Nutrition from A Sprinter's Perspective
NEUFF ATHLETIC X THE VISIONS PODCAST
As important as it is, nutrition can be tricky to get your head around as a sprinter. If you're an athlete that struggles to determine what it is exactly that you need to be putting into your body for your athletics, then we have something special for you to look at, as well as listen to...
Alternatively, if you need a transcript of this podcast, keep reading to see what Destiny had to say about managing nutrition for athletics training and competitions.
A massive thanks also goes to Destiny's co-host JT, who was the interviewer for this special collaboration!
DISCLAIMER: This podcast is an insight into Destiny's personal journey with nutrition as a sprinter and does not necessarily apply to all athletes.
WHY DO SPRINTERS NEED NUTRITION?
WHAT DOES NUTRITION MEAN FOR SPRINTERS SPECIFICALLY?
"Nutrition is the fuel for your sprints! When you're training or competing as a sprinter, you need the right kind of fuel.
This works for fuelling yourself whilst exercising or training, as well as for afterwards. You need to make sure you're getting the right kind of foods into your body so you can replenish yourself. This will help you to recover well whilst you are sleeping. By doing this, you'll be able to go again the next day!
By not having a solid nutrition regime in place, this can result in you feeling tired, lacklustre at sessions, or even unable to train in general. Timing is important, too. You should also consider what you're eating or taking before training or competing, as this can also have an effect on your performance.
You always want to be at your peak when it comes to performance, both for training and competitions. We can't diminish the fact that you need to be feeling good and ready to train, which is what sufficient nutrition will ultimately assist you with."
NUTRITIONAL NEEDS OF A SPRINTER
WHAT NUTRITION HAS HELPED YOU IN TRAINING AND COMPETITIONS?
"For me, it's changed a lot!
I come from a Nigerian background, so we eat a lot of African food at home. I might have some white rice with stew, beans or chicken. You've got a good carbohydrate base there with the rice. The stew is tomato based, so you're getting vegetables there, and you also have the sauce and different seasonings added in for good measure!
Protein comes with the chicken, which is really good for recovery of the muscles and in giving you a bit of extra energy. It depends on what sort of time I would be eating a meal like that, though. For me, I would probably consider that as a light lunch, or a dinner.
As well as vegetables, I like to have a lot of greens, broccoli and cauliflower. Or some mixed vegetables, just to give you a nice, colourful plate. The more colourful my plate is... the better!"
NUTRITION ADVICE FOR SPRINTERS
DO YOU NEED A QUALIFIED NUTRITIONIST TO HELP YOU SPRINT, OR CAN YOU SOLELY RELY ON YOUR COACH?
"As long as you're getting the information, it doesn't particularly matter where you get it from.
Definitely speak to your coach about it and find out what sort of suggestions they may have in terms of nutrition. On the other hand, being able to see a nutritionist or dietician can help, but not everyone will have access to that. If you do have access, definitely pursue it, ask questions and fill out forms for them if you need to.
WHAT SHOULD A SPRINTER EAT?
WHAT FOODS HELP SPRINTERS SPECIFICALLY?
"I eat a lot of bananas!
In between rounds of competitions, I normally have a banana. It's a quick burst of energy, similar to that of what you would get out of sweets. Some people have sweets for that quick burst of energy, and for something like 100m or 200m, it's great for that. Bananas give you that same feeling.
It can give you one hour... two hours... or maybe even three hours of energy that you need. It's full of potassium and natural sugars, so it's really good for you! You can have it after a workout at the gym, or even just before a session.
Lots of fluids also help. Drinking lots of water or homemade isotonic drinks which can literally just be made using water and squash with a little bit of salt, which is a really good isotonic drink.
You need to be putting the sale back into your body. When you sweat, you lose a lot of salt, so you need to be putting it back into your body. You can put just a dash of salt in your drink to do this.
