Food as Fuel for Athletes. What to eat and when to eat it Monthly Talk 4/12/17

Nutrition is crucial for athletic performance. Firstly, we need to eat optimally most of the time. But what we eat and when we eat it (before, during and after) with respect to workouts and races is key to getting the best out of yourself. Time and effort can be put into training over many months without paying enough attention to the fuel you need to maximise the return from that effort. Fuelling for workouts depends upon the volume, intensity and purpose of the workout. Races are different. And sadly, poor nutritional strategies can result in a disappointing race day. This talk discusses optimal nutrition for athletic performance and the principles of nutrition for a variety of workouts and races.

The basis of good nutrition is nutrient-dense food at every meal.

Colour is good!
And this “freedom food” turkey has had a good life and is full of nutritious protein

 

 

 

 

 

But before and after races or workouts our fuel needs special consideration and non-optimal foods (carbohydrates from grains and cereals) have an important role to play, along with protein rich in BCAAs (branch chain amino acids):

Here are the notes for the December talk covering this subject, with examples of fuelling strategies for different races or workouts.

NUTRITION: FOOD AS FUEL FOR ATHLETES

Everyone wants to know what to eat and when with regard to optimising their performance in training, in post workout recovery and particularly in races. An unfortunate but common scenario is that people put in months of training building up to a particular race – then have a bad day. One reason for this can be poor nutritional preparation. Nutrition is ongoing and continual – it’s not just what you eat around a race or workout. But there are adjustments to be made to your food around a race or workout because FOOD is FUEL and your fuel requirements differ depending on the intensity and duration of the race or workout.

Here are some common examples of races and workouts for which your fuel needs consideration:

  •  steady 3 hour morning cycle ride
  •  5k or10k race
  • 1- 1.5 hour sprint duathlon
  • 2-3 hour standard triathlon
  • High intensity 40 minute interval session
  • Long slow training run
  • Strength and conditioning gym session
  • 1 hour personal training session

How does the requirement for and timing of fuel intake differ between these races/workouts?

To answer this question, let’s start with the two aspects of nutrition:

  1. What you eat
  2. When you eat it

1 .WHAT YOU EAT

 OPTIMAL FOODS –for health

Food should provide optimal nutrition i.e. we should eat what we have evolved to eat over the last 2.5 million years, which are the foods of the hunter-gatherer . These foods are high in nutritional value and are essential for growth, repair and maintenance of healthy tissues.

  • Lean meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish and seafood
  • Game meats
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Berries
  • Whole eggs

The more of these nutrient dense foods you eat, the better will be your health and athletic performance. They provide plenty of energy for all but high intensity or high volume training.

NON-OPTIMAL FOODS – for energy

Non-optimal foods are those of agriculture and dairy farming, which have been around for less than 10,000 years and which we have not evolved to eat. These foods mainly provide energy and are nutrient poor.

  • Grains e.g. oats/barley /rye
  • Wheat e.g. bread/cakes/biscuits
  • Cereals
  • Potatoes including sweet potato
  • rice
  • pasta

Whilst small quantities of these foods are not harmful, eating mainly these foods will diminish your health and vitality and reduce your fitness. They are an important source of energy for athletes.

  • Dairy products (milk, cream and cheese) are also non- optimal. They are nutritionally rich but many people cannot tolerate them and they can promote respiratory mucus so are avoided by professional cyclists.

So athletes who train at high intensity or for long periods regularly do need to eat these energy-dense non-optimal foods such as grains/wheat in the small windows of time before and after a workout to aid recovery and fuel performance.

For top performance, an athlete’s diet in the main should comprise optimal foods for health, with non-optimal carbohydrate rich foods just before or after a workout (see When to eat) for energy.

 FOODS TO AVOID

Industrially produced, processed and packaged foods

  • artificial fats (trans/hydrogenated/vegetable oils) and anything cooked in them
  • sugary foods such as chocolate bars/canned foods/soft drinks/”low fat” foods –  sugar promotes fat storage and hunger
  • ready meals and highly processed foods
  • junk/fast food
  • alcohol

 TREATS: A few suggestions might include:

  • Plain dark chocolate
  • Quality ice-cream made with milk/cream not vegetable fat
  • Stewed fruit with oat crumble
  • Flapjacks made with butter and some chopped dried apricots or dates or raisins/currants or nuts such as pecans to make them interesting and add some extra nutrients
  • Chocolate protein mousse made with coconut milk, cocoa powder, protein powder or eggs, honey– just whisk it all up and put in the fridge for an hour, fresh fruit on top

PROTEIN, CARBOHYDRATES, FAT (macronutrients)

All the above foods are a combination of the 3 macronutrients, just in different proportions.

