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Hello,

My name is Kevin Beasley and I’m a performance nutritionist. I have worked with inter-county Gaelic football teams (male and femKerry v Mayo - GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Finalale) at both senior and underage levels for the past eight years. I also have vast experience of working with clients from a variety of different sports.

If you are someone who enjoys working out but can’t get to the gym now because of the current lockdown, you may be fretting over your nutrition. You may be unsure over what you should be eating due to reduced training intensity or frequency. However, there are some easy steps you can take to remain in good shape, maintain a good body composition and most importantly remain healthy.

The global sports supplement is big business – $15.6 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow annually by 9% until 2027. One of the first questions many people ask me when they discover I’m a sports nutritionist is what supplements should be taking? This is the wrong question to ask! This post will explain why people supplement, some of the benefits of supplementation and some of the problems with supplementation.

Why Supplement?

Supplements are pills or powders that are taken by people to supplement a person’s diet. Why do people supplement?

  • To compensate for an inadequate or poor diet (e.g. vitamin and mineral supplement)
  • As an insurance policy (i.e. just in case your diet is deficient in something)
  • Convenience and timesaving (e.g. having a protein shake after the gym)
  • Marketing & hype – many supplements are marketed as providing amazing benefits – transform your physique, enhance performance and
  • Improve training and performance

 

Food First Approach

One of the major changes among sports nutritionists (SN) in the past 5 years is the “food first” approach to dietary advice. Previously, SN would freely advise clients with regards supplement usage. However, that has changed. So, what is the “food first” approach?

Food First is a simple message – a varied diet consisting of whole, natural foods is always more beneficial, and safer, than supplements. Why is this? Sports nutrition scientists have found that eating whole foods provide extra benefits over consuming supplements alone. Whole foods contain a wide variety of nutrients that act synergistically. As an example, consuming a whole egg is better for building muscle that consuming an egg white. Nutrients in the egg yolk help with the digestion and usage of the protein in the egg white versus consuming the egg white alone.

Natural whole foods also contain more vitamins and minerals than supplements (i.e. they are more nutrient dense). You are getting more “bang for your buck” by eating a whole food diet than relying on supplements.

Many people use supplements as a time saving device. If you are in the gym in the morning before work, then you may not have the time to cook a breakfast afterwards…consuming a protein shake is more convenient and less time consuming. However, with many people working from home, they now have the ability to cook a healthy breakfast after a work-out.

Athletes often use supplements to compensate for a poor diet. Many athletes now find themselves in a situation where they have less demands on their time. I would advise that using this time to improve on your cooking skills (e.g. cooking new meals, trying out different foods) would be very beneficial in the long-term.

 

Problems with Supplements

There are a number of basic problems with supplements:

  • Supplement quality – many protein powders are laced with cheap “fillers”. Cheap ingredients are used to bulk out protein powders, so it seems that you are getting value for money. These “fillers” are already abundant in most people’s diet and they will not get any extra benefit from consuming these powders.
  • Contamination – many supplements can be deliberately or accidentally contaminated with illegal ingredients. For example, some pre-workout supplements are deliberately contaminated with illegal stimulants to give the user a “buzz”. These “extra” ingredients are often not listed on the label or are hidden under a different name. It is therefore highly advised to only use batch tested supplements (check informed-sport.com for batch tested supplement database). While these batch tested supplements are usually more expensive, they give you peace of mind.
  • Quick Fix – many people view supplements as a quick fix to remedy deficiencies in their diets. The best advice from a sports performance and over-all health perspective is to focus on whole foods first, rather than supplements.
  • Overlook other strategies – athletes may often use supplements and overlook other, less glamorous options as a means to improve training and performance (e.g. mental preparation, sound nutritional practices, adequate sleep and rest).
  • Ad-hoc usages – most supplements have strict protocols regarding when to take them. Sometimes, these protocols are not followed meaning that the benefits of the supplement are greatly reduced (e.g. forgetting to take it, taking too much or too little).
  • Drain on resources – supplements cost money and can be a drain on limited resources.
  • Marketing hype around a particular brand or supplement can lead to false expectations.
  • Responders vs Non-responders – many people who take supplements may not gain any benefits. For example, if you have naturally high stores of creatine in your muscle, supplementation may not have a beneficial effect.

 

Over-use of Supplements

Long-term use of supplements can cause problems. Studies have shown that long-term, high doses of Vitamin C and E can blunt the bodies response to endurance training (Paulsen et al., 2015). Theses high doses will only be achieved through supplementation – it would be impossible to hit these intake levels through a food first approach.

Consuming high doses of Vitamin D without proper medical supervision and testing can lead to hyper-calcemia (high levels of Calcium in the blood) (Marcinowska-Suchowierska et al., 2018). Hyper-calcemia can lead to weak bones, kidney stones and interfere with how your heart and brain works.