Making your own drinks will also be a lot cheaper. You also have things like Lucozade, which can be a little more expensive overall. So, if you want to do it yourself and save yourself a bit of money, literally just use whatever fruit, squash or anything else of your choice and then put this into water with a bit of salt.
NUTRITION PLANS FOR SPRINTERS
DOES NUTRITION DIFFER FOR TRAINING AND COMPETITIONS?
"I'll try and break this down as much as I can!
Let's say you're at school and you're a young athlete. For breakfast, you could be having toast, fruit or porridge for breakfast. For lunch, you could have a sandwich which would fill you up for the day. But, this is all fuelling you for the specific purpose of being in school, not necessarily for training or competing.
Let's also say that you finish school at 3:15pm, and you have a training session at 6pm, you have roughly a two and a half hour window. If you eat something before training, it can't be too much as that isn't enough time to have a really substantial meal.
You want to have a moderate or small-ish meal. You could have a small plate of rice with sauce, a bit of pasta, or even a piece of fruit. I don't have protein bars personally, as it's not my thing, although some people do like to have these.
Mostly, you should top up on lots of fluid during this window to keep hydrated. If you're dehydrated, it can really affect your energy levels as well. Try and stick to light meals before training if you can, and ensure that you are fuelling enough a few hours before training too (again, if you can!).
This gives the body enough time to digest. You don't want to be running around the track and feeling your food running around in your stomach, or start getting cramps due to your foods not settling properly. In the worst case scenario, you will make yourself sick. Obviously... you don't want that!
Don't eat too much, as that's the worst thing you can do before running is eating too much, too soon.
SPRINTER DIET PLAN
HOW HAS YOUR DIET CHANGED BETWEEN ATHLETICS SEASONS?
"We change the goals each season.
We look at what we want to do and try to go to the next level. Everything goes up, as well. We need to think of things we need to improve and take out. It's also about asking questions such as "can we swap strawberry jam on toast for a banana slice? Or could we swap squash for water?".
All of these little adjustments are things that I've had to do. I've had to kick out sweets and chocolate completely out of my diet. I no longer have them at all.
However, you can still have these things in moderation, and for some people, it does work. For me, personally, kicking all of these things out gives me a new found focus.
I can really hone in on the things I want and need to eat. I've also cut out a lot of other unhealthy snacks. I used to eat crisps, but now I've swapped that for salt and pepper crackers, or even just some fruit to try and change the way I see food as a whole.
My diet used to be very poor. In school, I used to get an 8-pack of cookies and cream KitKats alongside fizzy drinks and packets of Skittles. At break time, I would get a ham and cheese panini with two doughnuts, and at lunch I would get something like a pasta pot.
The funny thing is, however, when I came home, I understood that I needed a good meal before training. I would then have pasta with rice, or something along those lines. It was outside of training where my diet wasn't great.
Over the years, I've had to understand that a diet as a whole needs to be somewhat controlled and consistent. It needs to be something that doesn't change all that much, but something where you give yourself leniency at times".
ATHLETIC BODY TYPES
SHOULD YOU FOCUS ON BEING A CERTAIN BODY TYPE AS A SPRINTER?
"As a sprinter, there's so many different body types.
You have Yohan Blake, who is an extremely muscly guy. However, it's important to recognise that there's many different body types. You could also have a sprinter with a similar body type to Wayde van Niekirk, who's a 400m athlete. He's not on the stockier side as opposed to someone like Fred Kerley, who is also a 400m athlete, but is quite stocky, strong and bulky.
However, that's OK too, as it suits them and it's all in relation to their height and weight. Also, this BMI tracking system isn't always 100% accurate. You could be seen as overweight or even obese, when actually, you are quite healthy.
Don't always look at the scales and assume you need to make adjustments. Speak to your coach, ensure you're eating the right things and eat only when you're hungry. Don't go to the lengths of starving yourself though at the same time! Alternatively, make sure you're not eating too much either just because you think it will make you perform better.
It's important to understand your body, which takes a lot of time. If you need more resources or help with this, please do seek professional help or advice from a specialist, if possible. England Athletics also have some information on this, much like Neuff does.
