The right diet to support you as the best rider & athlete
Nutrition & diets are without a doubt the biggest minefield for all riders when it comes to beginning a strength, health or fitness journey. There are so many conflicting ideas, opinions, methods out there that if you’re not educated on what a balanced diet is it can be really difficult to assess the options & decide the one that is best for you!
Nutrition is responsible for how we feel, perform, ride & move daily. A poor diet can lead to a lack of energy, disturbed sleep, low moods, sugar highs, poor performance training, low health markers & is one of the biggest considerations when we talk about energy levels & how we feel health-wise.
Gut health & pain receptors have been shown in research to be closely linked so if you struggle with health conditions or illnesses then your diet is even more paramount to you; might sound corny but it’s true, you are what you eat.
With nutrition, an inside-out approach is always best! Fuel yourself with goodness from the inside & you’ll start to feel & look better on the outside. My latest podcast episode with the Horse & Hound was all about getting your diet back on track after December to fuel your body & riding & get you eating to maintain the physique you want. You can check it out here if you're looking for further nutrition help!
First things first, just like exercise, whatever diet/plan you choose to follow HAS to work for you. It must include the foods you like otherwise you’re going to feel restricted & the method needs to be something you enjoy to stick to long term. This is the no 1 rule for sustainably.
Keep things simple too. Often nutrition is just so overcomplicated when there is really no need.
So we want a balanced diet first of, this is most important; focusing on building meals from each of our macronutrient groups.
Macronutrient; A type of food required in large quantities in the diet (definition)
Protein, carbohydrates & fats are our main macronutrients. Protein is responsible for muscle repair & growth & helps us to feel full & satisfied after eating. Carbohydrates are our body's energy source, when consumed they break down into glucose which is stored in the blood, muscles & liver & this is the energy our body uses when riding, training, running etc. Fats are important especially as females for optimal hormonal & bodily function, they protect our organs & help the body to absorb minerals.
So how would you split these into your diet?
Protein wise the general rule of thumb is to aim for 30% of your total daily calories to come from protein sources or aim for 1-1.8g of protein per kg of BW. So for example;
You weigh 60kg; 60 x 1.5g=90g of protein
The calculation for protein you go for depends on your goals, research has shown if the goal is to increase strength & build muscle mass it is preferable to aim for a higher protein content but it is your preference & should be goal-specific. Protein mainly comes from animal products like meat, milk, eggs but also can be found in lentils, beans, nuts etc.
In terms of splitting up your carbohydrate & fat intake that is a personal preference. It is advised to keep your fat intake to a minimum of 30% of your total daily calories. As females, this is even more important as we have higher levels of body fat than men due to our genetic make up so we must make sure we include enough healthy fats within our diet.
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. Something to understand is fat is more energy-dense than other macronutrients so it is good to be aware of this, however, this does not mean fats are bad. You just need to be aware of this when choosing fats.
For every gram of protein & carbohydrate, there are 4 calories, for every gram of fat, there are 9 calories. Alcohol also contains 9 calories so something to be mindful of!
Carbohydrates often get a bad rep but this is due to misinformation & not fully understanding the research. Carbs are converted to glycogen and stored in our muscles, they are a crucial source of energy for all training, daily activities & riding. When we’re discussing carbohydrates I’m referring to complex carbohydrates, not processed carbohydrates.
Many carbs are packed with vitamins, minerals & antioxidants making them extremely beneficial for our health. Fibre is also a form of non-digestible carbohydrate that helps to keep us satisfied after meals and maintain a healthy gut. It's a good idea to aim for 20-30g of carbs within 60 minutes or so before training to fuel your performance & give you the energy you need especially if your training lasts more than 30 minutes.
It's important to note that for every gram of carbohydrate you consume the body stores 3 grams of water alongside, this is important to be aware of & the reason low carb diets can lead to drastic weight loss, more often that not that weight loss is water not fat.
Good sources of carbs include wholemeal breads, brown pasta, rice, potatoes, sweet potato, fruit, vegs so there are lots of options!
This should be how you start to balance your plate & daily diet using this macronutrient breakdown. Then we’ll think about the smaller things like our minerals & vitamins. For most of our horses, we’ll feed a supplement in addition to their hard food; sometimes this may be advised by our vet, dentist or you just feel there is something lacking in their diet & they need additional supplementation.
The same as our horses, our supplementation habits should derive from a food-first approach. If you get all of your vitamins & minerals into your diet through foods consisting of each macronutrient then there shouldn't be a need for extra supplementation. We get our vitamins & minerals from micronutrients in fruits, vegetables & foods. Some vitamins are harder to consume as part of our diet so it may be worth adding in additional supplements such as Vitamin D but we should always try to get all the goodness in from our food.
Things like leafy greens are a great source of iron, oranges are a great source of Vit C, so it’s educating yourself on where you can get what minerals in! The best way to make sure you have all the variation you need is to aim to make your diet as colourful as possible! Try to pack out meals with fruit & veg, snacks can also come from here & have the rainbow on your plate!
1 thing I will say is to do your research first. Many companies are just selling you products that do very little to benefit your health & performance in the long run & are not backed by scientific research. My advice would be to always eat well first & secondly always do your research before adding something in! Many times you may well just be throwing your hard-earned cash down the drain.
A few rules of thumb that I give my clients to keep on track with their diets for long term sustainably are the following;
Don’t restrict certain food types; Balance is key. Banishing certain foods can make the whole process unenjoyable & hard to stick to. Having a little bit of everything in your diet is the way to go when you're thinking of long-term results & sustainability, that's why diets don't work. Aim for an 80/20 approach with your diet; 20% of the foods can be foods you enjoy, deem as treats.
Eat plenty of volume; You’ll often hear people on a weight loss journey say, I ate more but I still lost weight it’s crazy. This can often happen & this is because they’re eating more foods but those foods are lower in calories. Whole foods are always going to be lower calories & have more health benefits than processed foods so make sure you’re being clever with your options. Packing out meals & snacks with low-calorie foods is great for keeping you full & satisfied as well
Try some healthy recipes; Why not try to cook your favourite pizza or cookie with a more nutritious twist? Have a search online for inspiration or in recipe books to help you make yummy & healthy meals. This way you're still eating your favourite meals but getting all the goodness in through simple swap-outs.
Track your foods; If you’re not sure what foods give you what macronutrient or benefit then use a device like my fitness pal to track your intake for a few weeks & educate yourself. Knowledge is power & the only way you’re going to learn about your diet is if you educate yourself.
Regardless of your physique goals, whether it’s weight loss or weight gain these should be the principles you follow when constructing your diet in the long term for optimal health & performance. If you’re looking for physique changes then that comes down to an energy balance.
For loss, you must be in a negative energy balance, calorie deficit & for gains you need to be in a positive energy balance, calorie surplus.
The better you eat & the more seriously you take your diet the better your gut health is going to be, the healthier of an individual you’ll be, the more energy you’ll have, the better you’ll ride & train & it’s going to be far easier to enjoy your food & life as well as maintaining a healthy weight.
Keep things simple-eating well does not need to be overcomplicated. Stick to these basics & if you need further help or have more questions feel free to reach out & DM me & I am more than happy to answer any questions you may have.
Hope this was useful,