 

Periodisation

Many people are aware of the concept of periodisation – this is the planned variation in training volume and intensity in order to elicit improvements in performance and to peak physically at the right time. A similar concept has now emerged in sports nutrition. You vary your diet based on the type of training you’re doing at any given time. Periodisation can also be applied to supplement usage. Some examples:

 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin and our skin makes it naturally upon exposure to sunlight. People living in the northern hemispheres (e.g. Ireland and Northern Europe) have a higher risk of becoming deficient in Vitamin D during the Winter (October to March). This is due to the lack of daylight, weak sun, spending more time indoors and wearing lots of clothes when out-doors.

Conversely, during the Summer months, as little as 15 mins of sun exposure per day will stimulate the skin to produce Vitamin D. You also have a naturally feedback mechanism whereby when you produce enough Vitamin D, your skin stops producing it. This mechanism doesn’t work if you are supplementing.

Therefore, it might be advisable to supplement with Vitamin D during the Winter (if deficient – a blood test will determine this), whereas during the Summer months it would not be advised as there will be sufficient sunlight and opportunity to go outdoors.

 

Creatine

Phospho-creatine is a natural occurring substance in the human body and is used as a source of energy for explosive movements (e.g. sprinting). A person eating a normal diet will consume 1-2g of creatine naturally every day and supplementation will increase muscle creatine stores by approximately 15-20%.

With regards periodisation, creatine may be effective during periods of heavy training, muscle building training blocks, heavy anaerobic work (e.g. sprint interval sessions) and during competition. It would be prudent to periodise creatine intake to these periods to improve training performance and adaptations to training.

Remember, creatine is a source of energy for explosive type movements and if you are not using explosive type movements during your training, then the supplementation of creatine might be unwarranted.

Experts advise that creatine is an acceptable nutritional strategy if you are consuming a well-balanced diet. If you are not consuming a well-balanced diet, then it is strongly advised to work on improving your diet quality first before supplementation.

Nutrition Pyramid

The above diagram shows the performance nutrition pyramid. The purpose of this is to illustrate the importance of your everyday diet in promoting good health and performance. Your everyday diet is the most important factor and is the foundation of your diet as an athlete. This is where you will make the most gains in energy levels, body composition, training quality and performance.

Consider it similar to be able to perform the most basic skills in your sport (e.g. controlling the ball, passing and scoring in most team sports). If you cannot do these simple skills, then your ability to perform effectively in a game will be diminished.

You will get the most benefit from working on the basic nutrition skills (e.g. understanding of what’s a healthy food, what should I eat before and after training, how much protein should I consume, how much carbohydrate should I consume, hydration). Most supplements, if effective provide miniscule improvements to performance (i.e. 0.5 – 1%, equivalent to a 10sec 100m sprinter shaving 0.05 to 0.1 seconds off their time). Supplements should only be considered when you have made improvements in many other areas of your life and you are looking for the tiny margins to bring you to the elite level.

With this in mind, consider areas of your everyday life where you can make improvements that will have a greater impact?

Please check in next week as I will be posting another blog on sports nutrition.

If you have any questions, please email me at: kevin@metabolise.ie

Check out my website and my YouTube channel which I update regularly with cooking demonstrations and recipes. I also have interviews with Kerry footballing greats discussing the importance of sports nutrition

Subscribe to my YouTube channel and get a notification every time I post a new video.

Finally, check out my blog for further posts on sports nutrition related topics.

Stay safe everyone, wash your hands regularly and practice physical distancing!

Kevin

 

Introduction

profile_new

Hello,
My name is Kevin Beasley and I’m a performance nutritionist. I have worked with inter-county Gaelic football teams (male and female) at both senior and underage levels for the past eight years. I also have vast experience of working with clients from a variety of different sports.
If you are someone who enjoys working out but can’t get to the gym now because of the current lock-down, you may be fretting over your nutrition. You may be unsure over what you should be eating due to reduced training intensity or frequency. However, there are some easy steps you can take to remain in good shape, maintain a good body composition and most importantly remain healthy.

Introduction

The past three posts have looked at basic nutrition information and dietary recommendations for different types of training. However, knowledge of this is not enough! You need to be able to execute it and put it into practice!

One of the biggest mistakes I made when I first started out as a sports nutritionist was that I assumed that if I told someone to do something, they would do it. I quickly learned that was not the case. People found it difficult to execute my meticulous nutrition plans for a variety of reasons:

  • Work/life balance – too much going on in their lives – training, playing, work or college, personal relationships.
  • Education/knowledge – not sure why they should be following a particular strategy. Not sure what types of foods they should be eating.
  • Dis-organised – couldn’t find the time or didn’t have skills to be organised.
  • Culture – were raised eating certain meals or foods that might not be compatible with optimal nutrition.
  • Palate – liked certain types of foods and disliked others; not willing to try new foods that might be beneficial.
  • Environment – didn’t have access to adequate cooking facilities; lived with people who frequently consumed treat foods or less healthy meals (e.g. pizza).
  • Cooking Skills – didn’t have cooking skills to prepare nutritious meals.

Over time, this led me to realise that my role wasn’t giving orders and expecting people to carry them out, but to identify barriers to good nutrition and find ways to overcome these. For the rest of this blog, I will look at some of these barriers and ways to overcome them.

 

Shopping

Shopping List

The best way to eat a healthy diet is to have healthy food available when you need it. In order to do this, you need to develop the habit of shopping on a regular basis and ensuring that you don’t run low on healthy food.