Ultimately, you are your own individual. You're on your own journey, even if now your diet isn't where you want it to be, this doesn't mean that it won't be where it should be in however long that may be. I can't put a date on this, as it's different for every individual. But, know that everyone's body is different, and give yourself some time with this.
You're still growing, and your body is going to be constantly changing. Just try and fuel yourself as adequately as possible, and seek help from the people around you.
SUPPLEMENTS FOR ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE
WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE ON SUPPLEMENTS?
"I would say that before you take anything, please do check everything on Global DRO, which is an online website where you can look at everything you take. From prescriptions to medications or supplements, you can check them here.
There's also the Informed Sport website, where these things are all batch tested and is officially used by UK Anti-Doping as well, so you can also go on there and check supplements. It has an accurate testing regime where they do it under controlled conditions, so please be checking everything under that, as you don't want to get into any trouble for doping.
Feel free to get in touch with UK Anti-Doping, too. There was a time where I wanted to ask a question about something, and they got back to me almost straight away. They're really good for that, so just send them an email, and ask questions about anything if you're not sure.
Be very, very careful! Check everything, including the Clean Athletics website too. There are so many resources for athletes to get involved in and take part in to have a better understanding of it, as it is an integral part of the sport.
ANTI-DOPING ADVICE FROM CLEAN ATHLETICS
Neuff also has an article on their website which was written by Clean Athletics, which advises further on taking supplements as an athlete, and what the consequences are if you do take prohibited supplements. Make sure to check this one out, too!
We want to keep our sport as clean as possible. You'd be surprised at the different kinds of things that have been picked up in recent years! So, you always want to be careful.
FINAL WORDS FROM DESTINY
"I also want to say that you CAN have some grace with your diet!
In the off-season, I tend to go and have whatever I want. From burgers to dougnuts, cakes and even sweets! But, in the season, it's focused. Give yourself a bit of leniency!
I am on the extreme end, in the sense that I don't want to eat anything outside of the things that I should be eating. But, for many of you young athletes, you don't have to be like me.
I've also learnt to cook recently, which makes it a little bit easier (and takes the strain off of my parents!). I tend to cook a lot for my meals, and I find it fun as I know exactly what I'm putting into my meals, and it's really beneficial that way, too.
You're on your own journey. You can have the odd packet of sweets, or a burger and chips, or whatever it may be. It's OK! Don't feel like you can't indulge as well, because it's important to have these things, as it makes you feel good!
Don't feel like you need to live a professional lifestyle from a really young age, just because you see someone else doing it. Enjoy the sport, give yourself some time. I was still able to perform to a reasonable level whilst I was on my poor diet. But, it would catch up to me now, of course.
Give yourself time to develop and grow as an athlete, and also as a person!
OUR MASSIVE THANKS TO DESTINY AND THE VISIONS PODCAST FOR THIS INSIGHTFUL PODCAST INTO DESTINY'S NUTRITION HABITS AS A SPRINTER.
LET US KNOW IF YOU HAVE ANY FEEDBACK BY POSTING IN THE COMMENTS BELOW!
ABOUT THE VISIONS PODCAST
The Visions Podcast is hosted by Destiny Ogali and his co-host JT.
Podcasts are released every Friday on their Apple Podcasts page, and their content focuses on conversations revolving around sports, culture and faith.
Take a better look at what they do by visiting their various channels. You can do this by checking out their Linktree page!
YouTube: Visions Podcast
OTHER RESOURCES FOR ATHLETES TO CHECK OUT
Lloyd Cowan Bursary: Supporting unfunded athletes aged 16-23 and coaches for whom cost is a potential barrier, to access developmental opportunities in athletics. Destiny has received funding from this bursary!
Rob George Foundation: Provides financial support to young people who demonstrate exceptional commitment and/or ability in the worlds of sport, but may be held back by their financial situation from pursuing their goals.