nutrition tips for athletes

5 Nutrition Tips for Athletes Heading Back to the Gym

Sport Nutrition

Are you finally getting back to your regular fitness routine after a the long covid gym drought? Wondering how your diet should change after maybe being less-than-consistent with your nutrition over the past few months? Check out these top tips for nailing your nutrition by my guest blogger, Nutrition Student Presly Walker!

There’s no doubt that most athletes and gym-goers have felt the physical affects from the Covid-19 lockdown. From the loss of fitness, to the loss of an outlet for stress management these past few months have been challenging for athletes of all levels. In this blog I’m sharing 5 nutrition tips for athletes with a focus on creating a sustainable, healthy lifestyle. Many of us struggled to keep up with our workouts at home and stay on track with our nutrition. When you’re at the gym almost daily your energy needs are much higher, and the stress management we get from exercise is important for many of us. Being locked out of our second homes during covid meant lower activity levels, fewer outlets for managing stress, and more social isolation.

Now that gyms are beginning to reopen, we may start to analyze how much progress we’ve lost over the past few months. Over-compensation for lost time is a common problem in athletes, and can make us worse of in the long run! Avoiding this misconception is an important aspect in the transition to new workout and eating routines. Here are some nutrition tips for athletes returning to the gym who may be feeling behind, or aren’t sure how to get back on track with their diet!

Top Nutrition Tips for Athletes

1. Get back to the basics of healthy eating

If you’ve lost motivation to get in those fruits and veggies since your workouts ground to a halt make this your first step for getting back on track. Reintroducing a balanced, healthy diet can make you feel much more refreshed and energized before you even step foot back into the gym.

Don’t seek out a new ‘diet’ right now, since they often only make you more preoccupied with your weight, rather than properly fueling your body for performance. If you want to try something new with your eating, the Mediterranean diet is a good option. It provides a large variety of plant-based, whole foods and eliminates processed foods high in saturated fats. Load up on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins such as fish, chicken and tenderloin.

Lastly, food cravings happen to all of us so don’t be surprised when they do! If you’re craving something sweet or salty, don’t deprive yourself. Have a small serving or try to find a more nutrient-dense replacement for what you’re craving.

Unsure if you’re fueling right for your training? Check out my signs to watch out for!

2. Ease back in

Whether you prefer weights or cardio, your body will need time to adjust back to a consistent training regimen. If you jump right back into where you left off after a two-month break you’re going to wind up really sore, or really injured. Start by working out 3-4 times a week for 20-30 minutes. On the other days, do some form of moderate physical activity like walking, biking or yoga.

As for nutrition, an important tip for athletes is to eat enough when returning to your workouts. Even if you are trying to lose a couple pounds, it is important to still meet your basic energy needs. Your muscles need available energy so that they can begin to rebuild and strengthen when you start working out after a long break. That being said, before your workout, fuel up with carbs (like fruit, starchy vegetables, or oats). Post-workout, aim for a combination of protein and carbohydrates. Putting yourself in a huge calorie deficit will only hurt your performance, not to mention your overall long-term health.

If you notice that you’re hungrier than usual, try filling up on high fibre foods! Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, and chickpeas are all great options to keep you feeling full after a meal.

3. Make it fun

The best workouts are the ones that you don’t even realize are workouts, and the best healthy meals can be the ones that don’t seem like it either!

Some folks whose lives got put on hold during lockdown were actually able to rediscover the joy of being outside and going for hikes, bike rides and camping trips. These are all super enjoyable outdoor activities that are fantastic ways of getting outside and moving our bodies without even noticing.

When packing meals for day trips or camping trips, use this as an opportunity to make nutritious food fun too. Instead of hot dogs and salty snacks, find some creative new recipes to cook over the fire, or pack along on a hike! Click here for some great ideas on Pinterest. Try some energy bites or homemade granola bars to bring and share with your friends or family.

Going on day trips like hiking or swimming at the beach are already great physical activities, so pair them with some healthy snacks and plenty of water!

Looking for some great hikes right here in Manitoba? Click here for 10 Great Hikes in Manitoba for Newbie Hikers.

4. Stay positive and set small, realistic goals

It’s easy to feel defeated or upset about any lost progress after a long break from the gym. It can be that same guilty feeling many of us have after coming home from a vacation full of delicious food and laying by the pool all day long. But maybe it’s time for a mindset swap!

Focusing on the negatives (lost fitness, changes in body composition) can take you down a pretty guilt-ridden path. Though it might take some time to get your fitness level back to where it was pre-lockdown, fill your head with positive thoughts instead. You’ll be surprised how fast you can get back on track if you’re treating yourself with a little kindness. Set daily or weekly nutrition goals to stay on track so that you have something to work towards. This will help you focus on what you’re doing right and ignore the things that aren’t helping you move forward. Keep your eye on the prize!

5. Find what works for you

We’re all unique individuals with different genetics, lifestyles, and goals. A certain nutrition or workout strategy may be working great for your friend, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Don’t compare yourself to your gym buddy who seems to get right back into the swing of things post-quarantine if you need a little more time. Remember this while transitioning back into your workout routines so that you can just go at your own pace!

The same goes for nutrition. We all respond differently to different styles of eating so personalization is key. Once you figure out what works for your body and figure out how to best fuel yourself you’ll be on the right track!

Unsure where to start? A Sport Dietitian can help you with a personalized nutrition plan to help you get the most of our workouts and perform your best. Learn more about my one on one coaching programs here!

The Bottom Line

So, as you head back to the gym as they begin to re-open keep these nutrition tips in mind! Don’t stress or panic about lost time, lost fitness, or lost progress. Stay positive, stick with the basics and find strategies that work best for you!

About the Author: Presly is a student at the University of Manitoba who is currently studying nutrition in hopes to begin a career in dietetics. You could even say she’s a “huge food nerd who loves outdoor adventures”. She is exited to help others see the importance of a healthy lifestyle, while expanding her knowledge and qualifications. Growing up as an athlete enabled her to find a love for sport and nutrition and she continues to prioritize diet and exercise in adulthood. Finding ways to enjoy life through balance and moderation is something Presly believes can lead to an overall long and happy life and she looks forward to sharing her values and guidance in the near future!