You get out of your fencing practice what you put into it. We all know that. We also all know that you get out of your body what you put into it.
Put in good hard work into your fencing and you’ll get good results on the strip.
Put good food into your body and you’ll get good results out of your body.
But what is good food? We’ve all heard about how you should be focused on your calorie intake when you’re in intensive training for a competition. Olympic athletes eat rigid regimens in the months before qualification and of course before the games themselves. However we fencers aren’t training for big competitions all the time. Even regular season fencing competitions are relatively sporadic – one or two per month. Eating good and healthy thru the day, especially when you have school and practice afterwards, is a whole different thing.
The basics of athlete nutrition
First off, we want to give the disclaimer that no one here is a nutritionist. The advice that we offer here is based on our years of experience working daily with fencers, on our own lay research, and most of all on what works for us. Before you make any significant changes in your diet or especially in the diet of your child, we highly recommend a quick visit to your family doctor to consult on your plan.
That being said, nutrition is not a giant mystery, and we aren’t here to make any crazy recommendations about drinking cabbage juice for every meal or forgoing bread forever. Mostly daily nutrition for an athlete like a fencer is all about three things:
- Common sense
- Constant learning
Those three things are absolutely what matters! Everything else you’re going to find, anywhere online or in a book, is all going to come back to those three points.
Let’s test this theory a little. Here’s a quick list of daily eating habits that are either good or bad for a fencer to use during the day. Read over them, and think about which ones you should do and which ones you should not do over the course of a day.
- Drink at least eight glasses of water
- Have a pop tart for breakfast
- Stop at Burger King on the way home from school
- Baked potatoes, vegetarian chili, and broccoli for dinner
- Keep a stash of m&m’s in the fencing bag
- Pack hummus and carrots right before fencing practice
Which of these things are good for a fencer? It’s pretty obvious we know. 1, 4, and 6 are good choices, 2, 3, and 5 are bad choices. See! You’re a fencing nutrition expert and you didn’t even know it.
So if we already know what to do, why is it so hard to do it? The answer is our busy brain bumping against our lack of planning. You definitely know what you should be eating or what your child should be eating to be healthy and to fence well. However with the crazy crush of school and fencing practice, actually doing that is not so easy. What’s essential for eating daily for fencing performance is to plan adequately and through that to change our habits.
This is not the same as when you’re getting ready for a competition and you’ve got a lot of focus and mental energy to put into meal planning and preparation. We’re talking about the daily grind, which is when you’re putting energy into doing all of the things rather than putting the energy into just fencing.
Until you become a high level athlete with a personal nutritionist, and we certainly hope you do, your daily nutrition is going to come back to those three keys – common sense, constant learning, and consistency. You can have a great diet plan, but if you don’t eat that way consistently you won’t see results. You can use your common sense, but if you don’t keep learning then you won’t adapt and your nutrition won’t support you. Keep reading, keep learning, and keep refining that diet with consistency.
Keep this in mind – It’s far better for you to get a B in your nutrition every day for a month than to get an A for one week and a D for the other three.
The specifics of daily fencing nutrition
Fencers need more calories.
Every day that you train, your energy output is much higher than that of ordinary people. You might burn anywhere from 800 to 1500 calories just in one training of fencing. If those calories don’t come back into the body, then your body is going to perform at less than peak. Keep that in mind when looking at the everyday eating of a fencer.
Most everyone agrees that it’s best for athletes to eat more meals per day rather than fewer, and that’s a great way to build in those extra calories. With school and fencing practice, as well as other obligations, that feels tough. It’s not! Look in the last section for some specific techniques. Not all “meals” have to be meals. A protein bar or a bag of trail mix absolutely count, and those can be managed in the car or going between classes at school. The point is to give the body that boost, consistently throughout the day. This also includes eating something after practice.
Here’s a sample everyday eating schedule for a fencer who’s in school (this is an example only, make yours based on your activities schedule).
- 7 am – 7:30 am breakfast
- 10 am – 10:30 am quick bite between classes
- 12pm – 1pm pm lunch
- 3:30 pm afterschool snack
- 5pm – 5:30 pm recovery snack after fencing practice
- 6:30 – 7pm pm dinner
This is just a sample, but notice there’s food constantly happening throughout the day. There are no long periods of six hours between meals. What is important is that fencers eat after lunch and before fencing practice, and also that they eat shortly after practice to recover. If something has to be skipped, that mid-morning snack during school is the place to do it, as some schools are strict about not allowing food outside of the lunch hour. Make it work! Don’t be daunted.
