Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Eat Less, More Often, and On Time

Are you eating enough, not too much, and eating on time? Surveys suggest that most athletes do NOT consume sufficient energy to support needs. They have a tendency to supply needed energy AFTER it is needed mainly because they are poor planners with many work, home and sport commitments or they are restricting their intake to achieve too fast a rate of weight loss leading to disordered eating patterns. Training on too few calories can lead to chronic fatigue, poor immune function, loss of muscle mass and decreased performance.

Practice makes perfect
Your digestive system (as well as your muscles) needs some training to be able to keep you well fueled during your training sessions (and competition). If you want to be able to eat and drink comfortably during your marathon (or longer) event, you need to be practicing that in training. Exercising hard while eating and drinking are not things that your body would normally prefer to do at the same time – but just like skating fast, eating is a learned skill that requires the same amount of practice and attention to detail. If you plan on consuming 200-300 calories an hour and 1 litre of fluid (for example) during your race you need to practice consuming both of these in your training. Don't skimp on fluid or calories during training!

So why do so many of us train on too few calories (and fluids)?
All it takes is getting dropped by the pack when the pace picks up or on a hill climb during training and it's easy to start thinking that “if I just lost a couple of pounds I would be able to stay with the pack". The problem with trying to diet while training is that the lack of calories and specific nutrients (especially carbohydrates) wreaks havoc on your muscles and immune system and makes you prone to injury (you will read more on that in Week 5 – keeping injury free with carbs). Taking in far fewer calories than what your body requires may result in the body attacking it's own tissues, resulting in a a weakened muscular and immune system. Training, building muscle and following a sound diet are the best way to lose weight because it comes off slowly.

How much do you need to eat?
Track your intake for three days – don’t change anything. If you are able to answer yes to the following questions then you are likely eating enough:

* Can you train without undue fatigue? (i.e. you can train well throughout each training session)
* Do you have a fast recovery between training sessions? (i.e. you are energized for each training session)
* Are you maintaining your body composition (i.e. not losing muscle mass or gaining body fat)
* Do you have optimal biological functioning (e.g. regular menstrual periods for women, able to sleep well, concentrate on the tasks at hand, etc)
* Is there an absence of health & performance issues?

If you answered NO to any of these questions then there are changes you can make to your eating patterns, food choices and timing of food intake to improve your health, your ability to train well and achieve peak performance in your sport.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Train low…compete high….. is it really as good as we think?

Certain bio markers of the body’s adaptation to endurance training appear to be enhanced to a greater extent when one trains with low muscle glycogen (the storage from of carbohydrate in the muscle cell) or with low availability of pre and during workout snacks of carbohydrate rich foods/drinks. The potential outcomes are:
- it may enhance skeletal muscle capacity for endurance performance at the cellular level and
- it may increase in use of muscle triglyceride (fat) and adipose tissue to meet training needs.

Competing on high carbohydrate availability takes advantage of these training influenced metabolic adaptations to help achieve peak performance… however this is at the expense of low carbohydrate availability during training. Acutely, this will make training difficult, and you may not be able to go for as long or as hard as you had planned too. Low carbohydrate availability can also compromise the immune system; negatively impact cognitive performance and central nervous system (balance, coordination, quickness) functioning…. and likely make you pretty cranky. Despite all these issues, there may be some metabolic advantages to manipulate carbohydrate availability before, during, or after selected training sessions in a periodical training-nutrition plan for the cross country skier who is looking to promote endurance performance. Here are a number of different strategies to train low:

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Get the Plant Based Diet Advantage!

Every day, more and more endurance athletes are incorporating a more plant-based diet into their training and competition nutrition plans. This carbohydrate rich style of eating delivers performance and health benefits, including enhanced muscle recovery and optimal heart and bone health. Plant based eating is fantastic for runners, cross country skiers, swimmers and road cyclists, giving extra energy stores to push performance to the limit! Prudent use of fortified foods and supplements will help ensure that you get all the nutrients you need.

Vegetarians need to be as diligent as meat eaters to make sure they get adequate amounts of iron, calcium, zinc and B12. Female athletes are at risk for developing iron deficiency or anemia. Routine monitoring of iron status is recommended for female athletes, especially during periods of rapid growth (i.e., adolescence) and when training volume increases significantly. Anyone following a very low fat diet for weight loss or other health reasons is at risk for a deficiency of essential fatty acids, and may warrant supplementation with marine plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Contrary to popular belief getting enough protein is not an issue, as documented in the recent ADA Position Paper on vegetarian diets (JADA, July 2009, p. 1266) which highlights that vegetarians are, in fact, meeting their protein needs. Protein quality of plant-based diets should be sufficient long as a variety of foods are provided with adequate energy. Because plant proteins are less well digested than animal proteins, an increase of about 10% in the amount of protein consumed may be made. Recommended protein intakes for vegetarian athletes approximate 1.3-1.8 grams/kg of body weight/day.

Here are some nutrition tips to help you out:

1. Eat different types of protein rich plant foods (unrefined grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, and vegetables) throughout the day. Choose small pre-workout meals such as baked beans on toast, or a peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole grain breads. Refuel after running with a vegetable based lentil and rice soup. For fast refueling, combine soft tofu or yogurt with fruit and soymilk for a high protein shake.

2. Very low fat diets may lead to a deficiency of essential fatty acids, and may warrant supplementation with marine plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids in addition to other polyunsaturated fatty acids from plant sources (vegetable oils, regular salad dressings, nuts/seeds).

3. Include plenty alternative sources of calcium such as dark leafy green veggies, fortified soy milk, legumes, peanuts, almonds and seeds. These will be your primary source of calcium, important for a normal heart rhythm, strong bones and teeth, and general health.

4. Include iron rich plant foods every day – this is most important for menstruating female runners. Plant sources of iron are not absorbed as well as animal sources but combining foods rich in vitamin C with any iron rich food will improve its’ absorption. Mix legumes, whole grains, and iron-enriched breads and cereals with dark leafy green veggies and dried fruits to maximize iron absorption.

5. Include zinc rich plant foods every day and your immune function gets a boost as well. While red meat and poultry supply the meat eaters amongst us with most of our zinc intake, some seafood, whole grains, dry beans, and nuts also provide zinc.

6. Eat vitamin B-12 fortified foods or supplements to ensure adequate intake. Vitamin B-12 is only found naturally in animal products and fermented foods such as miso and tempeh have small amounts of B-12 but generally not enough.