1. Can you explain what periodization is and how it relates to nutrition for athletes?
Periodisation is when the nutrient requirements of an athlete are optimised or altered to match the type of training they are doing. The nutrient requirements can relate to their supplementation or simply their macronutrient profile or focus. You can periodise nutrition against a ‘macro cycle’ so a block of training or you might do ‘micro periodisation’ and alter the daily intake of an athlete or even what they eat around different training sessions across the week.
2. How do you determine the specific energy needs of different sports and athletes?
This is difficult to explain. The gold standard is by measuring it using RMR and calculations of their energy expenditure, but in practice, it is often firstly by ensuring you have a thorough understanding of their energy expenditure in training across all modalities and sessions. Then you will take into consideration their training age, their goals, and their history. For example, if they are trying to gain muscle mass and have a nine-year training age, then they will require considerably more energy than a second-year athlete who is just looking for body composition optimisation.
3. What are some common mistakes athletes make when it comes to their nutrition, and how can they avoid them?
The most common mistake is a lack of preparation with their nutrition snacks for around training. This can be due to a lack of knowledge or a lack of shopping. My number one tip is to always have emergency snacks, that don’t go off such as canned fish, muesli bars, popcorn, ‘fava beans’, etc in every training bag you have. Also, I strongly encourage athletes to schedule two shopping trips per week, as they often run out of snacks and fresh fruit at the back end of the week.
4. How do you ensure athletes are properly fuelled for training and competition?
The cool thing about this is that we often have data these days to show if the athlete’s training is consistently at a high standard. The way I educate the athlete to identify this is by asking if the quality of their training is the same on a Monday as a Friday. Also, how they recover and back up from back-to-back training is often a good indicator of whether they are nailing their fuelling and recovery around training from food.
5. How do you approach nutrition for athletes with specific dietary restrictions or preferences?
You have to work with all restrictions and preferences. Luckily in team sports, I feel like the rate of allergies is quite low. Those with specific food preferences are often well educated about nutrition and they have to be committed to allocating time to food preparation as they require a lot more time in the kitchen.
6. What are some of the best recovery foods and supplements for athletes?
HIT THE SHOPS! There are so many great snacks and portable foods for athletes these days. I recommend allocating a solid hour to browsing the shops thoroughly. Start in the tinned fish section, where there are amazing fish and rice, fish and bean cans that are portable and super high in fibre and protein, and carbohydrates, so ideal for recovery. There are amazing yogurts these days, high protein muesli bars, flavoured chickpeas, and even pre-made bliss balls. My all-time favourite food for training though is fruit, it contains the carbohydrate you need for energy, but also the vitamins and minerals you need to keep you healthy, so always start in the fresh fruit section.
7. How do you help athletes adjust their nutrition plan during competition season versus off-season?
There is a big difference as athletes change to in-season. The overall change is number of sessions often reduces so they need to be educated on how to change their daily nutrition based on more days and time off. This is their micro periodisation plan. They also need to ensure that they are confident when it comes to their game-day nutrition and recovery plans. In a very simplified example, often their carbohydrate intake reduces, and a focus on protein intake and its distribution increases. Leading up to games it changes again and is a combination of what works for the athlete as an individual and optimising fuelling for each game. Post-game the 24-48 hours post-game is vital to optimise recovery and in an ideal world, every athlete should have their own recovery plan as well that sets them target carbohydrate, fluid, and protein targets for the 24 hours post-game.
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Jack McLean is the founder of Prepare Like a Pro. He loves coaching people so that they can reach their personal/professional goals and become the best that they can possibly be. He is currently the Strength & Rehab Coach of Melbourne Football Club and has worked as Strength & Conditioning Coach at Hawthorn Football Club. Jack is a Level 3 Australian Strength & Conditioning Association and Professional Coach and a Level 1 Australian Weightlifting Federation Coach.