PROTEIN

  • key for athletic performance
  • repairs damaged muscle, replaces red blood cells, maintains immunity
  • muscle protein is broken down during exercise and must be replaced
  • daily requirement for a 68kg athlete ranges from 84 to 168g protein per day (equivalent to 10-20oz of high quality protein such as steak, fish or chicken)
  • protein deficiency in athletes may cause frequent colds/slow recovery/irritability/poor response to training/chronic fatigue/sugar cravings
  • it is difficult to eat too much protein – any excess is converted to glycogen or fat and stored
  • provides 4kcals/gram

CARBOHYDRATES

  • critical for fuel in endurance events, provide 4kcals/gram
  • Glycaemic Index: a ranking given to 50g of a carbohydrate food based on how quickly it causes blood glucose to rise compared to glucose (UK) or white bread (US), both of which have a GI of 100. Foods packaged by nature have a low glycaemic index (eg whole grains, oats, fruit, green vegetables) whereas processed foods have a high glycaemic index (eg refined cereals, white flour products, sweets, mashed potato, sugary drinks). Fat and protein reduce the GI as absorption is slowed. Mostly aim for low GI foods (LOW and SLOW) rise in blood glucose) except when you need a quick boost before or during exercise then choose a high GI food (HIGH and FAST)  such as a gel/glucose drink/energy bar.
  • Glycaemic load: a measure of the carbohydrate in one serving. Some foods have an apparently high GI but a low glycaemic load eg watermelon.
  • a high GI carbohydrate meal (e.g. cereal and toast for breakfast) causes an insulin spike which prevents the body from utilizing fat and when insulin falls a couple of hours later, creates hunger cravings
  • aim to eat carbohydrates which release glucose slowly i.e. “low  glycaemic index” foods such as apples, peaches, apricots and other fresh fruit, non-starchy vegetables
  • eat foods with a moderate glycaemic index  a couple of hours before and again after a workout (stages 3 and 4 – see later) i.e. wholewheat pasta, wholemeal bread, oats, potatoes, raisins and other dried fruit, cereals, rice, bagels, and some fresh fruits such as bananas, grapes, melon (combined with some protein)
  • combining fibre, protein or fat with carbohydrate slows glucose release (e.g. whole fruit not fruit juice, fruit with eggs) and lowers the glycaemic index
  •  a high carbohydrate diet reduces the use of fat as fuel for exercise, so limit carbohydrate foods  to post work-out refuelling
  • insulin-resistant athletes may be at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes if they continue to eat high carbohydrate diets for decades since such diets worsen insulin resistance
  • dietary carbohydrate restriction is the single most effective intervention for reducing all of the features of metabolic syndrome and should be the first approach in diabetes management, with benefits occurring even without weight loss

FAT

  • essential for good health (immunity, hormone production, skin and hair, nerve and brain cells, fat-soluble vitamins)
  • an efficient source of energy providing 9kcals/gram
  • eat  “good” fats i.e monounsaturated and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids found in olives and nuts, oily fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel, pasture fed animals i.e grass fed beef/lamb, free-range poultry, free- range eggs, butter from grass fed cows
  • use butter or animal fats (i.e. fats which are solid at room temperature) for pan-frying or high temperature cooking as liquid vegetable oils denature at high temperatures
  • AVOID saturated fats from cereal fed livestock, man-made trans and partially hydrogenated fats in cakes/biscuits/processed foods/margarines/fast food/junk food/fried foods/ready meals
  • Dietary calories can comprise up to 35% from good fats
  • Eating some good fats improves long term recovery and capacity to train at a high level and may improve racing performance if fat intake has been low
  • Long term adaptation to a high fat/low carbohydrate diet induces very high rates of fat oxidation during exercise – sufficient for most exercisers in most forms of exercise- without the need for added carbohydrate. Thus fat, including ketone bodies, appears to be the ideal fuel for most exercise – it is abundant, does not need replacement or supplementation during exercise and can fuel the forms of exercise in which most participate

A note about WATER

  • Drink water between workouts, not sports drinks or fruit juices. Don’t overdo it, aim for pale, straw-coloured urine
  • Add electrolytes to the water around workouts or use a sports drink
  • Use gels and water during a race OR sports drinks, not both
  • 68kg athlete needs 2 litres/day just for living (some supplied by food) plus replacement of fluid lost in training
  • 1kg body weight loss through exercise is equivalent to 1 litre water loss so you can work out how much you need to replace fluid lost in a workout – just weigh yourself before and after.

