Is your diet affecting your riding?
The FEI refer to riders as athletes. Athletes use food to fuel their training cycles & competition seasons and their diet can often be the reason behind a great season or not such great results. Food is important for so many bodily functions & is often overlooked within a riders training.
Food can be the cause of many riders struggles & problems, gut health is really serious here & affects your body in many ways. Eating a poor diet can cause inflammation, disease, fatigue, lack of energy to name a few. Often riders complain of being constantly knackered, they find they are always sore, their backs hurt, they are exhausted by 3pm, they suffer from bloat and the list goes on.
Now often there can be many reasons for these problems; if your riding 9 horses a day then soreness will most probably come through now and again. There's not a massive amount you can do to totally change that as riding is physically demanding. However your diet is responsible for many of your bodily functions so if you started to fuel yourself correctly you may find that a lot of these issues disperse & get better.
At the start of the season you probably organise for your horse to see an Equestrian nutritionist, often a rep from your feed company. Together you will devise a plan to give your horse the best diet possible so he can;
A; Look his best
B; Perform to his best.
If you fed him poor quality forage, gave him feeds at random times & just whacked a bit of this and a bit of that together in his dinner do you think he would be at his best? No of course not. You carefully monitor & plan your horses diet which is essential to make sure he has the right fuel to perform & get good results. So why aren't you applying the same principles to yourself?
Again treating yourself the same as you would your horse is crucial here. I see so many riders fail time & time again to apply the same principles of training & nutrition as they do to their horses to themselves. It doesn't need to be complex but food is fuel & to perform your best when you are training & riding your diet must be well constructed & should be one of your main focuses.
Your diet should construct of your 3 main macronutrients;
As well as these macronutrients you need to include micronutrients within your diet, that give your body the vitamins & minerals it needs to function optimally & healthily. These vitamins & minerals come from fruit, veg, seeds etc within your diet & are essential for your health. If you include plenty of micronutrients within your diet from whole foods & a variety of colour the need for extra vitamin supplementation should not be needed.
Without a well balanced diet your body will not have all the components it needs to be functioning optimally & you will find that you may not perform well, but also you may not feel great!
Food is fuel and you've got to start taking that seriously. I get that as riders you are busy; whether your working a full time job & managing the horses around that or you are running a yard full time but you have to MAKE time to priortise your diet. Meal prepping & planning is the key to eating well, especially when you are busy or on the road, so many people make excuses but ultimately you could find 10 minutes within your 24 hours to think about your food. Spending 10 minutes in the evening preparing your meals for the next day is crucial to have enough energy to get you through your busy days & you need to make time for this not excuses. Meal prep is often overcomplicated & made to look super fancy but it does not need to be. Just prepare 3 easy meals that will get you through your day.
Your diet should comprise of your 3 main macronutrients. Each macronutrient plays its own role within your bodily functions & to be the best athlete you can be you need to have a good balance of macronutrients focusing on whole food sources.
Carbohydrates are your body's main energy source, they break down into glucose and this glucose is either stored in the body as energy or is used to power both your central nervous system & fuel your working muscles. Carbohydrates give you energy so are essential for keeping you going all day.
When we say carbs we are not talking about Kripsy Kremes, crisps, chips, doughnuts we are talking about wholesome, nutritious sources of healthy foods such as potatoes, wholemeal bread, wholemeal pasta, rice, beans, bananas to name a few. Carbs often get a bad rep but that is unfair as healthy sources of carbs are your main energy source to give your body fuel to perform. If you eat highly refined, sugary carbs these will not make you feel energised these will give you a quick sugar hit and then you will hit the slump. Good sources of nutritious starchy carbs give you long lasting energy throughout the day to keep you going which is what you want & need! It is important to understand that for every gram of carbohydrate consumed you store 3g of water so if your goal is weight based then you may have gained weight the morning after a carby meal. This is not body fat, this is water retention & your weight will stabilise after a few hours, it is important to know that as often people falsely think carbs have lead them to gain weight & body fat overnight which is totally untrue. Low carb diets are not suitable for athletes as they do not give your body the main source of fuel that they need & you will find you struggle with fatigue.
Proteins are your muscle building foods, they are essential for building your muscle mass & for the growth & maintenance of your body cells & tissues. They help to repair the damage done to your muscles in training & riding sessions and are essential to ensure you maintain your body's muscle mass. If you are wanting to gain muscle then protein is crucial here! Proteins are made from essential & non essential amino acids & come mainly from animal sources such as steak, chicken, fish, cheese, eggs, milk but also from legumes & beans. Including protein post training sessions is key to give your body the fuel it needs to repair itself!
Riders, especially females, rarely eat anywhere near enough protein & most riders I work with consume so little protein in their diet. Protein is also the most satiating macronutrient meaning you will be satisfied after meals & feel full, essential if you struggle with snacking and not feeling satisfied after eating. I would recommend you to aim for 1.5-2grams of protein per kg of bodyweight daily.
E.g; You weight 50kg. So 50kg x 2= 100g of protein
That can sound like a lot but trust me it's not! Aim to include a serving of protein in every meal, if your goal is to have a "toned" physique protein is key here. Too little protein can cause muscle loss which is not what you want if you want a defined figure, your muscle mass gives you that toned appearance but most importantly it is crucial for bone, skin & tissue health.
Fat is your final macronutrient & is essential for your bodily functions & health. Often people think fat makes you fat, this is NOT the case.
Eating too many calories makes you fat not eating fats. Dietary fat keeps your body temperature regulated, protects your organs, helps your body absorb nutrients, produces important hormones & is used for energy too by your body. Healthy fat sources come from cheeses, nuts, avocados, dark chocolate & these good sources of fatty acids are needed in your diet to make sure your body functions optimally. Fat is a higher calorie macronutrient so it is good to be aware of this but does not mean you should not consume fats, they are needed for optimal health! Using the below palm size guide is great to use to know how much to include in each meal. Shoot for a thumb serving of fat with each meal!
Food is fuel & as a rider & athlete you must remember this. Eating poor quality & non nutritious foods will not give your body the goodness & energy it needs to perform or sustain your busy daily routines. Start making a bit of time for yourself in the evenings to prepare you food for the following day so you can make sure you fuel your body properly.
Start treating yourself as you do your horse, take your nutrition seriously & give your body the goodness it needs to have the best chance of good results. You want to aim to be eating healthy food sources on the whole but I would always recommend to have a 80/20% approach so you do not restrict yourself. If you eat well 80% of the time you should have room for some treats here & there and foods you enjoy. It is important not to restrict food groups or types as this is not a healthy or sustainable approach to long term eating! Don't worry that post event Maccy D's is still allowed!!
Hope this helps, nutrition isn't complicated but often people make it so! If you have any questions I am here to help!