Neil Hill's 20 Nutritional Tips for Athletes
Nutrition is a multi-faceted topic which has many intricacies you need to both understand and apply in order to get the best possible results. Having worked as a nutritionist for over 20 years with some of the world’s best athletes from differing backgrounds I’ve experienced the sheer importance of using the right nutrition protocols.
I’ve put together 20 “must do” tips for you, in relation to your diet.
1 - Gut Health
The digestive system is the gateway to the body where all nutrients are assimilated and absorbed. If your gut is under performing then you won’t be able to make use of these nutrients as you want to. I prescribe Udo’s Digestive Enzymes and Microbiotics to my clients in order to help improve the performance of their gut, along with Udo’s Beyond Greens with 5-10g of L-glutamine added as well. Combined, I’ve found these 4 supplements to be the best concoction for optimised gut health.
2 - Natural foods
I’ve always been a big advocator of eating wholesome, natural foods. Calories are not all equal, don’t forget this! Having your calories from natural food sources will give you a broad variety of micronutrients, minerals, trace elements and healthy bacteria which are all conducive to better health, performance and well-being. Eating processed foods won’t do this for you.
3 - High meal frequency
Eating every 2-4 hours has multiple benefits where changing your body composition is concerned. It will help manage blood sugar levels which is related to improved insulin sensitivity (Udo’s Greens powder will also help here!). It will also help maximise muscle growth with heightened muscle protein synthesis (MPS) taking place and it also makes digestion easier because your daily calories are broken up across the day in smaller amounts.
4 - Hormonal health
The endocrine system is a crucial part of the human body for every day function, health and body composition changes. Optimising key hormones such as testosterone, growth hormone IGF and insulin will inevitably help build more muscle. Having a diet rich in healthy fats, having plenty of high quality sleep and an active lifestyle will help improve hormone output.
5 - Healthy fats
This is such a huge topic which I feel many overlook. There is never a place for fat free diets, fats are an “essential” nutrient and more than that not all fats are created equal therefore it’s essential that you get a proper blend of the best types within your diet. One of the most comprehensive blends of healthy fats is Udo’s Choice Ultimate Oil Blend. This is enriched with an array of healthy fats in a 2:1 ratio of Omega 3s to 6s, from organic seed oils. It is then carefully balanced with Omega 9s. The 2:1 ratio of 3s to 6s is imperative here, because most western diets are too high in omega 6s which can lead to insulin resistance and excess inflammation. This oil will help you improve your health, performance and cognitive function.
6 - Pre workout window
The pre workout window is such an important part of your day from a nutritional perspective for multiple reasons. This is your opportunity to really prepare and fuel the body properly for your workout. Within a 60-90 minute window you want an amino acid rich source of nutrients, high in leucine to stimulate Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS) to enhance recovery & growth. You also want some form of energy, generally in a blend from carbs and fats to help create a balanced energy release. You don’t want a fast digesting, sugary carb though as this will create an unwanted surge in blood sugar levels, and thereafter a crash during your workout.
7 - Post workout window
The post workout meal is possibly the most important meal of the day as it kickstarts the recovery process and helps restabilise your hormone profiles. Having a fast digesting isolate protein with a fast digesting carb source won’t just help shuttle nutrients into the muscle cell, it will also help reduce cortisol levels post-workout which can be catabolic. After your PWO shake, having a balanced meal full of quality protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats and fibre is a good idea to nourish the body.
8 - Eat before bed
Eating before bed can be a great way to help improve recovery by setting your body up properly for the 6-8 hour fast it’s about to experience. I’d recommend a meal high in protein from slower digesting sources, such as cottage cheese for example. If you find your sleep is particularly poor, try having a small amount of carbs in your pre bed meal to get a rise in serotonin which will improve sleep quality.
9 - Eat more calories
If you’re focal point is reducing body fat, it makes sense to start your transformation with as many calories in your diet as possible. Too many people start too low and ultimately cause themselves to lose fullness, slow their metabolism down and leave themselves with nowhere to go once they hit a point of stagnation. Fat loss is a gradual process, keep your calories as high as you can whilst affording yourself progress.