Looking at shopping I break it down into three categories:

  • Perishable Items – items that go out of date quickly. Examples include:
    • Fresh fruit and vegetables
    • Certain meat, fish and poultry products
    • Dairy – milk and yogurts
    • Fresh herbs

You will probably need to shop for these weekly or bi-weekly.

  • Non-perishable Items – items that don’t go out of date quickly and that you might consume frequently. Examples include:
    • Rice, pasta, noodles, quinoa
    • Nuts, seeds
    • Tinned food (e.g. tinned fish, beans)
    • Frozen food (e.g. frozen vegetables, frozen fruit)

These items can generally be bought in bulk and will keep for months in the cupboard or freezer. Depending on usage, you may only need to buy these types of foods every month.

  • Small Use Items – these are non-perishable items that we only use small amounts of and last a relatively long time. These might include:
    • Seasonings (salt and pepper)
    • Spices (e.g. cinnamon, paprika, curry powder)
    • Cooking fats (coconut, olive or rapeseed oil)
    • Dried herbs (e.g. Herbes de Provence)
    • Sports supplements such as whey protein

Checking your fridge and cupboards, and making a list before you go shopping will ensure that you will always have healthy ingredients at hand to make healthy and nutritious meals. I have created a shopping list template that might give you some ideas. This list is tailored to the recipes I give my clients (and I eat myself). Yours might be different but the goal is to have a checklist to make it easier when you go shopping.

Your shopping list should be based on your training for the coming week:

  • Do you need more carbs on certain days or more protein on other days?
  • Have you included healthy snacks that you can eat between meals if your feeling peckish?
  • Do you have lots of fresh fruit and vegetables for their fibre, vitamin and mineral content?

Write out your training schedule for the coming week and write down what you might eat on a given day. This will help you to decide what you will buy.

In the shop

COVID-19

In this era of COVID-19, here are some tips for you when shopping to prevent risk of exposure to or infecting another person with COVID-19:

  • Wear a mask if possible.
  • Use a cloth bag or bags – these can be washed.
  • Sanitize your hands on entering and leaving the store.
  • Wash your hands before going shopping and upon your return.
  • Limit your shopping trips to once a week if possible – you will be minimizing your risk of exposure.
  • Commit before you touch food. Don’t handle food unnecessarily as it will increase the risk of infection for someone else if you have COVID-19 (you may be asymptomatic). Look at the food, decide which one you will choose and only then touch it.
  • One person goes shopping – limiting exposure to infection or decreasing risk of passing on infection.
  • Pay electronically if possible.

Further detailed advice is available here.

Non-COVID-19

Here are some further tips when shopping:

  • Shop around the edge of the supermarket. While not ironclad, most of the healthier foods are found around the perimeter.
  • Check the labels – a processed food generally comes in packaging and has a label. The label will contain information on ingredients and a nutritional breakdown. As a rule of thumb, if a processed food has 5 or more ingredients then you should not put it in your basket. Also, look at the ingredients and if there are lots of ingredients you don’t recognise, it’s probably best avoided. As an example, a plain yogurt will have one ingredient while a low-fat, flavoured yogurt might have 10 ingredients.
  • Minimize processed foods – consumption of processed foods is linked to increased risks of certain health problems and weight gain. If a food has bright and shiny packaging and is marketed in print or screen media, chances are it’s a processed food. One of my favorite sayings is – “Real food comes from a farm, not a factory – eat more real foods”. Most of your shopping basket should contain real food. You can look at infographics here and here to give you an idea of how to identify processed foods.
  • Support local business – buy your meat and poultry from your local butcher, your fish from your local fishmonger, your fruit and vegetables in your local fruit and veg shop. As well as supporting local jobs and businesses, you will also be helping the environment as the food will not have far to travel.

Other Shopping and Organisational Tips

Some other tips that will help when shopping:

  • Shop when you have time – it’s best to do your big shop at the weekend or during times when shops are quiet (e.g. late at night). You will have more time and be less stressed. If you are stressed, you will be more likely to forget something.
  • Don’t shop when you’re hungry – if you do, you might end up buying treat foods that you normally wouldn’t for a quick “hit” or “fix”.
  • Keep a list on your fridge door and write down immediately something runs out – otherwise you might forget.
  • Always make sure you have food in your fridge and cupboard to make quick and easy nutritios meals. Examples:
    • Chicken, frozen stir-fry veg and noodles for stir fry.
    • Frozen fruit for smoothie.
    • Natural yogurt and museli.

Value for Money

Most people think that eating a healthy and nutritious diet is expensive…it’s not! It actually saves money over time and is better for your health. Why most people fall down is that they lack the cooking skills or are not adventurous enough to cook and prepare new meals and recipes. There are many great online resources that I will share with you next week to get you cooking new meals for the whole family.

Conclusion

  • Look at your training week and based on what you are doing (more carb based meals some days, more protein based meals and snacks other days), plan out a rough meal schedule for the week.
  • Check your fridge and cupboards and prepare a list.
  • Follow the guidelines for shopping during COVID-19.
  • Support your local smaller shops including butchers, fishmongers and fruit and vegetable stores.

