August 16, 2018 4 min read

Eat to Win


This topic is too huge to discuss in a book, let alone a blog. However, I'm sharing my experience of working with regular people and athletes for the past 18 years, plus knowledge gained from various courses, publications and reference material. 

One size doesn't fit all - what works for one might not work for another!

There might be all sorts of things going on with your hormones, blood, stress, sleep, hydration and genetics that can lead to drastically different results. However, the general principles are sound, so if you read something useful, feel free to take it away and apply it to your training. 


Hopefully, you're following a training plan, either from the web, a magazine or if you're really lucky, you've got someone looking after you. If you're not following a plan, then you should. There's no excuse, as there's tons of stuff out there on the web.

Food is fuel - it's as simple as that

If you're following a good training plan, you'll also be following a periodised programme. This means your training volume, frequency, modality (if you're doing multi-sport) and intensity will change over time. The aim of the plan is to bring you to peak condition at the start of your race - not 6 weeks before or 6 weeks after. 

A periodised plan takes you through different phases of training. Here's the ones we use at Trainsmart, but yours might be different or called a different name. However, whatever plan you're following, your nutrition should change as your training phases change. 

Base Phase


  • Build aerobic base (lots of reasons why you should do this - another blog)
  • Strip off excess body fat

In the Northern hemisphere, Base is normally done Oct - Jan. This is the off-season and as the days get shorter, there's less daylight and your fitness levels naturally drop. This is why elite athletes follow the sun and go to the Southern hemisphere for winter training - or did you think they just wanted a jolly to keep their tan topped up?

Because your fitness levels drop and there's no races, there's not much point in hammering your body with HIT training. Your body can't hold on to these gains for more than 4-6 weeks, so what's the point of training for maximum performance in Dec when your race is in June? You won't be able to hold this condition for long and after HIT sessions, your immune system becomes suppressed so you run the risk of picking up the lurgy.

Strip off fat during Base phaseYou need to get a handle on your metabolism to understand how many total calories to eat, as you must be in "negative energy" to lose weight or strip off fat. Once you know your daily calorie target, try tweaking your macros along the lines of what's suggested below. The training focus in this phase is long, steady-state, sub-maximal sessions to build aerobic base. You're not pushing too hard on these, so the primary fuel used is fat. Because you're not burning carbs (CHO) you don't need to have a carb rich diet. Eat a lower CHO diet - how low depends on many things - but as a rule of thumb, you probably want to be aiming between 100-150 g/day (read the disclaimer above - everyone's different!)


To strip off fat, you have to be in calorie deficit - period! 

Every diet under the sun - Paleo, Keto, Hollywood, Atkins, intermittent fasting 5:2,16:8, Weight Watchers green, purple, sky-blue-pink days attempts to get you in a negative energy state. Your nutrition plan should achieve this but also be flexible enough to adapt to your different training needs. 

Base Phase Nutrition guide:

  • Fat 30%
  • Protein 45%
  • Carbs 25% 

 (If you're unsure what this means, see the example at the bottom of the page)


Build Phase


  • Build performance - increase speed, strength and power

Training starts to get harder as higher intensity sessions are incorporated into your week.  Higher intensity fuel = carbs, so this is where you need to start progressively eating more CHO to fuel your training. 

Do not try HIT training in a low CHO state!

The intensity in your training plan will gradually increase, so you shouldn't go piling in and risk pulling something or injuring yourself. Therefore, you shouldn't go piling in and committing "carbicide" by going mental on the bread and pasta. Consider "carb cycling". Athlete's call this strategy "train low, race high" i.e. your baseline, aerobic training is in a low CHO state but you carb up on higher intensity days, with your CHO target increasing to 175-250 g/day on higher intensity days. You may need to increase your CHO loading even higher if you do longer, harder sessions or multiple sessions/day.

Train Low - Race High

Always consider a recovery drink or snack immediately after a HIT session (within 15-20 minutes)

Build Phase Nutrition guide (high CHO day):

  • Fat 25%
  • Protein 40%
  • Carbs 35% 


Taper Phase


  • Retain fitness while giving your body time to recover in preparation for race day

Tape normally lasts 3-14 days, depending on the duration of the race, so you're not going to get any fitter than you currently are during this phase. The focus is on retaining what you've got, while at the same time allowing your body to recover and build energy levels. Session intensity remains the same but the duration is gradually cut, so sessions get shorter.

Nutrition stays the same as during Build Phase, but be careful not to over-eat when sessions become shorter.

Start "carbing-up' 48 hours before race day, with pasta, bread, sweet potato, rice etc. 

Taper Phase Nutrition guide (during carb loading):

  • Fat 25%
  • Protein 35%
  • Carbs 40% 

Enjoy your training and safe miles!



Caloric Yields

  • Fat 9 Kcal/g
  • Protein 4 Kcal/g
  • Carbs 4 Kcal/g


Base Phase example:

Target Calories for fat loss/weight loss = 1,800 Kcal/day

Target Macros:

  • Fat 30% = 540 Kcal (60 g/day)
  • Protein 45% = 810 Kcal (202 g/day)
  • Carbs 25% = 450 Kcal (113 g/day)



Protein target is proportional to mass, with a range 1.0 - 2.8 g/kg. For smaller people, especially ladies, be careful not to exceed your protein upper limit. For example, if you weigh 50 kg, then your protein should not exceed 140 g/day. If you risk going over, make up the difference with good quality fats. Top tip - check out Udo's Oil - I'm not sponsored or anything, it's just good stuff.

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