Dietary strategies to support performance

by Nicky Gilbert

I have been supporting our athletes with advice about what and when to eat and drink before and after training.

Those tips equally apply to anyone facing an active and busy schedule.

If grabbing food on the run is familiar to you, now is the perfect time to experiment with your nutritional strategies and work out what suits you best.

‘Mindful eating’ is always best – don’t simply eat for the sake of it or just because food is there! Snacks should be chosen carefully for nutritional balance as well as enjoyable eating.

Make use of a food diary during this period of lockdown and keep notes on what, and when, you eat and drink and how you feel and perform. Use the information you discover about yourself to improve your nutritional habits, so the better ones become part of your routine.

Challenge yourself by thinking about the effects of different choices and timings on your performance

  1. Do you drink the right amounts at the right time to ensure you are well-hydrated? Dehydration can affect your concentration and mood.
  2. Do you have enough energy to get through your day?
  3. Do you ever feel uncomfortable because you have eaten too much or too little, or made the wrong food choices?
  4. Are you able to focus and concentrate, or do you get distracted?

Nutritional tips for performance

  • Take time for regular drink breaks throughout the day to maintain hydration. If you are drinking adequately then you should be peeing frequently, and your urine should be pale and plentiful.
  • Tap water and skimmed milk are healthy choices for maintaining hydration. Reliance on sugary drinks, including sports and energy drinks, is not recommended.
  • Avoid being hungry or feeling too full and uncomfortable. Give yourself time to digest a main meal by eating 3-4 hours before any strenuous activity, or plan to eat a series of smaller snacks.
  • Experiment with different foods and timings. Fatty foods are slower to digest whilst lower GI carbohydrates (slow release) will sustain energy levels for longer.
  • A milky drink before bedtime can be helpful in promoting good sleep and recovery.

Suggestions for making better food choices

Lower GI (slower release) foods provide longer-lasting energy

Food Lower GI choice
Bread Multigrain, granary, rye, seeded, wholegrain, oat, pitta bread & chapatti
Potatoes New potatoes in their skins, sweet potato & yam
Pasta Noodles & all pasta, cook until al dente
Rice Basmati rice, long grain & brown rice
Other grains Bulgur wheat, barley, couscous & quinoa
Breakfast cereals Porridge, muesli, most oat & bran-based cereals


Healthy Swaps

Try swapping these………….. …for these more nutritious and lower GI choices
White toast with butter and marmalade

Glass of orange juice

Poached eggs on granary toast with olive oil or sunflower spread or peanut butter

A whole orange and a glass of milk

 White cob with cheese and ham

Packet of crisps and can of cola

Granary sandwich with cheese and salad and olive oil or sunflower spread

An apple, a handful of nuts and a glass of milk or a yoghurt and water / low sugar squash

Chilli con carne with white rice and garlic bread Chilli con carne with lean meat, kidney beans, peppers and mushrooms, Basmati rice and side salad



Nutritional Features Quick and easy to prepare, low GI for slower-release energy
Ingredients for 2-4



4 large flour tortilla wraps (try wholegrain)

4 large lettuce leaves, shredded

3 tomatoes, chopped

½ cup grated reduced-fat cheddar

4 tablespoons low-fat natural yoghurt



Spray of olive, rapeseed or sunflower oil

1 onion, finely chopped

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

440 g can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

400 g can crushed tomatoes

2 tablespoons tomato puree

2 teaspoons chilli sauce


1.   To make the filling, spray a non-stick pan with oil and heat.

2.   Add the onion and cook over a medium heat for 3 minutes or until soft then add the spices and stir for a minute.

3.   Add the beans, tomatoes, tomato puree and chilli sauce.

4.   Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for a few minutes – until heated through and thickened slightly.

5.   Divide the filling into four and place on each of the tortilla wraps.

6.   Roll up and top with lettuce, tomato, cheese and yoghurt



Serve with generous portion of basmati rice and a larger mixed salad for a more substantial meal
Additional notes You can put all types of fillings in your burrito – spicy chicken, chilli con carne – made with meat or Quorn

Try adding sweetcorn, peas or chopped peppers to your rice

Dietitian Nicky Gilbert
Nicky Gilbert is a freelance dietitian, lecturer and Registered Sport and Exercise Nutritionist with 30 years experience in the field. For many years she worked with the players at Nottingham Forest Football Club as well as supporting other national teams and Olympians. As well as working with DIS athletes, she also works with industry to support health and wellbeing in the workplace as an accredited BDA Work Ready Dietitian.



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