Summary

  • Avoid macro and micro-nutrient deficiencies- a blood test to determine micro-nutrient deficiency may be warranted. Eat nutrient dense foods – avoid excessive intake of processed foods.
  • No need for vitamin and mineral supplementation unless deficient. No consistent evidence that higher doses of vitamins and minerals accelerates recovery.
  • Increase protein intake (especially during Immobilization phase) to decrease muscle atrophy (i.e. muscle loss).
  • Adjust energy intake appropriately – you may need to eat more than you think during the initial stages of injury.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Creatine supplementation may be warranted.

 

Injury is an excepted fact when participating in athletic activities, whether at the recreational or elite level. An injury may be minor (e.g. slight strain or sprain – a few days absence from training) to major (e.g. ruptured anterior cruciate ligament – six months to one-year absence from training and competition). This post, while being general in nature will provide agreed nutrition strategies to help manage the initial injury and accelerate recovery).

Injury recovery can be divided into two main phases – (1) Immobilization phase and (2) Rehabilitation and Increased Activity [6]. There are slightly different nutritional considerations during these two distinct phases.

 

Immobilisation Phase

The Immobilization phase occurs immediately after the injury. The injured limb is rested or immobilized to prevent further damage at the site of injury. This may involve wearing a boot, casting, the use of crutches or slings for upper limb injuries.

Inflammation

After an injury, an inflammatory response is initiated. This may last a few days or a few hours, depending on the severity of the injury [3]. This inflammatory response is necessary for healing the tissue at the site of injury. It is completely natural and well controlled process. Expert opinion agrees that there is no need for super doses of anti-inflammatory vitamins and other compounds. For example, high doses of omega-3 fats (anti-inflammatory) have been shown to delay wound healing [3]. It is only when the inflammatory response gets out of control (e.g. serious injuries like burns) that super high doses of anti-inflammatory compounds should be consumed. While excess inflammation may be harmful, attempting to drastically reduce inflammation may not be ideal for optimal recovery [3].

One of the major areas of agreements among experts is that nutrient deficiencies should be avoided as these will impair wound healing. If a long-term injury it may be advisable to get a blood test to diagnose any vitamin or mineral deficiencies. For example, if you live in northern latitudes, Vitamin D3 levels can drop during the winter months (Oct – Mar) due to lack of sunlight [7].

If any deficiencies are detected, then steps should be taken to remedy them, either through consumption of whole foods or supplements. Generally, whole food consumption is advised over supplementation. Whole foods offer the best nutrition- they include components not available in pills. These additional components  have a synergistic effect on the action of whole foods [2].

Deficiencies of energy, vitamins, minerals and macro-nutrients – particularly protein – will impair wound healing and exacerbate loss of muscle and tendon mass and function [3].

 

What type of whole foods should you be eating at this stage of your injury?

Natural Anti-inflammatories

Garlic, turmeric, green tea, blueberries, apples, citrus fruits, broccoli, pineapples, dark green leafy vegetables

Healthy fats – avocados, nuts (walnuts, cashews, almonds and nut butters), extra virgin oil [2].

Omega-3 rich foods such as fatty fish (salmon, halibut, herring, oysters, sardines, trout and fresh tuna) and plant-based alternatives (flax, chia, hemp seeds, walnuts).

 

Energy

The natural response of a person who is injured is to reduce energy intake – they aren’t as physically active and may be afraid of accumulating excess body fat. However, energy requirements can increase during the healing process. Energy expenditure may be increased by 15% and up to 50% depending on the type and severity of the injury [3]. Additionally, the extra energy cost of ambulation (i.e. using crutches) needs to be considered (2-3 fold above walking) [3]. Drastically reducing energy intake can impair wound healing and cause muscle loss [3]. As a rough rule of thumb, eat less than when training hard but more than when completely sedentary [2].

Carbohydrate intake levels during this phase of recovery will be at the lower end of the carbohydrate intake spectrum (3-5 g/kg BM). These should be in the form of low to medium Glycaemic Index (e.g. whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains).

 

Protein

One of the main consequences of immobilization is loss of muscle mass (atrophy) in the affected limb. This is particularly prevalent during the first two weeks of immobilization [1]. Electro-stimulation of injured limb and training the uninjured limb or other muscle groups can exert some cross-effect to reduce muscle loss [6].

From a nutrition perspective, the best way to reduce this muscle loss is through increased protein intake. Intakes of 2.0 – 2.5 g protein per kg Body Mass (BM) are advised during the immobilization phase [3]. Consuming protein consistently and distributing it evenly throughout the day, rather than back loading at dinner, is the best practice to follow [2].