SUMMARY

Protein and good fats are essential for health and athletic performance.

Carbohydrates are nutritionally poor but essential for fuel in endurance events and intake should be restricted to pre, during and post workout.

  1. WHEN YOU EAT

Eating at the correct time is essential for recovery. Time your carbohydrate intake around workouts.

This uses carbohydrate for fuel and recovery whilst reducing the total amount of carbohydrate in your diet and optimising nutrient dense food intake the rest of the time.

There are 5 stages for every workout:

 STAGE 1: BEFORE THE WORKOUT

  • Eat 200-300 calories per hour before eg 2 hours before the workout, eat 400-600 cals. If it’s 3 hours to the workout, eat 600-800 cals
  • Choose from moderate glycaemic index, carbohydrate rich foods to release energy slowly (pasta/whole wheat bread/rice/potatoes/oats/bananas etc)
  • Include some protein especially BCAAs ( branch chain amino acids – leucine, isoleucine and valine) which both lowers the glycaemic index of the carbs eaten at the same time and aids protein synthesis after the workout (eg boiled eggs and fruit, baby food, energy bar with protein)
  • For an early morning fat burning run/ride (NOT a swim), drink a sports drink OR a gel with some water 10 minutes before the workout. You won’t burn fat if you eat carbs for breakfast.
  • For a race, have a high glycaemic index food 10 minutes before eg gel/energy bar/handful of jelly babies or raisins. (Caffeine may be useful – to be discussed with supplements)

STAGE 2: DURING THE WORKOUT (up to 4 hours)

  • For an hour or less, drink water
  • For over an hour, drink a sports drink OR gels with an immediate large drink of water, not both
  • Sports drink should be 4:1 carb:protein mix with electrolytes (and possibly caffeine) in water, consume 2-300 cals/hour, small amounts every 20 minutes

STAGE 3 IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE WORKOUT

  • The key time to take in carbohydrates as your body is several hundred times more sensitive to carbohydrates and will readily store more than at any other time – the carbohydrate window!
  • Use recovery drinks with about 2:1 carb:protein mix (higher protein than a sports drink) with electrolytes (make your own with fruit juice/protein powder/glucose powder/one fruit/pinch salt)
  • Consume 7-8 calories per kg body weight mostly from high GI carbohydrates (about 500 calories for a 67kg athlete) in the first 30 minutes post exercise, include protein,( BCAAs)

STAGE 4 AS LONG AS THE WORKOUT LASTED

  • Continue to focus on carbohydrates plus some protein for a period of time equal to the length of the workout
  • Suitable foods are pasta/bread/rice/potatoes/sweet potatoes/oats/bananas/raisins plus some protein

 STAGE 5 UNTIL THE NEXT WORKOUT

  • Minimize starchy carbohydrate foods, avoid high GI foods altogether, they are low in nutrients, are quickly stored as fat and reduce your ability to metabolise fat when you exercise
  • Eat as much as you want of optimal foods i.e. lean meat, fish, fruit and vegetables
  • Protein is essential to rebuild muscle, many athletes don’t eat enough. The higher the intensity/volume of the race/workout, the more protein you need
  • Eat plenty of omega 3’s (essential polyunsaturated fats) from eggs/fatty fish/avocados/ nuts etc. They are ANTI-inflammatory and aid recovery, unlike omega 6’s from vegetable oils which are inflammatory
  • Snack on  fruit, nuts and seeds
  • Keep to small amounts of dairy
  • Be imaginative – have steak and vegetables for breakfast if you feel like it
  • AVOID processed food, especially “low fat” labelled foods as they are high in sugar and processed meats such as bacon, sausages, meat pies Be wary of food out of a factory, don’t eat it. If it is of animal origin and the animal has led a healthy life eating it’s natural diet in it’s natural environment, it is generally good to eat

 RACES:

What about the few days before a big race?

