Eat Like the Elite During Lockdown by Michael Naylor


Michael Naylor, Performance Nutritionist – England Rugby, Head of Nutrition for Team GB at the Rio 2016 Olympics, Premier League, and International Football. 

Like all of us in lockdown athletes are having to deal with change. And many of the challenges we face – avoiding junk food or working out regularly – are faced by Olympic and professional athletes that we watch and admire. Athletes are deliberate with the training they undertake and the food they eat to support health and wellness and optimise performance. Although lockdown has upset their training routine and competition, there are lessons we can learn from the elite to stay in shape during this unprecedented time.  

Get Moving 

With a reduction in travel and office time, for many the opportunity to do more home workouts or socially distanced exercise is possible. The right amount and type of training can help us stay in shape, minimise the risk of injury and illness and help our psychological health.  

Particularly thinking about Covid-19 and the effect it can have on the upper respiratory, exercising little and often is favourable rather than pushing yourselves too hard and fast.  

Energy Intake 

Nutrition may seem complex sometimes with the 1000’s of fad diets being plugged on social media and celebrity endorsed diet plans on the shelves each January. But one essential component that is often overlooked or not deemed to be sexy enough is the fundamental strategy of consuming the optimal number of calories for a desired goal. For example, if you want to reduce body fat you need to consume less calories than you expend with a deficit of approximately 500kcal per day or 3,500kcal per week.   

Recovery Nutrition  

After training, elite athletes will have indivisalised nutrition strategies to replenish the glycogen utilised (carbohydrates), repair and promote muscle growth (protein) and rehydrate (fluid and electrolytes).  

Protein sources from meat, plants or fish play a crucial role in supporting muscle recovery and development. Protein ingestion and resistance training both stimulate new muscle protein synthesis and are synergistic when protein is consumed following exercise leading to enhanced muscle recovery and a greater increase in muscle mass. It’s unclear how long after exercise protein should be consumed, but the anabolic effect is long lasting.  

Sources such as fish, especially fish high in omega 3s, such as wild salmon may also provide additional recovery benefits including inflammation management. When working with Olympic and professional athletes we will often advise them to consume a minimum of two portions of high quality, oily fish per week. 

Fuelling Health and Performance  

I work with elite athletes to plan their diets specific to their individual needs. This means meal-by-meal planning to manage carbohydrate and energy intake. In the elite world, this is often referred to as carbohydrate periodisation or “fuelling for the work required”. During the peak of a major competition – the Six Nations for example - some players consume over 600g of carbohydrates the day before a game!  

If during lockdown your physical activity has reduced (especially intense activity), then your individual requirements of carbohydrates will be reduced. However, they play a vital role if you are undertaking intense or/prolonged activity to support energy and immune health.  

But think of the healthy plate and portion sizes. Carbohydrates should be always be included in the diet, but consumption should be based around wholegrain and fibre-rich sources such as quinoa, potato, wholegrain pasta and rice. 

During lockdown, it is also important is to think about sugars and sugary snacks. Baking has become a new hobby, which is great for a treat. But multiple times a week can have detrimental effects on health.