With our recent move to France and the subsequent heat, I have started to think even more about athletes nutrition, which is so easy, yet so difficult to get right. It can allow you to perform to your highest level, yet bring you crashing down if you get it wrong. It is for this reason that nutrition advice is highly sought after, but is also difficult to find, as often the people giving advice have ties to certain nutrition companies. This in itself poses a problem. Who offers the best product? If claims are to be believed then all are amazing and will make you the best athlete around. Obviously these can’t all be true, so the trick is to find what is the best nutrition for YOU! Sometimes it’s the cheapest, sometimes, unfortunately, it’s the most expensive. However, all is not lost. With a few simple tips it is relatively easy to sort nutrition.
1 . Calculate your energy expenditure. All athletes have slightly different metabolic rates, though they don’t differ as greatly as people think, no more then 10% across the entire nation! Once you know how much you burn then you know how much to replace. This is important for weight control, and also replacement during events. The best way to calculate expenditure is through a scientific assessment. This will usually also provide you with details of heart rate zones for burning certain fuels, fats or sugars. Be careful, not all sports assessments are carried out by qualified sports scientists and as such the information provided may not be suitably interpreted.
2. Know your weight and fat percentage. Not always pleasant, but useful. Knowing this information will tell you how much fat you need to lose, and also how much protein, carbohydrate you need to eat. Athletes need to consume more protein then sedentary people, around 2g/kg, so it’s vital to know your weight. With fat loss, try to aim for no more then 2lbs/week if you want it to be sustainable.
3. Try different products. Many athletes are set on certain regimes, because they seem to work they must be the best. However, trying new products will help you decide if this is the case. New companies are emerging with new formulas specifically with athletes in mind. Find ones that you can tolerate, stomach issues are possible and certainly won’t help you race quicker! Also, see if you like the flavour. After 6 or more hours you’ll want something you like the taste of.
4. Learn how to recover. There is an optimal period for maximising your glycogen stores in your muscle. This is roughly up to 20 mins post-exercise. It is vital to take a recovery drink that contains protein and carbohydrate. Done properly this can improve the quality of subsequent sessions, important for athletes who may be training twice or more a day.
5. Drink during training. All too often athletes neglect to drink frequently during training. Once they finish they may down water, but by this point dehydration may already have set in. Aim to drink every 15 minutes where possible, easy on the bike, less easy running! The goal is to never be thirsty, though don’t drink too much. Excessive consumption of water will force your body to remove more water, sweat/urine, and this will actually contribute to dehydration, as well as the loss of essential salts. Use an isotonic drink during your session, they’re easy to stomach and contain enough water and electrolytes (salts/minerals) that need to be replenished. A 750ml bottle per hour is ideal, your body will struggle to absorb more then this, and it may leave you feeling uncomfortable.
6. Know what food contains. Seems obvious enough, but not everyone knows. Obviously chocolate is bad? Not so. Small amounts of dark chocolate (70%) have been shown to improve aerobic performance as well as brain function, just don’t go crazy! Likewise, find out how much protein/fat/carbs are in you food, and for veggies, try beans and pulses to increase you protein intake in a natural manner.
These are only a few tips to get you started. I’m not even going to mention Beta-oxidation or glycolysis at this stage. There is so much around, with a lot of information, but not much knowledge! Appropriate nutrition is key. The nutritionist who I performed my dissertation with has gone on to great things. Nigel Mitchell is now the nutritionist to Team Sky, things worked well for them! Again though, it’s the correct plan for each individual. Don’t be afraid to ask companies why their products are the best, if they can’t say why, then they probably aren’t!