Eat better, shoot better. Whatever our level of shooting, we all need the right fuel to compete at our best, says James Simon
Take a look at most Olympic sports and, even at a local club level, you’ll find a passion for fitness that feeds an infatuation with nutrition.
Eating right – or fuelling in athlete-speak – doesn’t carry the same weight in clay shooting. Let’s be honest, most shots know their way around an all-day-breakfast better than the basics of a sustainable nutrition plan.
Does that really matter? Yes. At the top end of our sport the margin between winning and losing is so wafer thin that shots need to gain competitive advantage wherever they can.
As Performance Operations Manager at British Shooting, Alex Ballard’s job is to ensure our athletes perform at their best.
“Nutrition is a key factor underpinning training and performance,” says Alex. “Concentration and focus are essential and a sound nutritional routine promotes both.
“Competition days are long, so managing energy levels is important. Our athletes compete across the world in a number of different environments – hot, cold, different humidity levels and so on. All require a good understanding of nutrition and hydration principles.”
So, for those top athletes, a detailed, scientific approach to nutrition can ensure that they are energised when they need to be, whatever the conditions.
The rest of us just want to shoot better than we did last week and enjoy ourselves in the process. Fortunately, eating healthily can help with these humbler goals too.
Let’s identify two shooting characters in order to discover how the right nutrition can benefit them both.
Peaches and Ginger
Peaches is a young shot with an appetite for success, who trains hard to compete in the upper echelons of the sport.
Ginger is a mature shot with a hunger for well, most things, but he also has an appetite for change. He recognises that managing his weight will bring back some agility, which will help him to enjoy his shooting. He also wants to feel more energised.
Regardless of age, gender, fitness levels and ambitions they both share pretty much the same digestive physiology.
We use carbohydrate as a rapid energy source. It’s stored as glycogen in our bloodstream, readily accessible but easily depleted during intense exercise. Carbs high on the Glycaemic Index (GI) spike our blood sugar levels, which is rarely desirable, while low GI carbs supply a sustainable level of slow-release energy. Excess carbs are stored as fat.
Fat is burned during low intensity exercise, but any of it that’s not immediately burned will be stored. Storing a healthy amount of fat is vital to our wellbeing, but visceral fat, the cuddly kind that we store around our waists, is not our friend.
Protein is rarely used for energy. We use it for building and maintaining muscle mass, bone, skin, hair and so on. Consuming an excess of it will turn it into fat.
Plant-based fibre is essential for our gut-health. It aids digestion, slows the absorption of sugar in the blood and makes us feel fuller. Fibre also lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer. Many of us should eat more, but high-fibre foods can produce wind, so best not experiment with unfamiliar dishes before an important shoot!
Vitamins, minerals and trace elements (micronutrients) enable our bodies to function correctly and maintain our immune system. The key here is to make sure you eat a varied diet rich in vegetables, pulses, wholegrains, meat, fish and dairy.
Now that we understand our food and what it does, how should Ginger and Peaches use this knowledge to their advantage?
A Plan for Ginger
Ginger was born on the day that Strawberry Fields hit no. 2 in the UK charts. He’s not sedentary, but no longer as active as he would like.
Claire Baseley RNutr, registered nutritionist, is on a mission to dispel prevalent dietary myths.
“It’s easy to get seduced by diet fads, fancy new superfoods, energy gels and miracle supplements. At best these solutions are rarely effective, and at worst they are dangerous. For someone like Ginger, I suggest going back to basics.”
Claire recommends having realistic goals that are not weight orientated. The ambition to enjoy shooting is a more sustainable goal than a vague notion of wanting to lose a few pounds.
“It is better to have a healthy goal than be a slave to the scales,” says Claire. “Eating healthily is about increasing the variety of foods we eat. Ginger will feel energised, and more agile.”
- Eat three balanced meals a day, reducing unhealthy treats.
- Eat your main meal at lunchtime. We need less energy at night. Eating large meals before bed can affect our sleep too.
- Don’t skip breakfast.
- On less active days go for a protein packed breakfast.
- For your main meal, half your plate should be vegetables. A quarter should be protein and the rest can be carbs. Protein and vegetables are for maintenance, gut-health and immunity.
- If, like Ginger, you struggle with your weight, then take a look at portion sizes. Despite some diets specifying ingredients down to the last gram there’s no ‘ideal’ because everyone is different. Instead of obsessing about precise quantities, get the proportions right and use a smaller plate.
- Eat a wide variety of healthy food to benefit from a broad range of nutrients.
- Reduce highly refined or processed foods. But don’t trim the fun out of eating.
- Your brain takes 20 minutes to register that you’re full, so try eating mindfully. Bringing your attention to every taste sensation is a fantastic way to calm your mind on competition days too.
- Keep hydrated. Ditch sugary soft drinks, which cause energy spikes, and replace with water. If you’re dehydrated, you’ll feel thirsty, and your wee will be dark.
- Exercise works hand-in-hand with nutrition – keep moving!
A Plan for Peaches
Peaches has her sights set on competing for her country. She also runs regularly for cardio, practices resistance training for strength and yoga for flexibility.
Chris Cashin RD, RNutr, MSc, SENr, DProf, a former Chief Dietitian at the NHS, is now the Lead in Sports Nutrition/ Nutrition at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, and runs her own practise too.
“Unless we suffer from certain medical conditions, our nutritional needs don’t vary hugely,” says Chris. “Peaches should follow the same guidance as Ginger but match her energy levels with her active lifestyle.”
- Peaches may benefit from a higher intake of low-GI carbs on intense training days. She needs to eat protein, and healthy fats like olive oil, to maintain muscle mass and body function.
- Try eating a medium-GI snack like a banana half an hour before shooting.
- For healthy individuals, Vitamin D is the only supplement I’d recommend. The supplement industry isn’t regulated so there is no way of telling if a product has been adulterated.
- Caffeine is a legal performance-enhancing drug. It’s proven to promote alertness and sharpen concentration – ideal qualities for competitive clay shooters. But side-effects include sleeplessness, feeling jittery, anxiousness and heart palpitations. It’s your choice whether you take it.
- Sports drinks are largely marketing hype. Hydration is important but water is fine; try flavouring it with slices of lemon if you don’t like the taste and drink before the competition. Resist the temptation to over-hydrate – competing with a full-bladder isn’t going to help your shooting!
Hungry for more info?
Dietitians and Registered Nutritionists are the only professionals qualified to give trustworthy nutrition advice. The title ‘dietitian’ is protected by law, but just about anyone can call themselves a nutritionist.
The Association for Nutrition, the British Dietetic Association and the Sport and Exercise Nutrition Register are the only places to find practitioners qualified to degree level in sound, evidence-based nutrition.
Claire Baseley MA MMedSci, RNutr:
Chris Cashin RD, RNutr, MSc, SENr, DProf: www.cardiffnutritionconsultancy.co.uk
British Dietetic Association:
Association for Nutrition:
Sport and Exercise Nutrition Register:
More nutritional and fitness advice for clay shooters
- Best nutritional advice for clay shooters
- Ethan Lowry on building core strength
- Top tips for healthy shooting
- How to improve your gun swing and keep fit
- The importance of listening to your body