Leucine rich foods such as chicken breast, lean beef, tuna, salmon, turkey breast, eggs and peanuts should be consumed [2]. Intake of leucine should be in the range of 2.5 – 3g per meal [1]. Because animal protein sources have higher leucine content than plant protein, vegetarian and vegan athletes might contemplate supplementing their diet with a leucine supplement [9]. Vegan athletes may also need to consider a protein supplement (e.g. soy or pea protein) to reach these high protein intake targets.

Ingesting 40g of a casein supplement or whole food source (e.g. cottage cheese) will continue muscle building during sleep and may further prevent muscle atrophy.

 

Creatine

Supplementing with creatine has been shown to reduce muscle atrophy. However, upper and lower limb muscles respond differently to creatine supplementation during immobility. Creatine has a more protective effect on the muscle of upper limbs (e.g. arms) versus lower limbs (e.g. legs) [3]. A sensible loading strategy would be 20g/day for 5 days (loading phase) followed by 5g per day (maintenance phase) [7].

 

Rehabilitation and Increased Activity

This second phase is characterized by progressive hypertrophy and functional recovery [7]. The goal of this phase is to improve the athlete’s functional capacity and fitness to allow a full return to training and competition.

Protein

During this phase, the athlete is able to begin exercising the previously injured limb. Progressive loading of the limb will occur in an attempt to promote hypertrophy of the muscle in the injured limb. Protein intake will be important during this phase. Recommendations for protein intake during this phase may be slightly lower than during the immobilization phase. Higher protein intake during the immobilization phase are warranted to overcome anabolic resistance of the muscles in the injured limb. During the rehabilitation phase, exercise of the muscle in the previously injured limb will potentially negate this anabolic resistance.

Slightly lower intakes of protein may be applicable in this phase – 1.2 – 1.8 g protein per kg of BM [10]. Protein should be consumed consistently throughout the day in the form of meals and snacks. Leucine rich foods such as chicken breast, lean beef, tuna, salmon, turkey breast, eggs and peanuts should be consumed.

 

Creatine

Creatine supplementation results in an increased rate of muscle growth and strength gains so should be considered to accelerate recovery of muscle mass and function [3]. A similar loading strategy to the immobilization phase should be followed – 20g/day for 5 days (loading phase) followed by 5g per day (maintenance phase).

 

Energy Intake

Energy intake will increase during this phase as the athlete will be more active and training will become progressively more intense. Most of this extra energy intake will come in the form of additional carbohydrate intake. The following published guidelines will help to tailor carbohydrate intake based on the intensity and duration of training [8].

Description   Carbohydrate (g per kg BM)
Light Low intensity or skill-based activities 3-5
Moderate Moderate exercise program (approx. 1 hour per day) 5-7
High Endurance program (1-3 hours/day moderate to high-intensity exercise) 6-10
Very High Extreme commitment (> 4-5 hours/day moderate to high intensity exercise) 8-12

 

During initial rehabilitation phase, athletes will be at consuming at the Light level (3-5g Carbohydrate per kg BM). As exercise intensity and duration increases as functional recovery improves, carbohydrate intake will increase.

 

General nutritional recommendations

During this phase, it would be advisable to consume a variety of whole fruits and vegetables, adding spices and herbs to foods where possible and consume healthy fats high in omega-3 and essential fatty acids. This will help to prevent nutrient deficiencies which may hinder recovery and adaptations to training.

 

Ligament and Tendon Injuries

Supplementing the diet with collagen rich foods can potentially accelerate ligament and tendon healing and recovery. Foods with high levels of collagen include bone broths, gelatin and jelly. Batch tested collagen supplements may also be recommended during this phase. Consuming 15g gelatin one hour prior to a loading exercise has been shown to increase collagen synthesis in humans [5].

Deficiency of Vitamin C and Copper may impair recovery from ligament and tendon injuries [7]. Therefore, it would be prudent to increase consumption of foods rich in these micro-nutrients. The requirement for Vitamin C is 46 mg per day and for Copper is 1 mg per kg BM [7].

Vitamin C – citrus fruits (e.g. oranges, lemons, broccoli, bell peppers, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables).

Copper – liver and other organ meats, spirulina, shitake mushrooms, almonds and cashew nuts, sesame seeds. Kale and spinach, dark chocolate.

 

Bone Injuries

Adequate intake of Vitamin D and Calcium is necessary for proper healing of bone injuries. As previously discussed, Vitamin D levels may be insufficient in northern latitudes during the Winter months. A blood test will determine if supplementation is warranted. If deficient, intake of 2,000 – 4,000 IU per day of Vitamin D3 until Vitamin D levels recover is warranted [7]. Sensible sun exposure during the summer months will also boost Vitamin D levels.

Foods that are rich in Calcium include dairy products (e.g. milk, cheese, yogurt), chia seeds, sardines and canned salmon, almonds, beans and lentils.