Join me again next week as I will be looking at cooking skills and will share suggest some excellent resources for you.

If you have any questions, please email me at: kevin@metabolise.ie

Check out my website and my YouTube channel which I update regularly with cooking demonstrations and recipes. I also have videos from Kerry footballing greats discussing the importance of sports nutrition.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel and get a notification every time I post a new video.

Follow me on Twitter: @metabolise

Finally, check out my blog for further posts on sports nutrition related topics.

Stay safe everyone, wash your hands regularly and practice physical distancing!

Kevin

Introduction

profile_new

Hello,
My name is Kevin Beasley and I’m a performance nutritionist. I have worked with inter-county Gaelic football teams (male and female) at both senior and underage levels for the past eight years. I also have vast experience of working with clients from a variety of different sports.
If you are someone who enjoys working out but can’t get to the gym now because of the current lock-down, you may be fretting over your nutrition. You may be unsure over what you should be eating due to reduced training intensity or frequency. However, there are some easy steps you can take to remain in good shape, maintain a good body composition and most importantly remain healthy.

Introduction

I’ve spent the last two blog posts going through some basic concepts in nutrition. It is important that you understand these concepts as these will be the foundation for what will we cover in the next few posts.

As a sports nutritionist, I look at food from a functional perspective. That is, what function a food or meal will serve in relation to training, performance and recovery.

Some of the functions that food provides:

  • Fueling before training and re-fueling afterwards (carbohydrates)
  • Repairing and rebuilding muscle (protein)
  • Hydration (fluid)
  • Health (whole fruits, vegetables, small amounts of healthy fats)
  • Body Composition (energy balance – total calorie intake and proportion of carbohydrate, protein and fat in the diet)

The secret is to balance out your meals based on your daily training schedule and your body composition goals.

Fueling (Carbohydrate)

A basic rule in sports nutrition is – “Fuel for the Work Required”. Basically, if you have a long duration and/or high intensity session, you need to consume more carbohydrate. If you have a rest day, you consume less. This relates back to the table below from the first blog post.

ACTIVITY LEVELS RECOMMENDED CARBOHYDRATE INTAKE

(g/kg BM/day)

Low Intensity or Skill based activities 3 – 5
Moderate exercise program (approx. 1 hour per day) 5 – 7
1 – 3 hours per day or moderate to high-intensity exercise 6 – 10

On high carbohydrate intake days (higher activity levels), you will eat bigger carbohydrate portions, more carbohydrate containing snacks etc.

On lower carbohydrate intake days (rest days or shorter duration training sessions), you will eat smaller carbohydrate portions.

The reason for this is that in the long-term,  over-consumption of carbohydrate on a rest or low-activity day can lead to accumulation of body fat. Our bodies can only store a limited amount of carbohydrate in our muscles and liver (approx. 500g). If out body stores are full and we continue to consume a high carbohydrate diet, the additional carbohydrate we eat can be converted and stored as body fat.

Now, everybody is different, we all know people who can eat whatever they want and they never put on body fat. These people have the ability to burn off excess calories and not put on body fat. However, others must watch what they consume carefully.

By matching your carbohydrate intake with your activity levels, you will ensure that you fuel up for a session and refuel afterwards. It also ensures that you don’t over fuel up on a day when you don’t need to (i.e. rest or low-activity day).

Repairing and rebuilding muscle (Protein)

As mentioned previously, protein intake is very important for athletes, especially if you go the gym or play a sport where having more muscle is an important factor in performance (e.g. team sports).

Every time you train or compete, you get microscopic tears in your muscle. This is actually a good thing – when these tears are repaired through diet and rest, your muscles bounce back stronger. However, if you don’t recover with a proper diet and rest between training sessions, these microscopic tears can lead to bigger tears and may lead to injury.

Remember, your muscles are made in the most part from protein and you need protein in your diet to repair and build them. When eating protein, you should consume it spaced out over breakfast, lunch and dinner. Most peoples protein intake is skewed towards the end of the day (dinner). Make sure you consume a portion of protein with breakfast and lunch as well. If your goal is to build muscle, you should consider protein containing snacks as well.

We have all heard the term “use it or lose it”. In sports, this refers to many things such as technique, skill, cardiovascular endurance etc. Given the situation we find ourselves in the moment, many of us are a lot more sedentary due to physical distancing, closing of work, lack of access to gyms etc. By being less active we are in danger of losing muscle. One way to protect our muscle is to consume a higher than normal amount of protein in our diet. The consumption target for protein is 1.5 – 2 g/ kg/BM. A higher intake of protein when we are less active can have a protective effect on muscle loss. Following the advice to eat a large portion of protein with every main meal as well as protein containing snacks will help you to hit these targets.

Hydration

Water is a requirement for optimal physical and mental performance. The requirements for properly hydrating are relatively straight forward.

You should drink water or other suitable beverages every time you eat a meal. Fluid that is drank in combination with food will be absorbed better than fluid drank on an empty stomach. Certain foods also contain significant amounts of water (e.g. potatoes and most fruits).

