Being a competitive athlete in any sport is tough.
The training is often gruelling and repetitive but you put in the hours and work hard while at the sessions.
Sometimes you do not feel like going to a session but you go anyway. It is after sessions like these that you often leave feeling the best because you forced yourself to do something you didn’t want to do. You put in the “grind”.
You work hard and you go to sessions when you don’t feel like going. As such you think of yourself as a dedicated trainer and thereby a dedicated athlete.
Are you really a dedicated athlete though?
The actual training sessions with your squad or training group or the sessions you do by yourself are just 1 piece of the performance puzzle. There are a lot of other habits that need to be fit into place so as to optimise your athletic potential.
These habits include but are not limited to the following:
1. Taking your sleep and recovery seriously:
You do not get better at training, you get better when you are resting and recovering from training. It is when you are resting that your body makes the necessary adaptations to your body so that the next time you do a particular exercise/movement/weight you can do it with more ease and with more efficiency. The basis of recovery is sleep in which you should get a minimum of 8 hours a night. There are some experts however that feel an extra hour of sleep is needed for every extra hour of training you do. As well as sleep your recovery is hugely based off training load and intensity. Do you plan easy days as well as hard days? Do you cycle your training loads? Do you listen to your body and back off a little if your sleep is getting disturbed and little niggles or colds are starting to rear their ugly heads?
2. Conscious of calorie intake and needs:
Calorie intake is very important as an athlete looking to get the most out of your body. Taking specific hormonal issues such as thyroid dysfunction out of the picture, if you’re starting to put on fat your probably eating too many and if you are losing fat but are also losing muscle and strength and are not recovering from training then you are probably eating too few. If at the very least you do not even have a basic ballpark figure of your intake how the hell can you decide what to do with your diet to achieve specific adaptations from your body such as losing fat or gaining muscle? Some people can thrive on 100% intuitive eating with no idea of their intake but most people cannot. If most people could we would not have an ever worsening obesity and non-communicable disease epidemic on our hands and we would not have huge amounts of athletes with eating disorders.
3. Conscious of your macronutrient intake and needs:
Eating sufficient protein is a huge priority for athletes. Training breaks down your muscles and for the most part your muscles are made of protein. Therefore it is pretty obvious that if you do not eat enough of it then your body will be unable to recover from training. Training hard then not eating enough protein is like asking a builder to build a house but not giving him any bricks. With regards to weight loss, calorie intake will determine whether or not you lose or gain weight. It will be your macronutrient intake however that will play a massive part in determining where that weight has come from muscle or fat. As an athlete the goal is to have the optimal strength to weight ratio for your particular sport so if you are losing weight but if it is from muscle while you are keeping your fat then this ratio is going to get worse as with less muscle you will be weaker and your performance will dive. Eating sufficient protein can minimise this loss of muscle while in a slight calorie deficit (large calorie deficits mess people up, especially female athletes) when trying to lean out or drop to a lower weight class. As a base target aim for a minimum of 1.6g of protein per kg of bodyweight with closer to 2g or even 3g per kg being needed if in a very heavy training phase or while in a calorie deficit. From a fuelling perspective, every sport is different with regards to the energy system demands needed for training and performance and every athlete is different with regards to their own physiology. Carbohydrates and fats are your two energy macronutrients but if you are not aware of your intake how can you know whether a higher fat or higher carb intake suits you better? How can you figure out how to optimise your competition day fuelling strategy if you have not experimented with various approaches? You are essentially leaving your performance at training and competitions up to pure random chance.
Thats it for part 1 of this 2 part series. Part 2 will be up next week. What else does it take to be a dedicated athlete? Let us know in the comments section below.
This Article is By Ciarán O Regan, BSc | Head Coach at ACLAÍ
Ciaran has served as Strength and Conditioning Coach for Limerick Minor Football for the 2012 and 2013 seasons as well as the Limerick U21 Footballers for the 2013 season. He has coached with Young Munster RFC, and also interned with Munster Rugby. He has also coached on an individual basis with people as varied as those simply wanting to get healthier and lose weight all the way to high level runners returning to the track after injury.
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