If you’re an athlete of any level, training hard, you need to properly fuel whatever goals you’re chasing.

It seems obvious and yet often due to a lack of time, knowledge or skill many of us frequently miss the mark; with either a drop in health, wellbeing or performance the price paid.

With some knowledge around what to look for, you can plan to prevent under-fuelling along with some skills in the preparation, shopping and cooking department, you can begin to nail your fuelling strategies.

Whenever I sit with an athlete I ask a lot of questions!

Many of these don’t even touch on what foods they are eating.

Based on the responses to these non-food questions, I can make some pretty accurate calls around what they are doing ‘wrong’ before even tackling the food diary.

The tell tale signs and symptoms of an athlete who is failing to either fuel adequately or get the timing of that fuelling right include:

  • Irregular or missed periods.
  • Progress or results just not matching effort levels.
  • Body weight concerns – including inability to shift body fat.
  • Lingering injuries.
  • Frequent illness.
  • Low motivation and poor moods.
  • Poor decision making in competition and slower reaction times that impact on performance.
  • Stress fractures or bone stress reactions.
  • Inability to concentrate at work, school or life in general.
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
  • Ongoing gut issues with no real cause.
  • Drops in power, speed, strength or muscle mass.
  • Increased fatigue.
  • Poor sleep.

Many of these issues can be rectified by eating more, eating a greater variety or including specific foods and/or adjusting timing, so key sessions are better supported.

Nutrition is pretty cool like that, get it right and it solves a lot.

In addition to the signs and symptoms above, there are some lifestyle or personality questions that are also telling, and can be a red flag even in advance of any symptoms appearing. I always look out for athletes who are:

  • Skipping meals – whether intentionally or through poor planning.
  • Too busy to properly think through requirements and just ‘make-do’ or ‘wing it’ when it comes to diet.
  • Don’t make enough time around training for fuelling/recovery – just rush off to the next activity thinking training is enough as is.
  • Picky eaters.
  • Food intolerances or allergies – especially if these haven’t had good support in understanding alternatives.
  • Eating too clean – high energy outputs might need some processed or higher energy foods in there at times.
  • Low appetite due to stress, medications or other factors.

If any of these sound familiar, it’s worth assessing your diet and sitting down with a sports dietitian.

Small changes can lead to big improvements when you’re searching for your best performance.