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Renee McGregor on nutrition for runners

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Monday 9th October 2017
I caught up with Renee McGregor, sports dietician, who’s currently out at the TrainAsONE athlete training camp in Chamonix, about the importance of nutrition in maintaining health and performance.
What’s it like working with athletes with a mixed range of abilities at a training camp like this?
It’s actually no different to my everyday work. I work with real range of athletes and that’s what I enjoy. It’s not about your level, it’s about facilitating your goals. Assessments with elite athletes are no different to assessments with newer runners. But the work I do with them will take into account where they’re at in their training age (i.e. how many years you’ve been training). 
What’s your job on the training camp?
My job includes providing support to athletes, encouraging the team culture, bringing some of my high performance work with teams into that, providing them with one-to-one support, menu planning. 
When I start working with someone, I ask for their training plan (to see their sessions), get an idea of their work and home life and family commitments, in order to plan nutritional intake through the day. Some people are physically active through their job, in which case I look at how to maximise their intake through day, when to take on certain nutrients and when to help their body to adapt. I support their body to enable them to train at the levels they need to train at to get the adaptation they need.
A typical nutrition plan has key aims around immune health, encouraging the athlete to eat around those, and certain biomarkers. Eg at least one helping of red meat per week, understanding optimum protein input and carb needs. I provide example menus - for track sessions, for long runs, even what would be ideal during Ramadan. 
My nutrition plans are highly tailored to each athlete - to body weight, needs, lifestyle. It’s not based on numbers, I give them an idea of how much each portion of carbs or protein looks like. 
How do you deal with athletes who don’t want to eat carbs?
I’d explain why it wouldn’t be ideal from a performance point of view, and explain that I support athletes and their nutritional choices or ethics but when it has a negative then won’t compromise. If want to do a ketogenic diet (low carb/high fat) I suggest they work with somebody else. 
Carbs - how do you use them as an athlete?
For track sessions or high intensity stuff people will often only think about what they eat at lunchtime. That’s too late as it won’t give them enough stored carbs to maintain the pace they need to maintain during that session. You need to think about a session 24 - 36 hrs beforehand. That doesn’t mean eating piles of pasta - just focus on having good amount of complex carbs at your 3 meals. Use a third of a plate as a gauge. During the evening have carb based snacks, such as oatcakes with peanut butter, crumpets, cereal or a cereal bar - depending on the individual.  
Why are you working with TrainAsONE?
Because I’m 100% behind the philosophy of it - it’s a really credible, evidence-based piece of technology which is helping you to train and preventing injury and illness. Anyone who knows me knows that’s how I work as well - I take a holistic approach - focusing on the fundamentals of health and mental health. There’s so much we can do together and it’s so much easier when you’re on the same page. Too many people are using off the cuff internet based coaching systems that don’t have the technology to understand or translate data when somebody’s getting close to that overtraining threshold. By the time people come and see me they know they’re not doing something right and they are looking for permission to change but they can’t do it on their own. TrainAsONE is constantly monitoring what you’re doing so you shouldn’t get to that point where you’re feeling burnt out - over-racing or overtraining. 
Partnering with TrainAsONE is great because the idea is that we’ll be able to get individuals and athletes to prolong their career. 
What are the signs of an unhappy or overstressed system?
It’s a misconception that you have to be underweight for it to have a negative impact on your hormonal health (for both men and women). If energy availability and the composition of the diet isn’t optimal to meet training needs your body will basically go into preservation mode and shut down those processes that it doesn’t deem important at the moment. This is why in female runners this will transpire in skipping menstruation. And missing 3 consecutive periods is sufficient to start having negative impact on bone health and make you susceptible to stress fractures. In men while there isn’t a physical sign if testosterone levels are very low (poor nutrition or overtraining) it will have the same impact on bone health. The best way to test this is having a blood test for testosterone levels - that’s the only real indicator. You can’t build muscle mass if you don’t have the testosterone available to cause the signalling to allow for muscle mass development. They may well also hold onto more fat around the middle. This is why nutrition does play such an integral part of training. 
Being surrounded by elite athletes all the time how do you manage your own expectations of running?
You can never compare yourself to anybody else and I can only compare myself to where I’ve been. In the past I’ve had more time and got good results but in recent years that’s not been as possible, so now I just compare myself to where I was a week ago and remind myself that running’s meant to be fun and not just competitive. 

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