To ensure you are hydrated, you should check urine colour and volume when you go to the bathroom. If you pass a small volume of urine and/or dark coloured urine then you should start hydrating immediately. Drink a pint of water immediately and then 250-300ml every 30 mins until urine colour and volume is back to normal.

You can see a nice visual guide here.

Be careful over-consuming fluid late at night! It could mean that you will wake up in the middle of the night to visit the bathroom. If you do exercise late in the evening, drink some fluid and the remainder the following morning.

To calculate your fluid requirements after exercise, weigh yourself before and after training in your shorts. Multiple the weight difference by 1.5 (you should have lost weight) and that is the amount of fluid you must consume to re-hydrate. For example, if you lose 2kg in weight during exercise, then to re-hydrate you should be drinking 3L of water to replace fluid lost through sweating. If you’ve gained weight then you’ve either consumed too much fluid or your scales is broken!

It’s OK to lose a small amount of weight during training or competing (approx. 2% of body weight). However, anything over 2% however may hamper performance.

Fat

Eating fat is mainly for it’s nutritional benefits – it contains essential fatty acids (omega-3 and 6) and the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Certain fats are anti-inflammatory and may also play a role in building muscle (omega-3). However, we normally don’t need to consume high amounts of fat from a performance perspective. It might actually be detrimental to performance as it might lead to excess body fat in consumed in excess.

Fat plays a role in satiety (feeling full) and a good idea is to add a small amount of fat if eating a carb-free meal. This will help to fill you up and keep hunger away until your next meal. You only need to consume small amounts of health fats. Examples would be 1-2 tbsp of salad dressing if eating a salad; a small amount of cheese or avocado on an omelette; a handful of nuts; some seeds with your porridge; full-fat yogurt and fruit salad.

A new type of diet called a keto-genic diet has gained a lot of popularity over the last 5 years. This type of diet consists of eating large amounts of fat, moderate amounts of protein and very small quantities of carbohydrates. This diet has medical benefits – it’s been shown to help control epilepsy and has also helped some people to achieve dramatic weight loss.

However, this type of diet is not recommended for team sports players. When training and competing, your body relies on carbohydrate for fuel. When operating at a high intensity (e.g. sprinting, jumping), your body needs carbohydrate as a fuel. If you follow a high fat/low carbohydrate diet then your muscles carbohydrate energy stores will be low and your performance will suffer.

Conclusion

Protein (1.5 – 2g/kg BM/day)

  • Eat adequate protein with breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday regardless of whether a training or rest day.
  • If a training day, add in extra protein containing snacks through out the day.
  • Eating sufficient protein when inactive or in a period of reduced training will help to preserve muscle.

Carbohydrates (training dependent)

  • If you’re more active (long duration and/or high intensity session) eat more carbohydrates for fueling and refueling.
  • On rest day eat less carbohydrates.
  • Choose healthy carbohydrate sources most of the time.

Fat

  • Eat small amounts of healthy fats sources throughout the day.
  • Add healthy fat sources to carb free meals to promote satiety.

Join me again next week as I will be looking at some of the more practical aspects of sports nutrition such as organisational, shopping, and cooking skills.

If you have any questions, please email me at: kevin@metabolise.ie

Check out my website and my YouTube channel which I update regularly with cooking demonstrations and recipes. I also have videos from Kerry footballing greats discussing the importance of sports nutrition.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel and get a notification every time I post a new video.

Follow me on Twitter: @metabolise

Finally, check out my blog for further posts on sports nutrition related topics.

Stay safe everyone, wash your hands regularly and practice physical distancing!

Kevin

Introduction

profile_new

Hello,
My name is Kevin Beasley and I’m a performance nutritionist. I have worked with inter-county Gaelic football teams (male and female) at both senior and underage levels for the past eight years. I also have vast experience of working with clients from a variety of different sports.
If you are someone who enjoys working out but can’t get to the gym now because of the current lock-down, you may be fretting over your nutrition. You may be unsure over what you should be eating due to reduced training intensity or frequency. However, there are some easy steps you can take to remain in good shape, maintain a good body composition and most importantly remain healthy.

In my previous post I covered some of the more basic concepts in sports nutrition – energy balance and the macro-nutrients (carbohydrate, protein and fats). If you haven’t already read the post, you will find it here. In this second section, we will focus more on the micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals) and their importance for health and performance.

Micro-Nutrients (Vitamins and Minerals)

Whereas macro-nutrients are the nutrients we need to eat in large quantities (100s of grams), micro-nutrients are nutrients we need to eat in smaller quantities (e.g grams, thousands of a gram or millionths of a gram). However, just because we need small amounts of these nutrients doesn’t mean they aren’t important.

Micro-nutrients are required by our bodies for a wide variety of uses that have implications for health and performance. Examples:

  • Low levels of iron can lead to anaemia, tiredness and reduced performance.
  • The B family of vitamins (B1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 12), as well as Vitamin C, iron, magnesium and zinc are involved in energy production.
  • Calcium and Vitamin D are required for strong bones.

There are hundreds of further examples that could be listed. Suffice to say they are required for the smooth running and optimal functioning of our bodies.

