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Note On Sports Nutrition / Optimising Sporting Performance

A Note On Sports Nutrition

What you eat becomes the physical structures of your body; what you eat also runs these physical structures. Sport increases your nutrient requirements before, during and after exercise so it’s important to eat well if you want to perform well. Exercise also increases strain on your body and produces potentially harmful molecules, so ensuring your body has the right nutrient defences during and after exercise is of high importance if you want to limit injury and promote performance.

Everyone is different and every training programme and sport is different, so there are no strict rules. Here’s a guide to some of the techniques and the contexts in which they may be helpful to help you make an informed choice. Remember, never try something new on a performance day.

Before Exercise

·         Fasted Training

o   This can be used to improve glucose efficiency as the body has to keep stores for longer if it is not always going to be given and abundance of glucose. Don’t choose excessively hard sessions to fast for, nor push yourself too far, you may only do 10 min of exercise fasted initially.

·         Carb Loading

o   This can be done a few days before a big event to keep your muscles topped up with stored glucose, the more muscle mass you have, the more you can store. Glucose reserves still only last for about 45mins of exercise, so you may find it helpful to train fasted or with less available glucose sometimes to utilise your ability to use fats for fuel.

·         Carb Hit

o   10 mins before exercise have some low fibre fruit, or fresh juice. This will help fuel the start of your activity. Eating carbohydrate any earlier could encourage your body to store the energy which stops it being readily available in your blood, meaning you start on an empty fuel tank.

·         Listening to Appetite

o   If you are not training excessively you may not want to add anything in before exercise unless you feel you really need it. Having a balanced snack with protein and carbohydrate an hour before, or making your meals more substantial may be all you need. 

·         Caffeine

o   A shot of espresso before a session can aid performance

During Exercise

  • Hydration
    • Stick to pure water or coconut water during exercise and for longer periods of exercise add fresh juice to water or coconut water and a pinch of sea salt. Electrolyte liquids and tablets from Elete are natural and can boost hydration per ml of water.
  • Glucose
    • For longer sessions you may need to top up glucose levels, you can train yourself to use glucose more efficiently through fasted training (using more fats for fuel) and not overloading with glucose, but you may wish to use some glucose gels. Mule has some more natural gels available. 
  • MCT oils
    • These are popular with high fat, low carb athletes however can be used for long event for everyone at a lower dose. These oils are taken from coconuts and provide the body with very efficient and easy to use energy; you can also use coconut oil itself. They are often added to drinks or homemade gels.
  • Caffeine
    • Caffeine can be used as a stimulant to enhance performance but it will affect your glucose release so you may find you burn out quicker unless you keep on with more caffeine. Using caffeine synthetically extracted and added to drinks and gels can be troublesome as the nutrients needed to process it are only found in the original plant it was extracted from. Using good quality filter coffee is the best bet.

After Exercise

·         Protein and Carb Reloading

o   Often we think it we don’t refuel we’ll lose more weight, but after long and hard exercise sessions a good quality protein powder with quick releasing carbohydrate helps refuel our muscles and switch off the stress response. As it doesn’t take any digesting, it is no strain to take this on board within 20 mins of exercise. Watch out for artificial sweeteners and flavours in many protein powders. Pulsin’ and Sun Warrior are good brands with high quality whey powders and vegan hypoallergenic alternatives.

·         Pure Protein Reloading

o   Many companies market the fact their protein has no carbohydrate, suggesting it is a leaner option. However, protein gets to the muscles as a result of a spike in blood sugar so some carbohydrate is actually helpful. Sweet potato powders are a nice natural way to add some carb to your protein.

·         Listening to Appetite

o   You may be OK to just wait until your next meal depending on the training load.

Remember these considerations are in addition to your meals which should contain a sufficient protein source, plenty of veg or salad and a portion of starchy carbohydrate; don’t forget the healthy fats too!

Top Tips For Athletes:

  • Stay hydrated before, during and after exercise. Hydration isn't just about water. Oils, minerals and even proteins are needed for your body's cells to hold on to water.
  • Watery fruits are particularly hydrating such as melon, cucumber, peaches, nectarines, coconut water and most tropical fruits. They grow in hot climates for a reason, but tropical fruits especially, are quite high in sugars so keep them to before and after sport mostly.
  • Eat at the right times, leave yourself at least 1-1.5 hours to digest a meal before sport. The body is naturally ready to eat after exercise, as we used to hunt for food so the body excepts a food reward for exercise. If we try to ‘run more and eat less’ we can add to the body’s stress load and actually slow our metabolism.
  • Fibre stays in the gut for a long time, meaning your large bowel is likely to be full during exercise, which can slow you down and cause discomfort. Peel fruit and vegetables and avoid grains, especially wholegrains e.g. bread, pasta and cereals before big events. Try starchy veg like sweet potato, squash and peeled carrot mash that is digested more easily.
  • Use magnesium sprays on sore muscles or have Epsom salt baths aid muscle recovery and good sleep.
  • Eat lots of plants, these provide protective antioxidants against exercise induced oxidative stress.