 

Alcohol

During a period of injury, it may be natural for an athlete to feel sorry for themselves and consume alcohol in greater amounts than they would if training. This should be avoided during all phases of recovery from injury. Alcohol can impair would healing, can slow down the muscle building process and accelerate muscle loss during immobilization [3].

 

References:

[1]          B. T. Wall, J. P. Morton, and L. J. C. van Loon, “Strategies to maintain skeletal muscle mass in the injured athlete: Nutritional considerations and exercise mimetics,” European Journal of Sport Science, vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 53–62, Jan. 2015.

[2]          J. Kloubec and C. Harris, “WHOLE FOODS NUTRITION FOR ENHANCED INJURY PREVENTION AND HEALING,” ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal, vol. 20, no. 2, p. 7, Apr. 2016.

[3]          K. D. Tipton, “Nutritional Support for Exercise-Induced Injuries,” Sports Med, vol. 45, no. 1, pp. 93–104, Nov. 2015.

[4]          K. D. Tipton, “Nutrition for Acute Exercise-Induced Injuries,” ANM, vol. 57, no. Suppl. 2, pp. 43–53, 2010.

[5]          G. Shaw, A. Lee-Barthel, M. L. Ross, B. Wang, and K. Baar, “Vitamin C–enriched gelatin supplementation before intermittent activity augments collagen synthesis,” Am J Clin Nutr, vol. 105, no. 1, pp. 136–143, Jan. 2017.

[6]        Medina, D., Lizarraga, A., & Drobnick, F. (2014). Injury prevention and nutrition in football. Sports Sci Exchange, 27(132), 1-5.

[7]          G. L. Close, C. Sale, K. Baar, and S. Bermon, “Nutrition for the Prevention and Treatment of Injuries in Track and Field Athletes,” International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, vol. 29, no. 2, pp. 189–197, Mar. 2019.

[8]          D. Thomas, K. Erdman, and L. Burke, “Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietitics, vol. 116, no. 3, pp. 501–528, Mar. 2016.

[9]          S. van Vliet, N. A. Burd, and L. J. van Loon, “The Skeletal Muscle Anabolic Response to Plant- versus Animal-Based Protein Consumption,” J Nutr, vol. 145, no. 9, pp. 1981–1991, Sep. 2015.

[10]        T. A. McLain, K. A. Escobar, and C. M. Kerksick, “Protein Applications in Sports Nutrition—Part I: Requirements, Quality, Source, and Optimal Dose,” Strength & Conditioning Journal, vol. 37, no. 2, p. 61, Apr. 2015.

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Hi there,

Training and competing pose challenges on the body with regards fuel stores, hydration and regulating body temperature. With a few exceptions, very few sports events put as much stress on the body as competing in a marathon. Here are some tips that will help you prepare and recover for your upcoming marathon.

Week Before

1- Rest and Sleep

While not necessarily a nutrition tip, it is vital to rest and sleep well in the week before your event. You have all the hard training done, although you might have a few light sessions planned. Getting at least 8 hours sleep every night will allow your body to recover and be fully prepared for the task ahead.

2- Carb Loading

We have two fuel sources that our body uses during exercise – fat and carbohydrate. At lower exercise intensities (resting, walking, jogging), our bodies prefer to use fat as we have large quantities stored in our bodies.

At higher exercise intensities (hard running), our bodies prefer to use carbohydrate stored in our muscles and liver as it can access it and release the energy more quickly. However, a problem with this is that we have the ability to store only small amounts of carbohydrate in our bodies (300-500g). If you’re trying to perform a personal best (i.e. exercising at a high intensity), there is a possibility of running out of carbohydrate (i.e. hitting the wall, bonking) later in the race. When this happens you will have to slow down, and you might feel dizzy, faint or disorientated.

In order to prevent this happening, you will have to carb-load. Carb-loading involves eating larger than normal amounts of carbohydrate in our to max out our bodies ability to store carbohydrate. This should allow you to run faster for longer.

The recommendations say that you should be eating between 8-12g per kg of body weight. As an example, for a 70kg person, this would mean eating between 560 – 840g of carbohydrate. This is very difficult to do eating a healthy diet.

In order to achieve this, you will need to cut back on eating protein, vegetables, fat and fibrous starchy carbohydrates (e.g. porridge oats, brown pasta and rice). Normally it is a beneficial to eat these types of foods, but they may stifle your appetite when carb-loading, making it more difficult to reach your carbohydrate targets.

You will need to eat more sugary types of carbohydrates (e.g. sugary breakfast cereals, fruit juices, jam, snack bars, sports drinks, smoothies, white flour based foods (pancakes)) and low fibre starches (e.g. white rice, white pasta, white bread).