Deficiencies

Many health or performance issues can be affected by micro-nutrient deficiencies. Basically, this is when we aren’t consuming enough of a particular nutrient and your body doesn’t have enough of it. This can happen for a number of reasons:

  1. Diet high in processed foods and/or lack of whole fruits, vegetables and other whole foods in the diet.
  2. Under-eating – not consuming enough food for our activity levels.
  3. Anti-nutrients – consuming foods or fluids that block our ability to absorb foods. For example, tea contains tannins, and high consumption of tea can block iron absorption.
  4. Disease – inability of our bodies to absorb the nutrients we eat. Examples are celiac disease and cystic fibrosis.

For most people, factor #1 is the pre-cursor for micro-nutrient deficiency. For athletes, #2 can also be a factor.

Supplementation

Is vitamin and mineral supplementation required? Short answer – it depends. If you have sufficient vitamin and mineral intake through eating a diet high in fresh and whole foods, probably not. Studies have shown that supplementing to boost your bodies vitamin and mineral stores above what your body requires doesn’t provide any additional benefits.

Indeed, having too much of a good thing can actual be harmful! Taking high doses of Vitamin C and E can impair or blunt training adaptations, especially for endurance athletes. The fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) can be stored in your bodies fat cells. Prolonged supplementation can cause a build up in levels of these vitamins in fat stores. If supplementing for a long period of time at a high dose, this can lead to a condition called hyper-vitaminosis, which can be harmful.

The only way you can be sure if you are deficient is to have a blood test. In the current environment, with our health services stretched, this is not a viable option. The best option is to focus on your diet, which will give you everything you need in the right amounts.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is called the sunshine vitamin, and our skin makes it when exposed to sunlight. Our bodies have an amazing ability to self regulate. Your skin will make enough vitamin D with repeated exposure to sunshine. Once you have the required level of vitamin D, your skin will stop making it, even with continued sunlight exposure.

Vitamin D deficiency is common place in Ireland during the winter months due to:

  • Short days
  • Weak sunlight, clouds
  • People are wrapped up when they go out
  • People spend more time indoors.

Most foods are low in Vitamin D. In the absence of sunshine, most people in Ireland may have to supplement during the Winter months to keep their Vitamin D levels at an acceptable level.

However, spring is here. A quick and easy solution is available to boost your low Vitamin D levels and it doesn’t require supplementation. With longer days and the weather finally improving, get outside (respecting the 2km zone and social distancing) and get 15-20 minutes of sunlight per day. Wear shorts and t-shirt (weather permitting). This will naturally boost your Vitamin D levels without having to supplement.

Pro-biotics

We are well aware of the impact of virus and bacteria on our health. However, we need bacteria for our bodies to function optimally. We have 1 trillion bacteria living in our colon and they play a huge role in our health:

  • Repairing the lining of our gut wall, keeping it in good working order
  • Forms part of our immune system – 70% of our immune system is located in our gut.
  • Synthesizes vitamins – bacteria in your gut help to make Vitamin K which is important for blood clotting and bone health.

Many foods are now on the market to help to boost our gut bacteria. These include:

  • Kefir 
  • Kombucha
  • Pickled foods
  • Yogurts

Consuming these products on a regular basis will help to keep the bacteria levels in our gut healthy. Our gut bacteria also respond to our diets. If you think of bacteria as two populations:

  1. Good, healthy, helpful bacteria
  2. Bad, unhealthy, harmful bacteria.

Eating a diet high in natural foods is beneficial for our healthy bacteria. They thrive when you eat lots of fibre, whole fruits, vegetables, dairy products and lean protein. Eating a diet high in processed foods cause the unhealthy bacteria to become more populous and they kick out the healthy bacteria. If this happens, they will cause damage to your gut lining, and this can lead to chronic inflammation. This chronic inflammation can lead to diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease and Chrons disease. It’s vital that you eat the right kinds of foods to keep your healthy bacteria on top.

Polyphenols

Polyphenols are compounds found in fruit, vegetables and other foods that play a major role in our health. They help to protect our bodies against cancer, neuro-degenerative and cardiovascular disease. Polyphenols are the compounds that give our food it’s colour – why spinach is green, why a banana is yellow and why an orange is…well…orange. You may have heard a saying – “Eat the colour of the rainbow”. By eating foods of many different colours, we are getting a wide variety of polyphenols (and vitamins and minerals) in our diet.

Foods high in polyphenols include:

  • Whole fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole nuts
  • Beans
  • Cocoa powder and dark chocolate
  • Spices and seasonings

As you can see, most foods that are high in polyphenols are also high in viatmins and minerals, so you don’t have to go out of your way to include them in your diet. Eating polyphenol containing foods help to keep us healthy and allow us to train properly. If we’re sick, we can’t train!

Conclusion

While sometimes as athletes we focus too much on calories, carbohydrate, protein and fat, it is vital that we also look after our micro-nutrient intake.

This can be easily achieved by eating whole fruits, adding in vegetables where appropriate, adding spices to foods and getting a regular supply of pro-biotics in our diet. By doing this, we are reducing our risk of illness, keeping ourselves healthy and giving our body the materials it needs to function properly. This will have an impact on the quality of your training and ultimately your performance.