We are not going to dig deep into macros for fencers for their everyday eating (macros are protein, fat, and carbohydrates). For amateur fencers you can keep it simple at first by balancing the three and eating whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible. This again is just common sense!
Here are some basic rules:
- Incorporate lean protein into every meal/snack
- Eat colorful vegetables as much as possible
- Eliminate processed and fast foods
- Replace simple carbs with complex carbs
- Limit sugary foods
- Drink water throughout the day
That’s really it! Especially for kids, daily eating is about making smart choices of whole foods, not focusing on restricting everything.
Keep the eye on quality for young fencers. The higher the quality of the food, the better it is for the body of an athlete. That’s no matter what the fencer is eating. Avoid foods that have long lists of ingredients. A good rule of thumb is this – if you can’t pronounce it, don’t put it into your body. Simple! Common sense!
When it comes to what you want to actually put in your mouth, the trick is to keep things balanced and manageable.
Just write down what you’re eating
The first thing that you need to do is to just keep a log of what you eat. Don’t change anything, don’t alter your meals. Be brutal. Be fearless. This can be tough!
Often our daily eating patterns aren’t what we think they are. You might think that you’re drinking plenty of water, but then when you write it down you find that you’re drinking half the amount you thought you were. Maybe you have it in your mind that your child fencer eats a granola bar on the way out to school every day, but when you start tracking it you realize that your Y12 fencer is only actually getting one three days a week. Life can get hectic and we can forget to eat or not realize that we’re eating the wrong things. It can all become a blur, and that’s ok! Now you’re correcting course, and that’s what matters.
You don’t need to keep a log of what you or your young fencer is eating all the time from now until forever. But a check in every few months is always a good idea. Any time you feel that daily eating is getting off track. You can keep track of this in a fencing journal, with an app, or just with a pen and paper somewhere.
Nothing is so powerful as knowledge. Once you know what you’re doing right now, only then can you know what needs to change.
Simple nutrition solutions for busy fencing families
No matter where you are, no matter how busy you are, there are always good alternatives for healthy eating for fencers. Choose whole grain bread over white bread. Try a bag of trail mix instead of chips. Grab a protein bar with fewer than ten ingredients and less than ten grams of sugar. Choose a whole grain sub sandwich at a shop instead of a burger and fries and a burger joint.
Nutrition is made up of simple, daily choices that you make every single day. If you don’t know quite what that looks like, here are twenty-five simple, everyday meals that fencers can always bank on. We haven’t included recipes, as these are all so simple that you’re probably making some of them already!
- Bran cereal with almond milk and strawberries
- Greek yogurt with granola
- Grilled chicken and steam-in-the-bag brussel sprouts
- Scrambled eggs with mashed avocado on whole wheat toast
- Whole grain pasta with no-sugar-added pasta sauce
- Peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole grain bread
- Homemade fruit/nut butter smoothie (try keeping a low cost bullet blender on the counter of your kitchen)
- Beans on whole grain toast
- Avocado with baked salmon
- Oatmeal with walnuts and blueberries
- Turkey chilli over baked potatoes
- Hummus stuffed whole wheat pitas
- Piece of fruit and a handful of jerky
- Lentil soup over brown rice
- Vegetable omelette and quinoa
- Baked chicken tacos with whole wheat tortillas and salsa
- Veggie burgers with whole grain buns and sweet potato fries
- Homemade individual pizzas on whole grain pita rounds
- Fried rice (made with brown rice)
- Protein breakfast muffins
- Burrito bowls with lean ground beef and brown rice
- Turkey wraps with lettuce and low fat cheese
- Vegetables and hummus
- Whole wheat quesadillas, made with low fat cheese
- Hard boiled eggs and whole grain pasta salad
A major key here is to just keep things super, super simple. You or your fencer is probably already eating sandwiches at lunch, so just switch to whole grain bread and lean protein. Maybe you have pizza night every Thursday – move to whole grain pita bread and individual pizzas. Look to make meals successful, not super perfect.
Plan things out as much as you possibly can. Don’t just assume that you can fly by the seat of your pants, because really that just puts too much pressure on you! Make it easy. Write it down, prep things and shop over the weekend or a week ahead as much as you can. Then when you go to grab that fast food, you’ll find that it’s actually easier to grab the protein bar that’s already in the fencing bag!
Be patient with yourself, but work hard on keeping at that grade B eating instead of shooting for the A+ during busy weeks. Don’t let yourself or your young fencer fall into D level eating because you’ve put so much pressure on the perfect diet. Change those eating habits, and then watch your fencing improve with an improved daily diet! And yes, have that cupcake every now and again or treat the family to ice cream once a week.
Common sense. Constant learning. Consistency. Those are the ways to get it done!