Eating these types of foods allow you to over-eat and hit your targets. A word of warning – only do this when preparing for a marathon, when doing a long run (18+ miles) or practicing your race nutrition. If you do this on a regular basis, it will more than likely lead to you increasing your body fat.

Finally, I would recommend doing this 2 days before your race, giving your body time to digest and store carbohydrates and get rid of waste. You can then eat a normal diet the day before.

3- Hydration

When your body stores carbohydrates, it does so with water. If you’re eating and storing larger than normal amounts of carbohydrates, you are drawing extra water into your muscle and liver. As a result, you may need to increase your fluid intake. Keep a close eye on your hydration levels.

  • Thirst may increase.
  • Urine may be darker in colour.
  • You may only pass a small amount of urine.

If you experience any of these symptoms then drink a pint on water immediately and then drink 200ml every 20-30 mins until the symptoms above are improved. It is also best to drink with a meal or snack as your body will absorb fluid more efficiently.

Morning of and During Race

4- Breakfast

Marathons normally start early in the morning. Try and eat a breakfast 2-3 hours before the race start. This is highly individual but ensure you get some carbohydrates (e.g. porridge) and a small amount of protein (e.g. boiled egg) at a minimum. Continue hydrating (but not too much).

5- Eating during race

After the first hour of your race, you should be aiming to consume 30-60g carbohydrate per hour during the race to keep your blood sugar levels high, continuing to fuel your run. A typical sports gel will contain 30g of carbohydrate. So will 500ml of a typical sports drink. However, consuming these in large quantities can cause stomach ache, pain and diarrhea in some people. It would be a good idea to vary carbohydrate sources (e.g. ripe banana, energy bar, snack bars) to prevent these uncomfortable side effects.

6-  Hydration

How much you sweat during a race will determine how much fluid you drink. The environmental conditions and the course will play a role in this. You will sweat more in warm, humid condition and/or on a hilly course. Conversely, you will sweat less on a cold, windy, rainy day and/or a flatter course. Some level of dehydration is OK and may be beneficial as you will be lighter and will expend slightly less energy. This is typically up to 2% of body weight. Anything over this may impair performance. It is very difficult to give a recommendation of how much fluid you should drink, As well as the factors listed above, everyone has slightly different sweat rates. At a rough estimate, you should be drinking 400-500ml per hour.

Be careful of drinking too much fluids, as this could mean an early finish to your day!

After Race

7- Immediately after race

Within 0-60 mins of your race finish, you should try to consume a recovery shake containing carbohydrate and protein or if not available, 1-2 bottles of sports drinks. This will help to kick-start refuelling.

8- 1-3 hours after race

You should aim to eat a big meal 1-3 hours after a race. This should contain a large portion of carbohydrates, protein and vegetables. The carbohydrates will continue to refuel the body, protein will help to repair and rebuild muscle and vegetables will contain vitamins and minerals which will help your immune system.

9- 72 hours after race

Continue to eat breakfasts, lunches and dinners containing protein, carbohydrate and vegetables up to 72 hours after the race. One of the big complaints by novice marathon runners is DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). DOMS is muscle soreness which appears two days after the race. By eating regular doses of protein with your meals, this will help with repairing muscle and help to prevent DOMS or at a minimum diminish the muscle soreness.

10- Rehydration

If you have a portable scales then bring it with you to the race. Try and weight yourself immediately before and immediately after the race. You should have lost weight – if you have gained weight then this means you drank too much fluid.

If you lost weight, get the difference and multiply by 1.5. For example, if you lost 3kg then the amount of fluid you need to drink to fully re-hydrate is 4.5L (3 x 1.5). You don’t need to drink all of this immediately, but over the 24 hours after the race.

Word of warning – beer and alcohol don’t count towards rehydration. Drinking large quantities after a race will cause further dehydration and will delay recovery.

I would like to wish you all the best in your upcoming marathon. If you follow the steps above I think you will have an enjoyable race and hopefully hit a P.B.. If you have any questions, please email me at: kevin@metabolise.ie

Yours in sport,

Kevin

This is a post I wrote in 2012 for the now defunct Irish Triathlon website. I’ve decided to publish it here as it’s impossible to access. While my thinking has changed slightly over the years, this post could supply basic nutrition info. when preparing and recovering from a long cycle training bout.

Like most beginner cyclist, I made many mistakes at the start due to lack of knowledge. Early morning cycle without breakfast, straight to work and did not eat until lunch resulting in mid-afternoon fatigue. Or I went out on a long cycle, without refuelling properly from the previous day’s session. It would be a momentous struggle to complete the cycle, as tiredness kicked in and I had no food to take on board.