  • During race week, stick mainly to optimal foods
  • As race day gets closer, reduce fibre and increase carbs
  • Expect a weight gain of 2-3lbs – as you store glycogen in your muscles each gram of glycogen is accompanied by 2.6 grams of water – don’t worry about it, you’ll need both. An untrained person can store 400g glycogen in their muscles, a trained person twice that.
  • The day before the race, eat low fibre/high carb food with some fat and protein eg mashed potato/rice/fatty fish/chicken/steak/dried fruit. AVOID the pasta party the night before!
  • Drink water, not too much, add electrolytes in a hot climate or after a gentle pre-race workout

So now let’s go back to our original list of races/workouts and decide how to fuel for them (before, during and after). Water excluded.

  • steady 3 hour morning cycle ride
  •  5k or10k race
  • 1 hour sprint duathlon
  • 2 hour standard triathlon
  • High intensity 40 minute interval session
  • Long slow training run
  • Strength and conditioning gym session
  • 1 hour personal training session
EVENT BEFORE DURING AFTER
STEADY 3 HOUR MORNING CYCLE RIDE Small portion carbohydrate eg banana/energy bar Few dates/handful nuts and raisins/banana Carbohydrate snack within 30 minutes, carb/protein meal  within 1-2 hours
5K or 10K RACE 2—300cals carbs/protein 2 hours before, gel or high glycaemic carb snack 10 minutes before Nothing Carbohydrate snack or recovery drink immediately you finish

Carb/protein meal  within an hour

1 HOUR SPRINT DUATHLON As for 5/10K race Nothing OR gel after 30-40 minutes plus water OR  sports drink As for 5/10K race
2 HOUR STANDARD TRIATHLON 4-600 cals carb/protein 3 hours before OR 6-800 cals 4 hours before

Low fibre high carb snack 1-2  hours before eg

toast and jam/banana and honey in a little porridge/rice pudding

Gel/energy bar 10 minutes before race

Gel plus water OR sports drink every 20 minutes from 30 minutes into race Recovery drink immediately

Carb/protein snack as soon as you can face one

Large carb/protein meal  within 2 hours

HIGH INTENSITY 40 MINUTES SESSION If it’s first thing in the morning, light breakfast eg protein pancakes with fruit/ eggs and fruit/veggie omelette/ coffee with energy bar

If during the day, carb/protein snack 1 hour before OR nothing BUT don’t start hungry

Nothing Recovery drink immediately

Carb/high protein meal within 1 hour

LONG SLOW TRAINING RUN If early morning, small portion carbohydrate eg banana/energy bar

Otherwise, nothing, just don’t start the run hungry

Nothing Carbohydrate snack within 30 minutes then carb/protein meal within 1-2 hours
STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING GYM SESSION Carb/protein snack 1 hour before eg eggs and fruit Nothing Carb/high protein snack/recovery drink  immediately you finish Carb/high protein meal within 1 hour
1 HOUR PERSONAL TRAINING SESSION If early morning, banana/energy bar/few dates and nuts

If later, nothing BUT don’t start hungry

Nothing Carb/protein snack /recovery drink immediately you finish

Carb/high protein meal within 1 hour

Detailed example fuelling strategy for a standard distance triathlon as given to me by Lisa Williams (Physicality client and experienced GB age group triathlete):

“My usual fuelling strategy for standard distance would be to increase carbs and ensure I’m well hydrated in the 2-3 days before the race.

 The evening before race day I would include either rice or potatoes in my meal choice and usually stick to chicken as a protein source. I would again make sure I’m well hydrated and use SIS electrolytes in my water.

 Race morning I would drink electrolytes up until 1 hour before race start. Breakfast 3 hours before is normally porridge and a coffee. I would eat a banana 1-2 hours before race start to top up my carb stores.

 Once on the bike I would have a gel usually at 1hour through the race, then a gel at 1hr 30, 10mins before I’m due to finish the bike I would take a caffeine gel to prepare for the run.

 On the run I take a gel after 30mins and have a 2nd gel in reserve in case I’m flagging.

 Ideally post race I’d take in a liquid recovery drink e.g. SIS recovery (easily mixed with water and portable) within 15mins of finishing. I can rarely stomach solid foods straight after racing but aim to have a good protein and carb rich meal within 2-3 hours. Something like steak and chips or whatever I feel like eating once my appetite returns. I always try and rehydrate also”.

 

References:

The Cyclists Training Bible (Joe Friel  2009) Chapter 16

The Paleo Diet for Athletes  (Loren Cordain and Joe Friel)

Nutrition and Physical Degeneration (Dr Weston Price)

“It is time to bust the myth of physical inactivity and obesity: you cannot outrun a bad diet”            BJSM 23/4/15 Malhotra, Noakes and Phinney