08 Aug 2022

Healthy Eating: The truth about sports nutrition

Healthy Eating: The truth about sports nutrition

There is so much conflicting information out there about nutrition in general, but even more regarding nutrition for sports and it is constantly changing!

One week we are told to carb load before an event, the next we are told to fast!

One week we are told we need protein shakes the next we are told we don’t!

We have gone from low fat, high carb to high fat, low carb!

And of course, we have biased Netflix programs to confuse us even more!

It is no wonder people are so confused about nutrition. Let’s get one thing straight


Despite what you have been led to believe, there is a lot more to nutrition than calories in versus calories out.

All calories are not the same and have different reactions in the body,

Food is more than just fuel. It is not just an amalgam of all the different macros. Food is information for all the cells in your body. It includes micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals and phytochemicals.

Think 100 calories of nuts versus 100 calories of crisps!!

Firstly, it is important to remember with sports nutrition there is no one size fits all approach as sports nutrition is very personalised, no two people have the same metabolism or the same digestion, our bodies function is an individual thing. When it comes to team sports, assuming nutrition for a team is a one size fits all is the wrong approach.

Individuals make up a team however when all players get their basic nutrition requirements right this leads to a stronger team.

There are different nutrient and energy requirements depending on a few factors such as, gender, age, the athlete’s goals, what is their day job? Or the type of sport played.

Think footballer versus boxer.Will they have the same requirements? No because a footballer will need to sustain his or her energy for 70 minutes, a boxing match may only last a few minutes.

As a nutritionist for Offaly GAA senior footballers and some other athletes, such as, marathon runners, cyclists, triathletes and boxers, I am often asked questions Like.

What supplements do I need?

What should I be eating before training?

Do I need a protein shake before, during or after training?

Should I go low carb?

So, let me answer some of these questions for you.


I often get asked about supplements and if they are needed, there is no straight answer to this, simply because if someone is deficient in a micronutrient, then they may benefit from a supplement protocol, but like nutrition a supplement plan should be personalized and only given after a detailed assessment with a nutrition professional. (always consult your GP before taking supplements if you are on any medication or have any underlying health conditions)

However, if your diet is right then you shouldn’t need to supplement.

Taking supplements without getting the basics right is like pouring petrol into a broken engine.


Again, this can be very individual because we all have unique digestive systems and some people train better when in a fasted state and some people train better in a fed state.

However, the general advice I give is to eat a slow burning carbohydrate meal with a source of good quality protein about two hours before your activity. For example whole wheat pasta with some vegetables and a protein source such as chicken or turkey.

Or rice based dishes with vegetables and a source of protein such as, chicken, turkey, fish or lean mince are good options.

If you are training early in the day porridge with some berries and Greek yogurt, wholegrain toast with scrambled eggs or Pitta bread with peanut butter and banana are good options.

Remember to listen to your body and tweak your pre-training meal to suit your needs but also avoid fast burning meals such as sugary cereals, pizza, crisps, salty snacks etc, as these are high in simple carbohydrates and the wrong type of fats, which may impact on your performance and you may find yourself hitting that wall early on in your game or run/cycle.


Protein plays an important role in the growth and repair of connective tissue. However, that does not mean that if you consume a lot of protein you will instantly become leaner and build more muscle.

The average person only actually needs about 1g per kg of body weight and this can be easily achieved in your day to day diet, by using real food like chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, Greek yoghurt and plant sources like nuts and seeds, beans and legumes.

Without boring you too much it's worth noting that plant sources of protein are incomplete, that means they're missing one or more of the essential amino acids. Animal sources of protein are complete protein as they contain all the essential amino acids that the body needs.

Eating too much protein can have consequences. Protein is a source of energy and if you consume more than you need, your body will breakdown the excess to sugar and store it as fat, excreting surplus amino acids in urine.

It will also place more stress on your kidneys as they work to remove nitrogen waste products. As a sports nutritionist I calculate the personal needs of the athlete and advise on the healthiest way to to incorporate this into your diet with the right quantities and at the right time and depending on the individual a protein shake may be required after a Strenuous workout to help aid recovery and repair muscles.


I am a big fan of low carbohydrate diets, however when it comes to sports nutrition it is slightly different.

Muscles rely on glucose (sugar from carbohydrate) for energy, and when exercising at a medium to high intensity, your body can’t tap into your fat stores quickly enough to supply you with energy. Your performance can suffer.

Likewise, not eating sufficient carbohydrate following a workout may result in poor recovery.

If you’re eating smart, carbohydrate intake will be periodized to match the intensity and volume of your training output to keep your weight on an even keel and your performance and recovery at their optimum.

And, for a slower energy release, it is advisable to still follow a low GL approach so swapping the white bread, pasta, cakes and biscuits for low GL carbs in the form of wholegrains (brown rice, quinoa, oats, legumes) and starchy vegetables like butternut squash and sweet potato.

Once you’ve got the foundations in place with a healthy intake to support your body’s requirements, you can start to think about appropriate fuelling during training sessions.

If you are training for a sports event and want to optimise your diet to get the most out of your training, or maybe you are a sports enthusiasts who just wants to improve your current diet for enhanced performance, then contact the Nutri Coach today.

Debbie Devane from The Nutri Coach is a qualified nutritionist and health coach, Debbie runs her clinic from the Glenard Clinic in Mountmellick and also offers one to one online consultations and corporate workshops.

Debbie is also Nutritionist to the Offaly senior footballers and is available for individual consultations and team workshops.

For more information or to make an appointment email Debbie at  Ph: 086-1720055Facebook: The Nutri Coach @debbiedevanethe nutricoach  Instagram: the_nutricoach

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