10 - Incremental changes are best
Leading on from the previous point, make your changes along the way incremental so they are measurable. If you make too many changes all at the same time you won’t know what is or isn’t working for you. It also means you’ll have less options to change when you need to, keep things simple and incremental.
11 - Food diary
Keeping a food diary is a very good idea because it gives you a point of reference to go back over to see exactly what you have been eating. So many people under estimate and over estimate what their calorie intake is. It’s also a great idea to spot trends developing within your diet which might be leading to gastric discomfort, poor energy levels or things alike. If you have a food diary its much easier to make the right changes.
12 - Cheat meals
I’m a big proponent in balance because this is a lifestyle, and within that you should have some balance from your diet. However having a well-timed cheat meal can also kickstart fat loss because the influx in calories for an acute period of time can drive your metabolic output up and help prevent leptin levels from dropping too low (more of a consideration as you get very lean). The frequency for cheat meals is an individual thing, but I feel weekly for most can be a good yardstick provided you are making progress.
13 - Consistency wins
The true “secret” of nutrition is to be consistent with your efforts. Having the correct knowledge and applying that properly is essential of course, but the real “secret” is doing it day in day out rather than falling off the plan every week and starting again. If you can be consistent then you will see results because it’s a long term process, there are no quick fixes!
14 - Don’t get fat
One of the biggest mistakes people make when eating for mass is over eating and getting too fat. Yes you will potentially sacrifice some condition to add size, but carrying excessive body fat is not a sensible move for muscle mass. High body fat levels can lead to insulin resistance over time which makes building muscle more difficult. More than that, the aromatase enzyme lives in fat cells which is responsible for the conversion of testosterone in oestrogen. Obviously, this is another great negative for muscle mass. As a male, don’t let your body fat levels creep above around 15%.
15 - Fats or carbs?
Some people prefer a diet high in carbs, others prefer a diet high in fat. The truth is that some people just respond better to a specific type of diet as they are either insulin or glucagon dominant. However, in my experience I do feel it helps to keep carbs as high as possible whilst allowing for progress because you tend to appear fuller and perform better. Too many people feel they are carb sensitive when they are not, they have just made themselves carb sensitive by either abusing sugary carbs in excess or avoiding carbs completely.
16 - How much protein?
There is no right or wrong answer because it depends on the individual, their goal, weight, calorie intake and carb intake because carbs are protein sparing. However in my experience I’ve found that most people will fall between 1 and 2 grams of protein per pound of lean body weight. Where you fit on that scale will depend as I said, so monitor your ability to recover as well as your rate of progress.
17 - Avoid hunger
Yes, along the way to your fat loss goals you’re going to experience some level of hunger at some point. However experiencing acute hunger on a regular basis means that something needs to change. Sometimes simply adding some fibre from greens and a little fat can help curb hunger by managing your blood sugar levels properly. Acute hunger is never a good thing as it’ll make it an unenjoyable experience and increase the chances of falling off track.
18 - Drink more water
One of the most simple ways to increase the rate of thermogenesis within the body, improve performance, nourishment and general health is to drink more water. By aiming for 4-5 clear litres of water per day you’re helping your body distribute nutrients throughout the body, keep your renal function healthy and improve mental alertness. Make sure you sip water throughout the day for even intake, rather than gulp it down at one point during the day.
19 - Variety
Variety is such an important part of eating a healthy diet. So many times I’ve seen people follow very bland, monotonous diets which have very few ingredients within the diet. The issue with this extends beyond boredom, it also means that the range of nourishment your body will get from your diet is limited. You want a broad range of amino acids from multiple protein sources in your diet. If you eat too much of the same protein sources you can actually develop gut sensitivities to those very foods.
20 - Enjoy it
Like everything in life you must enjoy what you do otherwise it will become a limiting factor and you’ll ultimately fail to stick to it, long term. Using variety within your diet as mentioned before and building your diet around foods you actually enjoy is such a crucial factor to long term success. Just start by making a list of healthy, nutritious foods you actually enjoy!
Those are 20 of my key nutritional points covered for you, there are many more topics I’ll be discussing for Udo’s Choice in the coming months.