So as not to repeat these common mistakes, I have prepared a guide for your fuel intake for before, during and after your training session. This is based both on my painful personal experience and reinforced by my studies in Strength and Conditioning, Sports Nutrition and my personal experience with advising clients at metabolise

Firstly the some basic physiology; You need energy to fuel all activities and this fuel is provided by carbohydrate, fat and protein. We burn various combinations of carbohydrate, fat and protein, depending on the training intensity, training duration and fatigue level. In a relaxed state and low-medium intensity exercise, we normally burn fat more than carbohydrate. Fat is an abundant source of energy and we have enough fat on our bodies to fuel activity for days or even weeks. As the intensity of exercise increases, our fuel source switches from predominately fat to carbohydrate. Carbohydrate is an excellent fuel source, as it can release energy more quickly than fat. However, a major drawback of carbohydrate as a fuel source is that we have limited supplies in our bodies. At a decent cycling pace, we have enough carbohydrate to fuel 90 minutes of exercise, although this will vary with training status and diet.

If you are going on a 2 to 3 hour Cycle, then there is a real possibility that you might empty your body’s carbohydrate stores. At which point, the body switches to burning fat. The consequence of this is that you cannot maintain the same training intensity. It also leads to unpleasant physical consequences: marathon runners call it to “hitting the wall” and cyclists call it “the bonk”. Symptoms include tiredness, fatigue and lack of energy.

The good news is that all this can be easily avoided. By making the correct food choice , we can ensure that we start training with high carbohydrate stores, top them up while we cycle and refuel afterwards to prepare for our next training session.

Pre-Training

You need to ensure that our body’s carbohydrate stores are full, by eating foods such as potatoes, rice, pasta and bread. As a rule, we should eat brown coloured carbohydrates (brown bread, rice, whole grain noodles and pasta) as opposed to white. Brown coloured carbohydrates are healthier for us in the long term and give a more sustained release of energy. Preparing for your training session should begin the day before. Eat a mixture of carbohydrates for breakfast (e.g. weetabix), lunch (e.g. baked potato) and dinner (e.g. pasta). Also, eat carbohydrate containing snacks (e.g. low-fat yoghurt’s) throughout the day. This ensures that you’re giving your body the fuel it needs and the time it needs to process and store it.

If you’re training early in the morning, you might not have time to eat a proper breakfast. In which case, eat a light snack or carbohydrate containing food before training – something that’s not too heavy or rich. If you’re training later in the day, continue to consume carbohydrates throughout the day. Eat your last meal 2-3 hours before your session.

During Training

Follow the above to make sure that you are prepared for training. However, depending on your training intensity, after an hour and a half, you might begin to feel tired. This is because you’ve burned much of your body’s carbohydrate stores and they’re now running low. Your blood sugar levels may also be dropping as your liver carbohydrate is used up. To prevent this, we need to start consuming carbohydrates in order to keep supplying the body with energy. This is easily achieved, but needs some forward planning.

You may experiment with different foods, but the most popular choices are sports drinks and sports gels. These foods are generally designed to ensure quick absorption of sugar into your bloodstream, fuelling exercise. You should be consuming 60-90g carbohydrate per hour. Gels are generally well tolerated but may have some unpleasant side-effects like bloating. Experiment with different gels and drinks to see what’s suitable for you. There are many cheap alternatives to Gels and sports drinks. Raisins and figs are two natural foods which were used by cyclists in years past when sports gels didn’t exist.

Post Training

So, you’ve completed your cycle, maintained a good intensity and are feeling rather pleased with yourself. Well, you’re not finished yet! The last thing you need to do is to refuel and repair your body so that all the potential improvements in fitness from your cycle can be realised. Firstly, you have a 45-60 minute window after finishing exercise when your body is better able to take up sugar and refuel. What I normally do is drink chocolate milk immediately when I get home. Chocolate milk contains carbohydrate for refuelling, protein for rebuilding the muscles, fluid for rehydration and various electrolytes and nutrients which are important for your health and fitness.

One to two hours after you finish, you can cook and eat a healthy nutritious meal. Although many people prefer pasta, you can eat nearly any carbohydrate containing meal, once it’s low in fat. This will continue the refuelling and rebuilding process and ensures that your fitness will increase. If you trained in the morning, continue to refuel throughout the day by eating carbohydrate containing meals and snacks, every 3-4 hours. Make sure to include protein (e.g. milk, eggs, fish, chicken) in your meals to help repair and rebuild muscle.

I hope you enjoyed this article. Hopefully you will now be properly prepared for your next cycle.

One of the most difficult topics that I have to cover with my clients is bodyweight. When someone is on a diet and trying to lose weight the temptation is to weigh yourself everyday and monitor your progress. However, this can be very frustrating as your body weight can vary considerably throughout the day. For this article we will explore some concepts related to body weight and outline the best way to track changes in body weight over time.

