Carbs, Sleep, and a Pint of Milk – Food to Fuel Success

4 min read

Last Modified 26 May 2021 First Added 20 April 2021

Sports nutrition is evolving. New research and an increased emphasis amongst sporting teams is recognition of the important role diet plays in performance. As a nutritionist working with some of Britain’s top athletes, Emma has the inside track on how what we eat and when we eat it can boost our sporting prowess. And Olympic champion Laura Kenny has put it all into practise. So, we asked them… what’s the magic combination?

The impact of nutrition on performance

Interest in nutrition science has flourished over the past decade and exciting new research is highlighting the pivotal role it plays in elite sports performance. No surprise then that when it comes to keeping our athletes in shape for success, Emma is keen to ensure they all receive a good education in quality nutrition. She explains:

We encourage them to avoid processed foods, to cook meals from scratch using fresh ingredients, to include plenty of fruit and vegetables, and to eat oily fish once or twice a week. We also advise them around the type of carbohydrates to include and the proportion of carbs to protein, which will depend on the intensity of their training schedules.

While nutrition alone will not transform an athlete into a medal winner, it does play a key role in helping them achieve the marginal gains needed for success. And with four Olympic golds under her belt, Laura is only too aware how important a good diet is when managing the relentless demands of training and competing. To keep her energy levels up, Laura enjoys sticking to a regular eating regime. “Usually I’ll have porridge for breakfast, avocado on toast, and then whatever Jason cooks me for dinner!” she laughs, referring to her husband and fellow Olympic cyclist, Jason Kenny.

Eating to aid recovery

During a competition, Laura tells us that her diet is primarily focused on carbs. Carbohydrates are widely known to be a robust fuel source that help to replenish lost energy, so it makes sense to eat a lot of them when competing or training intensely. But Emma also reveals that there is growing evidence to suggest carbs are good for recovery and immunity too.

In terms of illness and injury prevention, there are many roles that carbs play. They are no longer used just for fuel, which is why they’re so critical for athletes in particular.

Emma adds that research over the last few years has found that having a glass of milk or other good quality protein before bed can help your body repair and your muscles grow overnight. After a tough day training, it can also help to soothe some of the pain. And Laura is definitely on board, revealing that she drinks a pint of milk every single night. “We call it pre-bed protein,” she says.

Eating regimes and sleep

Another new area of nutritional research is exploring how our circadian rhythm (body clock) is affected by the timing of meals. Athletes often travel through different time zones or compete in late night tournaments which can be problematic for sleeping patterns. To overcome this, Emma and her team encourage athletes to eat at specific meal times.

We know that there is an important relationship between eating and sleeping. So, when we’re on the road, we encourage the athletes to eat at set times to help reset their body clocks. The idea is to use meal times to benefit rather than impact the quality of their sleep.

As research into nutrition continues to evolve, we will no doubt discover much more about how to get the most out of what we eat. But whether it’s adding a glass of milk to your bedtime routine or making more of an effort to cook from scratch, there are plenty of small but significant ways you can adapt your diet to keep you in top shape.

Fancy knowing a little more about nutrition and rest? Check out our post on foods that can help you sleep.