When it comes to our horses we know all the latest science & research & get our feed reps to make sure they are eating to their absolute best. If supplements are needed we add them in to make sure their diets support their health & allow them to perform at their best.
Nutrition is a big focus within my coaching programme for riders too. I always tell my clients that 90% of their result comes down to their nutrition approach & habits & I am a big believer in this. Even if the goal isn’t weight loss, say you want to improve your energy or run 5km your nutrition will be hugely responsible for whether or not your body is able to achieve that.
Regardless of any physique goals, riders should be focusing on fuelling their bodies as well as possible for their performance whether that be training or riding. Your body is like a car, if you put rubbish fuel in it & don’t service it regularly it’s going to be less reliable & more prone to breakdowns whereas if you fill it with good quality fuel, get regular services it’s going to feel much better! That means it will perform better & last longer.
Eating well doesn’t need to be complicated, take hours or cost the earth either. I hear so many excuses when it comes to reasons riders don’t eat as well as they could but ultimately these are simply excuses & in my experience as a coach I think these excuses get used due to a lack of knowledge as let's be honest, the whole food/nutrition thing can be a total minefield at the best of times!
So let's break down how to construct a healthy & balanced diet that is going to do all of the things I mentioned above. Your diet should consist & be built around your 3 main macronutrient groups;
Alongside these 3 macronutrient groups, we then have our micronutrients which give our bodies the vitamin and minerals it needs. Our supplements if you like & ideally we want to get these through our food. Fruit and veg are the best sources for micronutrients & the macronutrients are the big rocks we want to be focusing on. Think of your macros as the base of your pizza & the micros as the toppings! You can have variety & flexibility here.
What do these macro groups do then & why do we need them?
Carbohydrates are our body's energy source. When we eat carbohydrates, the digestive system breaks them down into glucose. That glucose is then stored in the muscle, in the liver and in the bloodstream as glycogen which is our body's energy source. Our body uses this readily available glycogen as fuel for mental & physical performance!
We want to focus on complex carbohydrates which are foods like fruit, veg, whole grain products, whole meal products, potatoes, brown rice etc. Typically when we say carbs you're probably thinking of the more simple carbohydrates that tend to be very processed, and very high in sugar, like chocolate bars or cookies. These are things we want to eat in lower quantities as they don’t give our body this long-lasting energy, are higher in calories & processed ingredients & aren’t actually that beneficial for our long-term health.
One of the reasons we want to avoid overconsuming these simple carbohydrates is because they give the body a huge spike in insulin due to the high sugar content, and then boom, your insulin comes crashing down and that's where you end up getting a massive energy drop or what is known as a sugar crash as your body cannot handle this high level of sugar in the bloodstream so fast & is unable to process it. Whereas complex carbs slowly release energy gradually over a sustained period of time so therefore we avoid this big drop.
This is where carbohydrates in the past have got a bad rap because when you say carbs people often think of doughnuts, rice, white bread, cookies & think of them as being “bad” or the reason you gain weight.
Remember weight gain simply comes down to eating too many calories & if you eat foods that are more processed they tend to be higher in calories but if you focus on complex carbs as I listed above they give your body energy, fuel your performance & help you to sustain your exercise & riding all day long! Complex carbohydrates give our bodies long-lasting energy & this is what we want to make sure we have enough of when life is busy & we're wanting to train & ride hard.
If you're lacking energy, then you want to think about whether you've got enough carbohydrates in your diet and the quality of your carbohydrates, but as well as it just being an energy source, which really will transform our performance, you need to think about the other benefits that carbohydrates give the body by providing vitamins, minerals & antioxidants as well as supporting good gut health.
Remember they’re not just good for energy they’re imperative for our health too! Aim for around 30-45% of your total daily food intake to come from carbohydrate sources.
Protein aids the growth & repair of muscles, and it maintains our muscle mass. Protein breaks down into amino acids when it's digested and that helps to repair damage done to the muscle tissue. It starts the recovery process after training sessions or competitions or after any sort of run, don't get caught up in thinking you only need protein around strength or heavy lifting sessions. You need protein around endurance sessions as well to allow your muscles the amino acids it needs to recover as well as possible!
After a competition or event think about getting plenty of protein in & this will help to aid recovery. This is often why many people take a protein shake to the gym with them as they feel the quicker they can start the recovery process the better the body reacts & therefore the less time you will have to wait until you can go & push hard again!
If you're on a weight loss or maintenance journey, making sure you have a high protein diet is really, really important. Protein is the most satiating macronutrient of the 3 meaning you will feel satisfied & full up after a high protein meal. If your meals are low in protein you’ll probably find that say an hour or so after eating you become hungry again & you’re just not satisfied. If you're then trying to stick to a calorie deficit having enough protein will make it easier for you to adhere to those lower calories & reduce the temptation to snack. Protein typically comes from animal products but there are lots of vegan based protein options as well as powders etc.
When we train we are creating metabolic stress to our muscles, we want to make sure we give our body the protein it needs so these muscles can be repaired & come back bigger & stronger not end up injured or struggling to maintain mass. Again if you’re in a weight loss phase the last thing you want to be doing is not eating enough protein as this could possibly lead to muscle loss which can sometimes give you the “skinny fat” look which is not what most females want!
if you want to have that desirable, toned, lean physique, where you can see the definition of your muscle then make sure you include enough protein in your diet! Obviously to see lean muscle & definition you need to be holding a low enough body fat % too. Protein supports our bone health & boosts our metabolism so make sure you include about 30% or 1.2-2g per kg of bodyweight within your daily diet. For most people aiming for around 1.2-1.5g per kg is plenty.
Fat is used to make up our cell membrane, assist hormone storage, support our immune system & protect our organs. Fat helps the absorption of Vitamins A, D, E & K which are responsible for many essential bodily functions. Unsaturated fats are seen as your healthy fats; avocados, oily fish, olive oil, nuts, omega 3. These fats have far more health benefits than saturated fats such as butter. Fats are extremely important for our health & performance & they give you a feeling of satiety post meal leaving you feeling full up. As females, they are responsible for many of the body’s hormonal roles such as having a healthy menstrual cycle so make sure you include enough fat in your diet.
Again sometimes people can be led to believe that “fats make you fat” but as I said earlier it’s not 1 macronutrient that is responsible for weight gain, that simply comes down to overconsumption of total daily calories. Try to aim for a minimum of 30% of your diet to come from good fat sources.
A balanced diet that is going to best support your training & riding goals is one that includes all 3 of your macros as listed in this blog. Play around & find the split that works best for you but to begin I would suggest 30% of your total daily calories/intake comes from protein, 30-45% from carbohydrates & 30-40% from fats. Sticking to that protein % is imperative but how you break down your carbs & fats is personal preference & I would suggest playing around to find what works best for you.
If you then think about making your diet as colourful as possible this will give your body lots of the vitamins & minerals it needs & you should feel like your energy is high, you feel amazing & you’re ready to go & smash your session or competition! Adding in lots of fruit, veg & leafy greens will really help to manage hunger levels too.
As always I suggest you follow an 80/20 balance so there are no feelings of restriction when it comes to your diet. Eating well 80% of the time, picking good sources of whole foods then you have room the remaining 20% of the time for the foods you like or more treatier options like doughnuts! Balance is key.
I hope this helps you to understand how to best fuel your body to get the most out of your performance & what to focus on with your nutrition.