Your body weight is not one overall entity but is made up of several compartments.

  • Muscle
  • Bone
  • Fat
  • Other organs (liver, lungs, heart etc).
  • Water

The sum total weight of all these body compartments contribute to your total body weight. Changes to any of these body compartments will affect your overall weight.

For example, building muscle through weight training can increase body weight in a positive fashion. More muscle means a higher metabolism (burn more calories). Even though your weight might increase, the additional weight is as a result of increased muscle mass (which is desirable).

Conversely, eating too much unhealthy and processed food might result in an increase in body mass also, but this increase is as a result of body fat rather than muscle (which is undesirable).

Not partaking in weight training might mean a loss of muscle. This will show as weight reduction on the scales but losing muscle mass is not desirable.

Therefore, care must be taken when interpreting any change in body weight. It is always a good idea to try and get body composition (% of muscle and fat in your body) measured as this will give you a breakdown of where the changes are occurring (body fat or muscle).

One word of advice I give to clients when trying to either lose or gain weight is to only weight themselves once a week rather than every day. The reason for this is that there are wide fluctuations in body weight on a daily basis. Some of the factors responsible include:

Circadian Rhythms – normal daily fluctuations in energy expenditure, water retention etc

Hydration Levels – if in a dehydrated state then body weight will be lower than if hydrated.

Food intake – as well as resting in our intestines and adding to our overall weight, the type of food we eat can also effect bodyweight through the way that it’s stored. For example, if our bodies carbohydrate stores are low and we eat a high carbohydrate meal then the carbohydrate will be stored in our muscles and liver. Carbohydrate combines with water in our body to allow it to be stored properly. Storing 250g carbohydrate means that an additional 750g water will be combined with the carbohydrate in order to allow it to be stored properly. This could show up as a 1kg increase on the scales – however, this is not fat gain but the way our body stores carbohydrate.

Sleep – we lose weight when we sleep. As well as burning through energy sources, we also lose body fluid through breathing (respiration) and sweating (perspiration) while we sleep. It is not uncommon to lose 1kg weight over 8 hours of sleep.

The point I am trying to make is that weighing yourself several time per day or even everyday can be counterproductive. There is so much variation in weight that it can be very frustrating – why I am weighing more after my workout then before (maybe you drank a lot of fluid), or why am I 2kg heavier after this meal (maybe it’s water retention).

I advise the following as the best solution:

  • Weigh yourself:
  • Once a week (preferably on a Friday as this is when we generally weigh the least)
  • First thing in the morning
  • After visiting the bathroom
  • Before eating breakfast
  • In your underwear

It is best to track changes in body weight over a longer time frame (weekly) as any of the factors that influence daily variability in body weight should be negated and you will see a true reflection of longer term changes in body weight and body composition.

However, an even easier solution is to look at yourself in the mirror and you can see if you are gaining or losing fat and/or muscle. How do your clothes feel – are they looser or tighter; is your belt buckle coming in; are your muscles more defined; is your tummy flatter? If you have a friend or partner it might be a good idea to take before and after photos (every 4-6 weeks) as these will visually show changes in your body over time.

Thanks for reading,

Kevin

Many of my previous posts have focused on highly technical topics. However, working with clients and athletes has helped me to understand that going back to the basics is sometimes the best starting point. People eat food, not nutrients and sometimes the hardest task when working with new clients is helping them to make correct food choices. The purpose of this post is to help people make the correct choices.

Nutrition is a simple topic that has been made very complicated by a number of factors. Newspaper reports tell us one month that a particular food is good for us. Three months later another report tells us that this food is harmful to us. Supermarkets are full with shelves upon shelves of food promoting their virtues – low-fat; fortified with vitamins and iron; whole-grain etc. Sometimes it is difficult to make sense of this all and make the right choices when we are eating out or buying our weekly shop.

However, making the correct food choices is actually very easy. I always abide by the following quote when I visit the supermarket:

Real food comes from growing, living, green plants, not industrial processing plants.
Real food comes from a farm, not a factory.

Dr. Mark Lucan

What this tells me is that fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, poultry and dairy should make up the majority of my shopping basket. I will buy some processed foods, but not too much.

Processed foods are foods that come in a box, packet, tin or some form of packaging. They will generally contain an ingredients list and nutrition data (e.g. amount of carbohydrates, protein, fat etc). Some healthy foods come in processed form (e.g. milk, cheese, yoghurt, tinned fish etc). How do you know which processed foods to choose ad which to avoid? Here are some simple rules to follow:

  • The longer the list of ingredients, the more processed the foods are.
  • The more additives, flavourings and colourants in the list of ingredients, the more processed the food is.
  • Does the food contain added sugars in the ingredients list? If it does, the food is more processed.
  • Does the food contain trans-fats (hydrogenated), added vegetable oils etc? Avoid if it does.

