meats, chicken, turkey, fish, milk, cheese, yoghurts and 2) Plant based: Such as nuts (almonds, pistachio, cashew and hazelnuts), seeds (chia seeds, flax seeds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds), grains (rice, oats, spelt, millet and quinoa) and vegetables (soya or soybean products such as tofu, peas, beans, lentils and mushrooms).

Fats: It’s important to include healthy fats in our diet for the absorption of our fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
They also play an important role in brain function, joint and heart health.

Tip: Avoid having foods which are high in fat close to training or an event as it can slow down the rate at which sugar enters our bloodstream (which we may need access to for big endurance events).

Sources: Oily fish (including salmon, mackerel, herring, trout & tuna), nuts and seeds (such as walnuts, chia and flaxseeds), extra virgin olive oil and avocados.

2) Quantity: This refers to our food portion sizes, so you can use your hands as a visual aid.

For example, the palm of your hand = 1 portion of protein (1/4 of your plate), a fist = a portion of cooked carbohydrates (1/4 of your plate) and opt for 2 fists of vegetables (1/2 of your plate).

Note: These quantities can vary depending on the level of activity that you are involved in as well as other factors. Feel free to contact me if you require a more specific calculation of your energy requirement and portion sizes.

3) Timing: So now that we have a better understanding of the types and quantities of these foods and what they do, we can now strategically place these foods throughout our day to complement our training.

- Pre-Training

It is essential to eat well before exercise as it prepares the body for the upcoming activity.
However, you should not be hungry/full before starting any physical activity.

- 2-3 hours before exercise (Low GI Meal)
- Make sure the food that you eat is
- The Food is easy to digest
- Low in fat & fibre (foods that are high in fat can slow down your digestion)
- High in carbohydrates for energy
- Moderate in protein
- Is a familiar food which won’t cause you discomfort. This is particularly important for the day of your event as the last thing that you’d need is a sick tummy after all of your training and hard work.

- Immediately before exercise (High GI Snack)

Consume a small and snack just before exercise which is readily digestible for instance: A banana/or homemade cereal bar (see recipe below)

- During Training

The most important thing to remember during exercise is fluid replacement.
Small amounts of carbohydrates have been found beneficial for helping to maintain fluid particularly in events lasting over an hour or if exercising in the morning and you haven’t had a proper pre-exercise meal.

- Post Training - Recovery

Crucial for optimum recovery
Important part of any training programme
Replaces energy used
Replaces fluid & salt lost in sweat
Enhances your ability to recover and make gains from your training
I mentioned earlier about the 3 keys to nutrition and optimum performance and this is where this plays a particularly important role.

Post Workout Snack: This is important for those training for endurance events as it provides us with a source of carbohydrate to refuel and protein to repair. Suggestions: Eggs on toast, Greek yoghurt with granola, cottage cheese with fruit, porridge with milk, hummus with pitta bread or tuna on crackers.

Recovery Protein: If you take a recovery protein supplement such as whey or for vegans (soy, hemp, pea and rice-based protein supplements) post workout, it’s recommended that it’s taken as close to when you’ve finished training as possible.
Some say this window is within 20-30 minutes, but the jury is out on that one.

A Proper Meal: It is essential to follow your post exercise snack with a proper meal.
This should be within 2-3 hours of finishing your work out. This meal should include healthy sources of carbohydrate, protein and fresh vegetables.

Recovery Snack

Homemade Granola Bars

This is such an easy and practical recipe for those looking for a healthy breakfast or snack on the go and as a post workout recovery snack with the purest ingredients.

½ Cup of maple syrup
1 Cup of light tahini
2 ½ Cups of oats
¼ Cup of sultanas
¼ Cup of pumpkin seeds

Serving: 14 bars


1) To heat proof bowl add your tahini and maple syrup and heat in microwave for 1 minute (be careful as the bowl will be hot, use an oven glove to remove)
2) To a large bowl add your oats
3) Carefully pour in the tahini & maple syrup mixture (remember hot bowl!) and stir to combine
4) Add the sultanas and pumpkin seeds and stir to combine
5) Line a small pan (approx. 8x8 inch) with parchment paper
6) Transfer the mixture to the pan and press down well to compact into the pan, use your hands if you need to and be sure to press in the edges well
7) Pop in the fridge to for at least 2 hours to allow them to set
8) Cut them into 14 small bars

You are now ready to serve, to wrap and bring with you or they can be safely stored in a sealed container in the fridge for 4-5 days.

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