The test: Dietary analysis
What it measures: Nutrient intake and diet composition
Why have it? A sports dietitian or nutritionist is now an integral part of any performance team working in elite level sport, which is why although Mo Farah celebrated his double gold at the London Olympics with a tasty burger, he was soon back on his staple diet of pasta, steamed vegetables and grilled chicken.
‘Nutrition plays a major role in supporting not just performance, but general health and recovery,’ says Dr Karen Reid, a dietitian who has worked in high performance sport for over 20 years. ‘It’s not just about what an athlete eats, but also about timing of food around their training sessions and, particularly in the case of distance runners, overall calorie intake, since energy demands are so high. The mantra I use to educate athletes is “eat to train, eat to recover”.’
The first step is to assess the athlete’s current diet so that Reid can devise a nutrition and hydration programme that meets their sport-specific and individual energy and macronutrient needs. ‘This is then monitored and regularly reviewed – and may change according to the phase of training they are in,’ she says. Any concerns flagged up through dietary analysis may be investigated further – for example, if a low iron intake is revealed, a blood test may be used to check levels. Where necessary, supplements may be advised. Do we recreational runners warrant the elite treatment, when we could just follow general guidelines on nutrition? ‘I believe there is great value in getting tailored advice on how to relate those guidelines to your own individual circumstances and sport,’ says Reid.
What it’s like: Completing a detailed food diary means writing down everything you eat and drink for 3-7 days, saving labels, weighing food where possible and above all, being absolutely honest. My nutritional assessment showed that my macronutrient ratio (the ‘big three’: carbs, protein and fat) was well-balanced and, but the big shock was my overall calorie consumption – around 3000 calories per day! I’m not overweight but I feel that a modest reduction would help me achieve my racing weight, which is a few pounds less than I’m currently carrying. I’ve been sent recipes and suggested menus which incorporate foods I already like and eat and useful tips like eating half my lunch mid-morning before a lunchtime training session, to avoid excessive afternoon snacking.
Details: A detailed 7-day analysis and consultation costs from £175, including menus and recipes. Ongoing diet coaching and specialist support, £100/month. www.performancefood.co.uk