We all know how we fuel our body is intrinsically linked to how our body performs. For athletes even more so, and they have many strategies they can use when fuelling for performance. Nutrition plays a crucial role in optimising training sessions, performance during a game, as well as with recovery and metabolic adaptation. Additionally, athletes’ nutritional requirements may vary widely depending on sport, position, timing of season, and training vs rest day.
We talked to Conor Washington, a professional footballer who plays for Charlton Athletic and the Northern Ireland national team on how he fuels his body and how important this is for his performance as an athlete.
Conor admits to being a creature of habit. Through trial and error, he’s found what works for him and how he needs to prepare for games to optimise his performance. He always follows the same principles.
Preparing for match day
The day before match day, he always has the same dinner at home. It's turmeric rice, with chicken and vegetables. If it’s an away match, he’ll eat something very similar. Conor tries not to overcomplicate things and just applies the same principles to reflect different situations regardless of the food choices on offer. Understanding these basic principles means that Conor doesn’t need to spend much time thinking about it and leaves him with a sense of confidence that the fuel box has been ticked in the lead up to a match. To accompany this, he always keeps the same sort of time for going to bed.
On match day
He normally has a little lie-in on match day to give himself a bit more rest and recovery heading into the game. Match days can be both physically and mentally exhausting, so adequate rest along with the right fuel is key. For breakfast, he’ll have some sort of porridge with dates, cacao powder and cinnamon, along with a protein source that is on offer. He’ll vary the nuts and seeds he has on top.
Pre-match he’ll have something lighter like some wholemeal bread toasted with honey and banana along with a protein shake. This is so he doesn’t go into the game with his body having to digest too much. To support this he also primes his body with some activation exercises and incorporates some breathing exercises around the Wim Hof method.
On training days, he also has porridge for breakfast. Sometimes he varies this with overnight oats made by his wife who has some delicious recipe combinations.
Pre-training, he’ll have a shake to top up protein levels. Post-training is always supplied by the club and is geared towards refuelling. There are usually one or two protein options along with some smart carbs and lots of fruits and vegetables. For snacks, he likes things like hummus and rice cakes or some sort of protein bar.
Mentally he’s motivated and fuelled by always giving it his all and bettering himself. If he feels like he doesn’t give it his all - every rep, every drill, every gym session - he feels like he’s let himself down. Conor is incredibly humble and feels very grateful to be playing professionally. It’s very apparent talking to him he sets very high standards for himself, and he’d hate to look back and regret it if he didn’t give every ounce of himself during his career.
If you’d like to hear more on Conor, he’s recently appeared on The Charlton Athletic Supporters' Trust’s podcast. You can take a listen here.