Performance nutritionist Daniel Davey tells Rhys Plum how shooters could raise their game by focusing on food and drink.
We all tend to focus on the technical aspects of shooting – gun fit, stance, swing and the rest. Top athletes in other sports are well aware of the importance of nutrition, but when we’re disappointed with our performance, we’re more likely to blame the chokes or the cartridges, rather than question the wisdom of starting the day with the Full English washed down with a strong coffee.
With that in mind, I spoke to Daniel Davey, a leading figure in the field of sports nutrition who works with professional rugby players and other top athletes, and has himself played several sports at a high level.
Daniel grew up on a working farm in his native Ireland, and his personal shooting has been limited to pest control. His close friend Sean O’Brien has encouraged an interest in clay shooting, however, and he is planning to give it a go once the Covid-19 pandemic subsides.
Daniel explains that the principles of nutrition hold good for clay shooting as much as any other sport. “In any sport you have specialised physical demands, and in shooting there are particular mental demands as well,” he says. “It’s important to understand how your body is challenged.
“With many of the team sports there is a large physical component – the athletes are using energy physically. In a sport like shooting you require a lot of mental energy. You need a stable energy level so you can maintain a high level of concentration and overall consistency.”
Daniel points out that the brain uses energy just as muscles do, so you need to have consumed foods that provide you with a consistent amount of energy throughout the day. Hydration is important too, because becoming dehydrated during an event will have a big impact on your performance.
“When it comes to shooting, you can have an event that lasts as much as three hours, and having consistent energy levels is critical to maintaining focus throughout that period.
“You can’t perform your best if you start to get tired, especially when you are put under pressure such as in a shoot-off. That’s when nutrition and hydration become really important.”
What to eat when
To achieve a consistent energy level on the day of a shoot, you need to get your nutrition right in advance. In simple terms, the day before the shoot you should eat a little bit more food, and ensure you are well hydrated and get a good night’s sleep.
Daniel says “In the lead-up to an important shoot, you need to eat a mixed meal four to six times a day. Make sure you get at least five portions of vegetables every day, and stay away from alcohol – especially the day before the event.
“On the morning of the shoot, have a breakfast that provides you with carbohydrates, proteins and fats – a mixed meal, which will provide stable blood sugar levels. You should then be looking to eat again, two hours before the event.”
To keep blood sugar and hydration at optimum levels during the event, you’ll need to take a snack and something to drink with you in your shooting bag. “I would recommend that you carry round something that provides a stable level of energy,” Daniel says.
“This can be individual and personal, and it’s best if you prepare it yourself so you know exactly what is going into your body. Something like a homemade granola bar or energy balls is good because these are condensed energy sources – they will break down over time and provide you with a steady supply of energy.”
“To maintain hydration you should take an electrolyte solution. Water is not the best way to hydrate – you need an electrolyte or carbohydrate solution that you can sip throughout the shoot. I recommend ORS (Oral Rehydration Solution) tablets.
“You mix these with water yourself, which means you are in control of how much electrolyte you add to your drink. Additionally I’d suggest you take some fresh fruit like a banana, and maybe a fruit and nut mix.”
Many shooters like to drink coffee to give them a wake-up shot, but caffeine is isn’t always the right answer, Daniel explains. “People are either caffeine responders or non-responders. Some people can drink coffee and see no effect on their performance.
“With non-responders, however, caffeine can make them quite jittery. If you’re already nervous or under stress this only makes it harder to perform. So if you practise using caffeine strategically, then it can benefit your concentration – but there is a tipping point.”
“Another factor to consider is that if you ‘come down’ from your coffee while shooting, then your energy levels will drop dramatically. I play a lot of golf, which involves sustained levels of focus over a long period.
“I find that if I consume too much caffeine beforehand, then my nerves peak too early and my co-ordination is ruined – but after two hours coffee can be a really good source of energy.”
Daniel believes that we shouldn’t underestimate our general day-to-day nutrition. “The better prepared you are for competition, and the better you look after your body, the better you will perform on the day of the event. By having a consistent nutrition plan you enable yourself to have a more positive mindset.
“You know you have done everything in your power to prepare for the event – and that gives you a boost of confidence when you really need it.”
Daniel’s favourite quote is “Control the controllables and forget everything else.” It’s a direct and modern outlook that can be applied to shooting. “If we take control of our diet, we give ourselves the confidence and ability to perform at our best level, whatever that may look like.
“Even if you don’t believe that nutrition is applicable to shooting, consider the theory of marginal gains. If it makes just 1 per cent difference to the way that you feel, it could mean you hit one more target out of a hundred – and that’s the difference between first and second place.”
If Daniel’s ideas on nutrition have got you interested, then you can find out more at his website www.daveynutrition.com.
He has recently published a book, ‘Eat Up, Raise Your Game’, which explains his ideas in more detail and contains 100 recipes for food that will help you unlock your full potential – see his recipe for Raspberry Banana Energy Scones below!
Fruit energy scones
These fruity scones are perfect for a healthy snack or if you want to optimise recovery after intense exercise. They contain carbohydrate, a moderate amount of protein, and vital micronutrients which will support recovery.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes
- 250g porridge oats
- 2 tbsp coconut oil, melted
- 2 tbsp milled flaxseed
- 2 tbsp milled chia seeds
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 5 tbsp dried cranberries
- 1 tsp cinnamon (optional)
- 3 eggs
- 5 tbsp raspberries
- 2 bananas
- 1 tsp vanilla essence
- 2 tbsp honey
- Pinch of salt
- Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
- In a blender mix the eggs, coconut oil, bananas, honey and vanilla essence until smooth.
- Add this mix to the dry ingredients bowl and mix well to form a wet dough. Next add in the raspberries, cranberries and mix again.
- Using a spoon, transfer and evenly distribute into muffin cases in a muffin / bun tray.
- Bake in an oven pre-heated to 190ºC for 25 minutes.
Top tip: Use silicone baking cases to avoid the scones sticking, and blend the oats before baking to get a better rise and a softer consistency.
More on nutrition and fitness
- Ethan Lowry on building core strength
- Home workout: Georgina Roberts on quarantine training
- Top tips for healthy shooting
- How to improve your gun swing and keep fit
- The importance of listening to your body