Author: Alan Kenny MSc
Note: This article is supporting content to the Optimum Nutrition for Health and Performance course and is for educational purposes only. It does not reflect the opinion of Glanbia Performance Nutrition, nor is it intended for product marketing purposes.
As the world takes stronger measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, self-quarantine and the temporary closing of businesses may affect normal food-related practices. Many people find themselves at home and out of their regular routine. This is especially difficult for athletes that have to maintain body composition goals for their chosen sport. Not having access to training facilities, coaches and equipment can all also have a detrimental effect on athlete’s performance.
We know that building your desired physique takes a lot of time and effort so we have outlined some tips below to help you maintain your body composition through this challenging time.
Consume Adequate Protein
If athletes do not consume adequate protein, it will lead to an increase in muscle breakdown and may lead to muscle loss in the long–term. This is very important for both training athletes and those on a reduced training load. Adequate protein intake is important for not only the building of muscle mass, but also the maintenance of muscle mass. A daily protein intake of 1.6-2.2g per kg bodyweight is required for team sport athletes to maximize lean mass1. This means that an athlete weighing 80kg need to consume between 128g and 176g of protein per day.
Further to consuming an adequate amount of protein daily, it is important that players evenly distribute protein across the day, aiming for protein servings of 20-30g or 0.4g/kg body weight every 3 hours. Muscle protein synthesis can be initiated every 3 hours when an adequate amount of protein is consumed2. Total intake should be spread across a minimum of 3 meals per day of equal protein servings3.
There are some potential advantages to having additional time on your hands. Using this time to upgrade your nutrition knowledge, improving your cooking skills or learning some new recipes is a great way to ensure that you come out the other side of this situation in a better place. Learning a new skill is great for your mental health and an opportunity to add an additional tool to your performance arsenal. Luckily there are many great resources out there, we have recipes and regular content on our blog (LINK) and for those serious about improving their knowledge, why not check out our online education platform – Optimum Nutrition for Health & Performance. (LINK)
Resistance training-induced improvements in muscle strength and power reverse quickly with complete cessation of exercise, although neuromuscular and functional changes seem to be maintained for a longer period4. Muscular strength, functional performance, and metabolic health indicators may be maintained by as little as a single session per week of moderate- to hard-intensity exercise4. Intensity seems to be an important component of maintaining the effects of resistance training5. A study of more than 6000 runners followed for 7.4 yr6 determined that the magnitude of increase in abdominal adiposity associated with a reduction in training depended on the magnitude of the reduction in training volume in a dose-dependent manner. Although these results cannot be completely generalized for everyone, they do suggest that more exercise is required to improve cardiorespiratory fitness and cardio metabolic health than is required to maintain these improvements. This would imply that even training at a reduced rate or lower intensity than normal will still be beneficial in maintaining fitness.
Schedule out meals/plan in advance
It is very difficult to stay on track without your regular structured routine. The normal social cues for meals, such as tea break or lunchtime may not apply at home. This factor, combined with the easier access to food can lead to some poor decision making around food. Setting out a schedule for each day along with a meal plan will help you maintain a structured approach to eating. Planning your meals out will also help you to stay on track when it comes to your daily goals or targets.
Match energy intake to expenditure
If your energy expenditure has decreased significantly since this started, you may need to decrease your energy intake to reflect that. Our dietary intake is generally more habitual than our energy output so you could be still eating a higher amount of calories each than you need without realising. The amount of calories you require each may have reduced if your training or general energy expenditure has reduced. Failing to equate for this reduction will lead to you eating in a calorie surplus, which will then lead to some weight gain. For example, an 80kg male athlete, training moderately hard 4-5 times per week will need approximately 2890kcals per day to maintain weight and optimally perform. Should this athlete suddenly drop to a sedentary lifestyle doing little to no exercise, their daily caloric needs will drop to approximately 2240kcals per day for maintenance. Continuing to eat the usual higher amount of calories each day while sedentary will create a 650kcal surplus each day, potentially leading to an increase in weight of roughly 1lb per week.
Eat the Rainbow
Fruits and vegetables provide an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants and phytonutrients. Vegetables in particular provide a great source of fibre and should form a regular component of most of your meals to ensure a healthy foundation to your diet. We often categorise fruits and vegetables by colour, with each colour group having its own unique set of benefits. Although each person is different, choosing to eat a rainbow of different coloured fruits and vegetables daily is a prudent approach, which should provide you with your daily needs of vitamins and minerals. Fruits and vegetables in particular, can also be low calorie but high volume foods. This is potentially advantageous for those looking to maintain body composition, as they will consume an overall lower amount of calories for a similar amount of intake by volume.
- Campbell, B et al., 2007. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 4(1), p.8
- Jäger, R et al., 2017. International society of sports nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14(1), p.20
- Areta, J.L et al., 201 Timing and distribution of protein ingestion during prolonged recovery from resistance exercise alters myofibrillar protein synthesis. The Journal of physiology, 591(9), pp.2319-2331
- Garber et al. (2011) Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults: Guidance for Prescribing Exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: 43(7) - p 1334-1359.
- Fatouros, I. et al., (2005). Strength training and detraining effects on muscular strength, anaerobic power, and mobility of inactive older men are intensity dependent. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 39(10), 776-780.
- Williams PT, Thompson PD. (2006) Dose-dependent effects of training and detraining on weight in 6406 runners during 7.4 years. Obesity (Silver Spring). 14(11), 1975-84.