As an example, look at the following two yoghurts:

Ingredients  Nutrition Data
Greek Style Yoghurt Low-fat Strawberry Yoghurt Greek Style Yoghurt Low-fat Strawberry Yoghurt
Organic natural yogurt (from milk)
Lactobacillus acidophilus & Bifidobacterium.
organic low fat milk,
organic skimmed milk powder,
organic strawberries (8.1%),
organic cane sugar,
organic lemon juice from concentrate,
organic tapioca starch,
stabiliser (organic carob gum),
natural flavouring,
organic concentrated aronia juice,
active cultures (Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus),
probiotic cultures (L.casei and Bifidus).
Typical values Per 100g:
Energy 109kcal
Fat 8.3g
of which saturates 5.2g
Carbohydrate 5.0g
of which sugars 5.0g
Protein 3.6g
Typical values Per 100g:
Energy: 85kCal
Fat: 1.7g
of which saturates 1.1g
Carbohydrate 13.1g
of which sugars 12.8
Protein 4.3g

Comparing the two yoghurts the first thing that stands out is that the Low-fat yoghurt has many more ingredients than the Greek Style yoghurt. The second thing is that the low-fat yoghurt has over twice the amount of sugar compared to the Greek style yoghurt. The over-consumption of sugar in the modern diet has been implicated in obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and a host of other diseases. As a rule of thumb, choose foods with the lower number of ingredients and the least amount of sugar.

This brings me to the next point, when you remove fat from foods it is replaced with sugar. Reducing fat intake and increasing sugar consumption is not a good idea for your waistline or health! Fat is a whole area of nutrition that is currently undergoing a radical re-think. Basically, the low-fat dogma that has persisted for the last 25-30 years may be harmful to our health and may be responsible for our increasing waist lines (due to fat being replaced with sugar). However, this is a topic for another day.

The last point when it comes to whole vs processed foods is that whole foods are more filling. They contain more fibre and water which are naturally filling and will help to curb your appetite. Processed foods aren’t as filling and as a result you are more likely to overeat. Finally, whole foods contain more vitamins, minerals and other natural substances that are beneficial for our health. Processed foods are often fortified with vitamins and minerals which leads me to think – how poor is the nutritional content of the original food that they need to add vitamins and minerals!

Hopefully this post will help you to choose more nutritious foods over less healthy options when eating out and shopping.

Thanks for reading,

Kevin Beasley

Another important factor for performance, especially in warm conditions, is hydration. Severe dehydration will have a negative impact on performance, causing you to fatigue and slow down. We can generally tolerate a certain level of dehydration (a 2-3% reduction in body weight), but anything greater than this will have a negative impact.

 

What is the optimal drinking strategy? There is a high level of individual variation in how much we sweat during exercise. We all differ based on training status, hydration status, ambient weather conditions, terrain, clothing etc. The best strategy is to measure your own individual sweat rate. This is relatively easy to do.  For your convenience, I have created a sweat rate and re-hydration calculator on my website at the following link:

 

http://www.metabolise.ie/?tools.html?tools/sweat_rate.html

 

To calculate your sweat rate, you will need to measure the following:

 

  • Weigh yourself (preferably nude) before training/competition.
  • Weigh yourself (preferably nude) after training/competition and after towelling down.
  • Measure the amount of fluid consumed.
  • Estimate any urination between before and after weigh in.
  • Duration of training session or competition.

 

With this information at hand, you can calculate your sweat rate.  Ideally, you will exercise at race pace for one hour (possibly shorter for swimming). This will allow you to estimate your average sweat loss. You can do this for the three different disciplines, as it is likely you will sweat at different rates depending on the type of activity you’re doing. Ideally, you would perform this test during  a warm-up race to make the figure as realistic as possible.

 

With this information at hand, you can then calculate your ideal rehydration rate. The calculator allows you to factor in an acceptable level of dehydration. This is set at 2%, which is the maximum accepted weight loss without a negative effect on performance.

 

If you want to take it to a professional level, determine your sweat rates in different environmental conditions (cold, moderate, hot weather) so that regardless of the weather on the day, you will know what your ideal hydration strategy is for those conditions.

 

One important consideration with hydration is hyponotraemia , which is a potentially serious medical condition. Hyponotraemia is  caused by consuming too much fluid, resulting in a change in the composition of blood plasma and potentially fatal knock on effects (e.g. swelling of the brain). This generally occurs for beginners or slow competitors who consume excess fluids (i.e. drink more fluid than they lose through sweating) during a triathlon. This is one reason why it is a good idea to measure your sweat rate and have a hydration plan in place. As well as keeping you hydrated, it will prevent you from developing hyponotraemia.