Please check in next week as I will be posting another blog on sports nutrition.

If you have any questions, please email me at: kevin@metabolise.ie

Check out my website and my YouTube channel which I update regularly with cooking demonstrations and recipes. I also have videos from Kerry footballing greats discussing the importance of sports nutrition.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel and get a notification every time I post a new video.

Finally, check out my blog for further posts on sports nutrition related topics.

Stay safe everyone, wash your hands regularly and practice physical distancing!

Kevin

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.

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

Performance and Health Implications of High Fat Diets on Endurance Performance.

Athletes experiment with nutritional and training strategies to give themselves a competitive edge over rivals. Although high carbohydrate (H-CHO) diets are typically recommended for endurance athletes, some athletes have ignored this advice, consumed high fat (H-FAT) diets and have competed successful. Mark Allen and Jonas Colting are examples of two tri-athletes who have successfully followed H-FAT diets and won Iron Man and Ultra Man World Championships. Sparing limited glycogen reserves and increasing fat oxidation may be a viable strategy for improved endurance performance.

One of the first studies examining the effect of a high fat (H-FAT) diet on performance was undertaken by Phinney, Bistrian, Evans, Gervino & Blackburn (1983). Five endurance trained athletes consumed either a H-FAT (85% energy) or high carbohydrate (H-CHO) (66% energy) diet for four weeks. During a performance test after dieting, there was a decrease in the Respiratory Exchange Ratio (RER), a three-fold drop in glucose oxidation and a four-fold reduction in muscle glycogen use on the H-FAT diet, indicative of an increased rate of fat oxidation. Similar results were reported by other investigators (Goedecke, Christie, Wilson, Dennis, Noakes, Hopkins & Lambert, 1999; Helge, Watt, Richter, Rennie & Kiens, 2001).

Although H-FAT diets promote fat metabolism and glycogen sparing, one of the problems encountered by early investigators was that muscle glycogen was substantially reduced after a high fat diet due to low carbohydrate intake (Lambert, Speechly, Dennis & Noakes, 1994), which may negatively affect endurance performance (Bergström, Hermansen, Hultman, & Saltin, 1967). Therefore, later research utilised a dietary periodisation strategy, whereby glycogen loading would be undertaken after a period of H-FAT consumption, to replenish glycogen stores. Burke, Angus, Cox, Cummings, Febbraio, Gawthorn, Hawley, Minehan, Hargreaves & Hawley (2000) reported the effects a shorter adaptation period (5 days) with CHO restoration, comparing H-FAT (4g/kg/day) and H-CHO (9.6g/kg/day).  During 2 hours steady state exercise at 70% VO2 max, RER was reduced, fat oxidation increased and CHO oxidation decreased. Thus, even with CHO restoration and availability, exercising muscle preferentially oxidised fat as a fuel substrate.

Therefore, H-FAT diets promote fat oxidation and glycogen sparing during exercise. How might this work? Many of the cellular adaptations associated with H-FAT diets include increased enzymes involved in beta oxidation (Helge & Kiens, 1997), increased fatty acid transporters (Glatz, Luiken & Bonen, 2010) and increased mRNA concentrations of proteins involved in fatty acid transport and metabolism (Cameron-Smith, Burke, Angus, Tunstall, Cox, Bonen, Hawley & Hargreaves, 2003). Therefore, H-FAT diets up-regulate the metabolic machinery for the transport and oxidation of fats into the muscle cell and mitochondria.

How might H-FAT diets affect performance? Helge, Richter & Kiens (1996) divided subjects into H-CHO (65% energy) or H-FAT (62% energy) group for seven weeks followed by carbohydrate restoration in week 8. Subjects trained 3-4 times per week during the study period. After 7 weeks, time trial to exhaustion (TTE) at 81% of pre-training VO2 max increased from a mean of 35 mins to 102 mins in the H-CHO and 65 mins in H-FAT, with the improvement in performance significantly greater in the H-CHO group versus the H-FAT group. Even with a CHO restoration protocol in week 8, TTE improved slightly in the H-FAT group (77 mins) but was still significantly less than H-CHO TTE.

Other studies have demonstrated improvements in performance on H-FAT diets. Phinney et al. (1983) demonstrated that although there was no difference in time to exhaustion (TTE – cycle ergometer test at 62-64% of VO2 max) between the H-FAT and L-FAT diets, TTE increased by four minutes in H-FAT compared to baseline. However, closer inspection of the results revealed that one athlete had an abnormally large increase in TTE in week five while the other subjects either had no change or a decrease in performance.

Lambert et al. (1994) demonstrated an improvement in a cycle to exhaustion at 50% Peak Power Output (PPO) after a two week H-FAT (70% total energy) compared to H-CHO (74% total energy). There was no difference in cycle to exhaustion at 85% PPO. Carey, Staudacher, Cummings, Stepto, Nikolopoulos, Burke & Hawley (2001) examined the effects of H-CHO (11 g/kg/day  CHO, 1 g/kg/day FAT) or an isoenergetic high-fat diet (2.6 g/kg/day CHO, 4.6 g/kg/day FAT) diet for 6 days followed by CHO restoration on time trial performance. After cycling for 4 hours at 65% peak VO2 uptake, subjects on the H-FAT diet maintained an 11% non-significant (P=0.11) higher power output in a 1 hour time-trial task compared to H-CHO.

