Six months before my team and I won the World Championship title in 2018, I made a drastic change in my diet that greatly impacted and improved my performance. I had always tried to eat healthy – eating my fruits, veggies, and protein daily - but I had done so rather blindly. I did not really know what or how much I was putting into my body, let alone what my body needed. After a string of bad results in the 2017-2018 season, I decided to re-evaluate my training, including my diet. I started educating myself about what an athlete needs to consume and then tapering that to what I needed to consume.
During non-COVID times, I would train between 6-8 hours a day. I would take an hour long lesson, do an hour of footwork, lift for about an hour in the mornings then fence and sometime cross train for 2-4 hours in the evenings. Given my intense training regime, along with my height, weight, and gender, I first calculated how many calories I needed to consume a day. Once I had that number, I then needed to break that down into how many grams of each macronutrient I needed to consume. For reference, there are three macronutrients: carbohydrates (what your body uses as “gas”), proteins (what your body uses to build muscle), and fats (what your body uses to store excess energy). A lot of basic diets suggest that each macronutrient constitute about a third of one’s diet. Depending on one’s sport, most athletes tend to decrease fat intake in favor of a higher protein and an even higher carbohydrate intake. Because one of my main goals was to gain muscle, I opted for a higher protein intake than most fencers. All told, my diet consisted of about 40% protein, 35% carbohydrate, and 25% fat distributed throughout 5-7 meals per day depending on my training load.
In addition to what/how many nutrients you are consuming, it is also important to consider nutrient consumption timing. It is commonly believed that one should have protein immediately after working out. However, one should actually rather have carbohydrates immediately after working (within 20 minutes of completing exercise). Protein takes longer to digest and is stored in something akin to a “protein pool,” so it can be allotted out rather constantly/consistently throughout the day. Given this, it is better to thus evenly distribute one’s protein consumption throughout the day to support this mechanism. Since carbohydrates are the body’s main source of fuel, they are, in contrast, used up readily, especially when there is increased demand on the body. They are also essential for immediate muscle recovery after exertion. As such, it is most beneficial to consume carbohydrates immediately after working out to promote recovery.
To be honest, I had to do a fair bit of reading, talking to people, and experimenting before I found what worked for me. There is a ton of information out there and everybody is different. For me personally, I feel better on a very high protein diet. I feel stronger, faster, and have more energy. This is not necessarily the case for everybody. However, I can attest that, once you find the right nutrition plan for you and you stick to it, you will feel great and will certainly help your athletic performance!