 

One last thing to mention is caffeine, which has the potential to enhance your performance.  Caffeine works by altering your perception of how hard you’re working. I can testify to the power of caffeine as it has helped me finish a long hard ride on more than one occasion.

 

Caffeine can be consumed in a number of ways – by taking caffeine tablets in measured doses, by eating a gel which contains caffeine or by drinking coffee or Coke. One point to be aware of is that if you are a habitual coffee drinker than you may not get this performance enhancing effect. The best way to ensure that you get a boost is to stop consuming coffee or caffeine containing products 4-5 days before your event. This “wash-out” period will allow you to get the best effect from caffeine when you take it during an event. As with all nutrition strategies, experiment in training to see if this is right for you.

D.I.Y. Energy Drinks for Triathlon

The two best ways to increase your carbohydrate intake are through fluids and food. Fluids have the advantage of hydrating you as well as providing energy. Many sports drinks and water soluble powders are commercially available which are ready off the shelf. However, I prefer to make my own drinks for the following reasons:

  • I can control the amount of carbohydrate, the taste and adjust to my preferences
  • It’s cheaper to make your own.

If you decide to make your own sports drink, you will need to buy maltodextrin or glucose powder and fructose powder. You can buy 1kg packets of maltodextrin (approx. €5) and fructose (approx. €8) online. This will be enough to last you several weeks.

To prepare your own sports drink, you will need the following ingredients:

  • 50g Maltodextrin
  • 25g Fructose
  • 1L water
  • 1g table salt
  • Flavouring – Miwadi/Robinsons

It is important to use the measurements outlined as this is the optimal blend. Too much maltodextrin/fructose may cause discomfort such as bloating, cramping and diarrhoea. Too little carbohydrate and you won’t be delivering the carbohydrate at the optimum rate. The combination of fructose and maltodextrin allows the maximal rate of absorption of carbohydrate compared to using either on its own. Another added benefit is that the addition of fructose allows greater water absorption, promoting greater hydration. Adding a small amount of salt is also important as the sodium in the salt allows greater absorption of water in the intestine.

Sports gels are another great way of increasing your carbohydrate intake during the cycle (and run leg) as they are small and easy to carry. As with sports drinks, you should be looking at the different types of carbohydrate contained in the gels. In general, fructose in combination with glucose, maltodextrin or galactose will allow the maximum rate of delivery of carbohydrate to your working muscles. The optimum ratio is two parts maltodextrin,glucose or galactose to one part fructose.

Not to be under-estimated is taste. When out on a long ride, I find that I look forward to eating my gels/bars as a treat. However, many gels are tasteless. I find that eating gels with a pleasant taste gives me an extra psychological lift! One brand that I can recommend is the TORQ brand of gels, which are very tasty and come in a variety of flavours. If sports drinks and gels are beyond your budget, foods such as ripe bananas, figs and raisins are also high in carbohydrate and might be a low cost alternative.

 

The maximal rate of which your body can absorb and use carbohydrates from drinks, gels and food is between 60-90g/hour. It is a good idea to experiment with different combinations of fluid, gels and foods during training and warm-up races to find the right combination for you. It is important to realise that we are all individuals and what works for your training partner might not work for you.

 

One common mistake by beginners is to eat too much on the bike leg. When completing the running leg, there is a lot of fluid and food sloshing around in the stomach. This can lead to gastro-intestinal discomfort, with feelings of bloating and nausea being common. Again, use your training to determine the optimal feeding strategy on the cycle leg, without compromising the run leg.

 

Because, there are many different types of triathlon events, and your training duration varies, the below table will help you to decide which is the best intake rate and type of carbohydrate to ingest.

Event Duration Carbohydrate Requirement Recommended Intake Carbohydrate Type Single Carbohydrate Multiple Types of Carbohydrate
< 30 min None None None None None
30-75 min Very Small Amounts Carbohydrate Mouth Rinse Most forms of carbohydrate OK OK
1 – 2 hr Small amounts Up to 30g/hr Most forms of carbohydrate OK OK
2 – 3 hr Moderate amounts Up to 60g/hr Ingestion of single carbohydrates (e.g. glucose, maltodextrin) OK, but not optimal OK
>2.5 hr Large amounts Up to 90g/hr Only multiple types of carbohydrates (e.g. maltodextrin and fructose) Not optimal OK

Taken from: Juenkendrup, A. (2011). Nutrition for Endurance Sports: Marathon, triathlon and Road Cycling. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29(S1), S91-S99.

 

Some interesting research that is just emerging is that your digestive system is trainable. By consuming carbohydrate during training, your body becomes better at absorbing and burning carbohydrate as you exercise. Therefore, train as you mean to compete and this includes incorporating race eating strategies into your training.