Therefore, the results from the effects of H-FAT diets on performance are equivocal. However, one observation is that performance in low and medium intensity exercise is enhanced. This might be expected, as substrate oxidation at these intensities is predominately fat (Van Loon, Greenhaff, Constantin-Teodosiu, Saris & Wagenmakers, 2001). If we look at exercising at higher intensities, a different picture emerges.

Stepto, Carey, Staudacher, Cummings, Burke & Hawley (2002) compared a three day H-FAT (4.6g/kg/day) or H-CHO (11g/kg/day) diet on high intensity interval exercise (8×5 min bouts at 86% VO2 peak) and reported higher Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) in the H-FAT versus H-CHO. Havemann, West, Goedecke, Macdonald, St Clair Gibson, Noakes & Lambert (2006) examined the effects of a six day H-FAT (68% energy) or H-CHO (68% energy) diet followed by carbohydrate restoration on a 100km TT interspersed with one kilometre sprints. This may be a more realistic scenario for elite performance compared to constant lower intensity performance trials. The one kilometre sprint power output was significantly lower in the H-FAT diet compared with the H-CHO diet.

Stellingwerff, Spriet, Watt, Kimber, Hargreaves, Hawley & Burke (2006) measured the effects of either a five day H-FAT (4.6g/kg/day) or H-CHO (10.3g/kg/day) diet, followed by carbohydrate restoration on 1 min sprint performance. Pyruvate Dehydrogenase activity was significantly reduced at rest and during low and high intensity exercise and estimated rates of glycogenolysis were reduced in H-FAT condition. This suggests that H-FAT diets work not through glycogen sparing but through glycogen impairment.

Intramuscular Triglycerides (IMTG) have been identified as an important fuel substrate during exercise, even at power outputs approaching 85% VO2 max in trained athletes. If undertaking high training volumes on consecutive days, athletes may need to consume higher than normal fat intakes (35-57% of energy) in order to replenish IMTG (Spriet & Gibala, 2004). Decombraz (2003) has suggested consuming a H-CHO diet in the initial 6-8 hours of recovery, with fat content increasing thereafter.

The World Health Organisation (2003) has recommended fat intakes of 15-35% of total energy intake for optimal health. Long-term H-FAT diets are associated with development of obesity, coronary heart disease and certain cancers (Manore, Meyer, & Thompson, 2009) and thus would not be recommended as a lifestyle choice. Acute fat intake results in transient suppression of muscle glucose uptake and muscle glycogen synthesis (Boden, 1997) and in the long-term may lead to insulin resistance, although this may be attenuated in endurance trained athletes (Goodpaster, He, Watkins & Kelley, 2001). However, training while fasting, during periods of hyper-caloric H-FAT intake, can improve whole body glucose tolerance and markers of insulin sensitivity (Van Proeyen, Szlufcik, Nielens, Pelgrim, Deldicque, Hesselink, Veldhoven, & Hespel, 2010). Training 3-4 times per week over seven weeks on a H-FAT (62% E) diet compared to a H-CHO (65% E) has been shown to reduce Natural Killer cell activity (Pedersen, Helge, Richter, Rohde & Kiens, 2000). This may compromise innate immunity and increase the risk of athlete infection. Therefore, there may be several adverse health consequences with consuming H-FAT diets.

From the research reviewed, it would be prudent to form the opinion that H-FAT diets, while increasing the ability to oxidise fat and spare glycogen at lower exercise intensities, reduces the ability to oxidise glucose at high intensities. Given that the outcome of all Olympic endurance events are decided at exercise intensities above 85% VO2 max (Joyner & Coyle, 2008), a compromised ability to oxidise glucose at high intensities would have negative consequences on elite performance. Long term H-FAT intake may compromise adaptations to training and may negatively affect health, although some of these ill effects may be attenuated by training. Reviews of the relevant literature do not recommend high fat diets to enhance performance (Hargreaves, Hawley & Jeukendrup, 2004) or training (Burke, Kiens & Ivy, 2004).

Using different nutrition practices (e.g. carbohydrate restriction before/during/after training – Hawley & Burke, 2010; Van Proyen, Szlufcik, Nielens, Ramaekers, & Hespel, 2011) or performing high-intensity interval training (Burgomaster, Howarth, Phillips, Rakobowchuk, MacDonald, McGee, & Gibala, 2008) may replicate many of the cellular and metabolic adaptations associated with H-FAT diets. High rates (1.75g/min) of exogenous carbohydrate oxidation can be achieved during exercise using multiple transportable carbohydrates (Jeukendrup, 2010), negating the need to protect glycogen stores. Short-term carbohydrate loading can increase muscle glycogen stores two-fold (Fairchild, Fletcher, Steele, Goodman, Dawson & Fournier, 2002). Strategies other than H-FAT diets are available to athletes to promote fat oxidation and boost glycogen stores without the need to compromise high intensity performance or health.

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