[Podcast] Sports nutrition tips from a Paralympian and dietitian

a profile picture of Julia Ebbens
Health Content Editor at Bupa UK
15 December 2022
Next review due December 2025

This year, Bupa partnered with Paralympics GB to support athletes training for the 2024 event. We caught up with cyclist Ben Watson to discuss how good nutrition can help to improve athletic performance.

I also spoke to Bupa Dietitian, Dawn Wilson, who shares her top tips for eating well when exercising. You can listen to the interviews in the Sports Nutrition tips podcast or read some highlights from the discussions below.

What role does nutrition have in sports performance?

During our interview with Ben Watson, he described good nutrition as the “foundation” for his sporting success. Bupa Dietitian Dawn Wilson also agrees on the importance of eating well when you’re active. Studies have shown that good nutrition can make a positive difference to activities from rugby to road biking. Eating well can:

  • improve your energy levels
  • increase your stamina
  • aid your ability to recover from exercise
  • help you to grow and strengthen your muscles
  • reduce inflammation
  • support your immune health when training

Does when you eat matter?

With sports nutrition, it’s as important to think about when you eat as what you eat. This is because timing your carbohydrate and protein intake right is key for success. For example, eating carbohydrates before exercise can boost your stored glucose (glycogen) supplies. Having enough glycogen is a great indicator of how long you can keep exercising for.

Similarly, having protein shortly after exercising can support muscle recovery. It can also boost your muscle growth too. Having a low-fat snack before exercising is also a good idea as this can prevent any digestive discomfort.

Read more about what to eat before, during and after exercise.

Are you getting enough micronutrients?

As well as getting enough macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat), you also need to focus on your micronutrients. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals such as iron and vitamin D. Vitamins and minerals contribute to your energy levels, your bone strength, and your muscle recovery.

There is also good evidence for the role of essential fatty acids such as omega 3 in sports nutrition. Omega 3, which is found in oily fish, can reduce muscle inflammation, and help to prevent further damage after exercising.

Can supplements help?

Most active people can get enough protein from a healthy balanced diet, but an occasional protein shake after exercise can be good if you don’t have the appetite to eat solid food. Other sports nutrition supplements that may help include creatine monohydrate. Creatine has been shown to increase your muscle endurance during strenuous exercise such as a rugby match.

You may also benefit from taking a small amount of caffeine before exercise. This is because caffeine has been shown to improve energy and stamina during exercise.

How can you reduce digestive discomfort?

It’s quite common for people to get an upset stomach before or during a sporting event. This can be due to nervousness, but it may also have a dietary cause. Try to avoid having too much fibre before your event as this can cause excess gas and bloating. Ideally, aim to eat some easily digestible, low glycaemic index carbohydrates before an event. This could be something like rice cakes with chopped banana.

Also, it’s a good idea to have a tried and tested snack that you know you can digest well. It’s not the time to try something new that may cause you discomfort.

Are there any special considerations for disabilities?

When we asked Ben Watson this question, he said that he didn’t need to change anything in his diet to manage his disability. But he did highlight that this is very individual. For example, one of his Paralympic teammates needs to avoid foods containing vitamin A to manage her eye condition. So, it’s best to see a qualified dietitian or nutritionist to help you get specific advice that is tailored to your needs.

Watch the video where Emma Shatliff discusses sports nutrition with Paralympic cyclist, Ben Watson.

Dietitian-approved tips for better sports nutrition

  • Drink little and often before, during, and after you exercise. You want to be well hydrated going into your sport. Avoid drinking a lot just before exercising as this can cause digestive issues. Water is fine if your exercise is under an hour, otherwise consider an electrolyte drink.
  • Plan ahead. Pre-prepare snacks with the right amount of protein and carbohydrates. This means you can eat what you need at the right time to help you to perform well and recover. Consider a protein shake if you can’t access food within 30 minutes of exercising.
  • Follow the general principles of a healthy diet. So, get enough vitamins and minerals, healthy fats, lean proteins, and fibre. Aim for a wide range of brightly coloured vegetables and fruits.
  • Get enough omega 3. You can do this by eating at least one portion of oily fish per week or by taking supplements. Not only are these essential fatty acids good for your heart and brain health, but they can support you post-exercise too.
  • See a sports nutrition expert. They can help you make a specific plan based on your goals. For example, you may need extra protein if you’re aiming to grow muscle mass. Similarly, they can advise you about the suitability of supplements such as creatine, which may boost your sporting endurance.

Are you interested in learning more about your health? Discover more about our range of health assessments.

a profile picture of Julia Ebbens
Julia Ebbens
Health Content Editor at Bupa UK

    • Sports and exercise. British dietetic association., May 2020.
    • Williams C, et Rollo I. Carbohydrate nutrition and team sport performance. Sports Med. 2015; 45:13. doi: 10.1007/s40279-015-0399-3.
    • Mata F, Valenzula P, Gimenez J et al. Carbohydrate availability and physical performance: physiological overview and practical recommendations. Nutrients 2019; 11:1084. doi: 10.3390/nu11051084.
    • Gammone M, Riccioni G, Parinello G et al. Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids: Benefits and endpoints in sport. Nutrients 2019; 11: 26. doi: 10.3390/nu11051084.
    • Personal correspondence with Bupa Dietitian Dawn Wilson.
    • Wax B, Kerksick C, Jagim A et al. Creatine for exercise and sports performance, with recovery considerations for healthy populations. Nutrients 2021;13: 1916.

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