Having broadly covered what we should eat and drink in the first blog in this series on Good Habits, I’ll shift my attention towards how we should eat and drink.
Habit #2: “Be prepared to eat every 2-3 hours”.
Now, I’m definitely not saying you have to eat every 2-3 hours. There should be room for flexibility in your nutrition plan of course. But following this as a general principle enables you to stay well fuelled for the demands of training and life in general.
The importance of food preparation.
Nowadays, we live in an world where eating badly is far too easy. Unhealthy foods are never too far away, they’re relatively cheap and they’re generally quick and convenient, which is the killer trait for people who perceive a lack of time as a key barrier to eating healthily. So, when looking to eat well on a consistent basis, it’s vital to do a bit of planning and preparation to help you avoid straying towards the unhealthier option.
From our experience at the Porsche Human Performance Center, everyone goes about their nutrition planning and food preparation differently. That said, here’s how we often suggest clients frame their nutrition plan…
- Think about your schedule over the next 3-7 days and identify any obstacles that could get in the way of you eating well (e.g. being at work with limited food available, unusually late finishes/early starts, training sessions etc.).
- Create meal plans for this period, taking into account any obstacles identified in 1.
- Schedule weekly/biweekly food shops based around the meals planned in 2).
- Take the time to prepare meals and snacks in advance. For example, cook meals like chillies, curries and soups in bulk, make salads for tomorrow’s lunch, roast a whole chicken or hard-boil a box of eggs to use throughout the week. Investing in a good set of Tupperware to make pre-prepped food easy to store and transport is a great idea.
- Identify places where you can source quality food that fits into your nutrition plan for the times you’re not carrying pre-prepped food.
A typical week as an example.
Let’s say you’ve looked at your diary for the next few days and seen you’ve got a meeting after work on Monday so won’t be home until late, you’ve got an early morning training session on Tuesday but you’re pretty clear on Wednesday. Then on Thursday it’s Parent’s Evening and on Friday you’re out for dinner with friends. In addition, you know that the options in work are sub-optimal to say the least. Looks like it’s going to be pretty tough to stick to your nutrition plan this week doesn’t it? But you’ll get back on track next week, right?!
Wrong! Rather than defaulting to a pizza after the long day on Monday, pencil in a quick-to-prepare, simple meal like a chicken stir fry. If you know you’re going to be up early for training on Tuesday, you might want a quicker, easy-to-digest breakfast like a home-made smoothie and then a post-training snack you can take to work to aid recovery and keep you going until lunchtime.
When you have more time on Wednesday, do your mid-week top-up shop and prep some meals for later in the week. Prepare a big lunch for Thursday, maybe from the leftovers of Wednesday’s dinner and plan a salad when you’re back from school. As long as you’ve identified somewhere to get a nutritional lunch on Friday, you can let yourself go a bit at dinner with friends on the Friday.
Admittedly planning things in advance takes a bit of getting used to. But, in time it becomes second nature and you find yourself falling into routines that eliminate much of those dangerous conscious thoughts!
What I’m trying to say here is that you should treat your nutrition planning and food preparation as you would do your training. Block out an hour or so a couple of times each week, like you would do for a training session, and designate that to planning quality meals, cooking in advance or doing the weekly food shop. For the majority of people we work with, this approach will be of equal if not greater benefit to their health, body composition and performance as their training sessions.
The optimal meal frequency.
Should you eat little and often or stick to having bigger meals less frequently? We get asked this question a lot and it’s one that has attracted much media debate and research attention over the years. In truth, there’s no clear answer to this from all the research we’ve read on the subject so far (see footnotes 1-9 if you want to delve into that yourself).
In general, it seems the best meal frequency is one that best suits your preferences and allows you to stick to good nutritional habits on a long-term basis. This approach is supported by a recent meta-analysis which examined the impact of meal frequency on body composition. It concluded: “given that adherence is of primary concern with respect to nutritional prescription, the number of daily meals consumed should come down to personal choice…” (10).
With that said there have only been a handful of studies exploring the optimal meal frequency for athletes in particular. The results of those studies have tended to favour higher meal frequencies. We encourage our athletes to use trial and error to discover the meal frequency pattern that works for them. From our experience, this tends to work out as eating 3-4 main meals per day with 1-3 optional snacks in between, depending on the individual.
To snack or not to snack?
Traditionally, snacking has been viewed as a bad dietary habit. However, this often comes down to what we are snacking on, rather than the act of snacking per se. Having a good understanding of quality snacking options is something we always try to establish with our athletes. These can include:
- Fresh/frozen fruit
- Raw vegetables (e.g. carrots, peppers, cucumber, celery) with houmous, salsa or homemade guacamole
- Raw nuts and seeds
- Greek yogurt
- Hard boiled eggs
- Tinned fish
- Homemade popcorn (unflavoured or with salt/cinnamon)
- Pre-cooked meats (e.g. chicken drumsticks roasted the weekend before)
Many of these options can be pre-prepared at home or bought on the move and they can tide you over until your next meal without undoing the hard work you’ve put in in training and in planning your nutrition.
Once you get used to planning your nutrition each week and you’ve identified a meal frequency pattern that fits in with your lifestyle, you have what you need to adhere to Habit #2 for the long term. This habit promotes consistency and, in turn, helps optimise our health, body composition and performance.
Jack at Porsche Human Performance Center. PHP offer our Advanced Sweat Test (and other services like heat chamber training) from their lab at Silverstone.