By Jen Kates
We probably won't be seeing many race numbers for a while. The past few months have been a unique situation with the current pandemic impacting the race schedules for many of us. Most races or events so far this season have been cancelled, and it’s reasonable to expect many more races to be cancelled through to the end of 2020. Given your entire race / event season could be up in the air, you may find yourself riding, running, or training less than you normally would, which could lead you to wonder if you should make any changes to your food intake.
The short answer is: it depends.
There are a couple of things to consider when answering this question, and not all of them are based specifically on your fitness or training endeavors.
NEAT is Neat
Generally speaking, you could be moving less now if you are spending most of your time at home. You may find that you’re not going into an office for work, so you could be walking less by not walking around your office, taking the stairs, walking to the office from your parked car, and a variety of other things that may have you moving less throughout the day.
These kinds of movement may seem insignificant at first, but they add up throughout the day in calories not being burned by your body when you stay at home and/or train less. This daily movement is called Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT), and along with your daily exercise, it accounts for over 15-30% of your daily energy output. Given that it can make a significant impact in your overall daily energy expenditure, it’s incredibly important to move every day - whether that includes a couple of walks per day (aiming for at least 8,000 steps), standing more often, or playing with your pet or kids - whatever it is, just try to move more every day.
If you’re moving less throughout the day, then you likely require less food intake. How much less food? Not much, maybe only around 100-300 calories less. What does this look like if you don’t count calories? Aim for a little less fat or carbohydrate-rich foods, half to one cup less of rice, oats, fruit, starchier vegetables, or a Tablespoon or two less of oils, butters, dressing, etc. (this will be roughly around 100-200 calories less per serving of carbohydrates or fats, (depending on the source).
Eat Adequate Protein
Why wouldn’t you want to reduce your protein intake instead of carbohydrates or fats? Let’s talk about that next.
While the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is 0.8g/kg bodyweight, this may not be adequate for athletes, especially those seeking to maximize muscle mass or optimize protein synthesis (the process that protein is used to repair muscle breakdown caused by exercise). The RDA more or less focuses on the minimum needs of protein levels, especially for the average person and not necessarily athletes.
If you’re an athlete or active individual, then ideally you will want to focus on ensuring you are consuming adequate protein (recent research has indicated approximately 1.2-2g/kg of bodyweight per day is ideal), but you should also pay keen attention to your leucine intake. Leucine is a branched chain amino acid that is key in muscle protein synthesis, as well as optimizing your protein intake at meals. Leucine-rich protein sources include eggs, dairy, meats, and poultry, so aim to include these foods or a leucine-rich protein supplement if needed based on allergies and sensitivities you may have. Aiming for at least 1-2 palms of a protein source at each of your main meals will be ideal to ensure adequate protein is included in your diet.
Experiment with Your Energy Needs
With a reduced volume in your training schedule, you will likely require less food given that you are expending less energy. With this consideration, look at how many calories you burn on average per hour in your previous training sessions (this is easy to do if you use a wearable device such as a Garmin or other similar device). Then, determine how many training sessions you are no longer performing each week and calculate the total calories you are no longer burning.
At first, try to reduce your daily food intake by taking the total number of calories you are no longer burning, and then calculate around 50% of that amount. This is the amount of calories you should aim to reduce over the course of each week (not necessarily every day); this may equate to around 5-10% less food per day over the course of a week.
Again, your body’s energy needs all depend on you, your current daily movement, your changes to your training, as well as if you are recovering from an injury. Ultimately, you will need to experiment with yourself and your own energy needs in order to find what works best for you and your current situation with your shifting season’s goals.
Be sure to start with a small change in your daily food intake first to see if it is the smallest yet most effective change - it doesn’t need to be a drastic change to your calories each day. Aim for 10% or less calories and see if that impacts your overall energy for training and daily life, as well as inhibits any extra body fat gain that may be excessive for you.
Try this reduction for at least 1-2 weeks and see how you feel and how your body responds. Be sure you’re not only looking at the body weight scale for feedback, as that only reflects body weight and not body fat considerations (not to mention how you feel in your training). Week by week, you will slowly learn how much food your body requires with your current energy demands.
About Jen Kates, CHC, Pn2, NASM-CPT
Jen has been coaching for over 12 years and founded Shift Human Performance after working in the biotech research industry for 12 years. She specializes in coaching busy professionals (like you) on how to unleash your full potential by optimizing your nutrition, fitness, stress management, sleep, and recovery, without spending countless hours in the kitchen or the gym.
1 Martinez, I., Skinner, S., & Burd, N. (2018, October 12). Protein Intake for Optimal Sports Performance. Retrieved May 24, 2020, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128139226000394?via=ihub