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Maximum vs marginal gains - Diet

Updated: Apr 15, 2020

Nearly at the end in my series looking at how you can best maximise training gains. And it's the biiiiiig one that everyone wants to talk about. And probably the one where we get most distracted by searching for magic pills that throw us off track from getting the basics right.

I go into this in far more detail in my seminar on Nutrition – fuelling to maximise training and performance but here’s some headlines:

  • Make sure that every meal contains

  1. a good mix of carbs - about half of the calories on the plate but varies by athlete and training

  2. protein - around 1.5 grams per kg of body weight per day, depending on training and body composition goals (and up to 2-2.5g/kg BW if training very hard), spread over the day so no more than about 20-25g per meal

  3. a good mix (aim for about half the plate) of different coloured veg and fruit

  4. some fats (much smaller amount, not because fats are bad, they’re not, but they’re more calorie dense so you need less of them), again from different sources.

  • Aim for the majority of your meals to come from wholefoods, not processed and try and avoid being overly-reliant on pre-prepared meals (and yes, this does take time, and planning, but if you’re willing to do that for your training, why not for something that will help put your body in the best place to benefit from that training, as well as your general health).

  • Don’t aim for perfection – keep it simple e.g. a stir fry with chicken or tofu and noodles, scrambled eggs on wholegrain toast with some broccoli on the side. Keep some mixed frozen veg in the freezer, cans of tuna in the cupboard, a jam jar of mixed seeds ready to sprinkle on a salad or breakfast on the side. And as soon as you hear yourself starting to ask ‘but is x as good for me as y?’ think ‘is it better than what I was going to have instead?'. If it's a yes then that’s the only answer you need.

  • Fuel for harder sessions – generally speaking you’ve got enough energy in your body for a 60 min easy run, but for over 90 mins or as the intensity rises, make sure you’re fuelled. This doesn’t necessarily mean specific energy products, but making sure you’ve had a carb-based meal 2-3 hours beforehand (but find out how long you need to digest before you train). For morning sessions find your best, quick and easy fuel.

  • Fuel for recovery – your body gets fitter by recovering from training, but it can't do that if you don’t give it the building blocks it needs. So as well as sleep, make sure you’re getting a good post-training mix of protein (around 20-25g) – the building blocks of our body, and some carbs to replenish glycogen (stored energy) reserves. Again, this doesn’t have to be recovery shakes etc, normal food is fine. Although if you’re training again within 12 hours, try and get the recovery food in as soon as possible so you can take advantage of the faster post training uptake (so sometimes a shake will be easier here, but a tuna sandwich could be just as good).

  • Anticipate when you’re going to be coming in starving from a long training session / hard day at work, and have some healthy snacks/ a meal in the freezer ready so that you don’t start snacking on something less nutritious.

  • Women – think about periodising your nutrition around your menstrual cycle, your body needs different things at different times of the month. See my seminar on women’s training for more onmaximising your performance as a women.

  • Don’t worry about the high fat, low carb, intermittent fasting, keto etc etc diets (if doing them for the sake of performance) until you’ve maxed out the gains you can make by following the guidelines above.

  • If aiming for weight loss remember you need a calorie surplus for training adaptations so periodise nutrition around training and dont scrimp on training days.

Getting your diet right is really hard and there's so much competing advice out there! Dont beat yourself up about it, just go back to the basics and focus on getting them right. Aim for each choice to be about being a little bit better than if you hadn't thought about it, but don't aim for perfection. And make sure you spend your time focusing on changes where you'll get the most returns.

Right, onto the final one now - Recovery.


Want help on putting these tips into practice? All my training plans include regular coaching calls where we discuss these sort of issues, including your nutrition plan for races, as well as

access to my client-only resources area with information on subjects such as diet. Find out more here.

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