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Nutrition

The Sports Drink Debate

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What’s the best nutrition plan for long course racing? Answer: Drink to thirst, forget sodium, and consume multiple transportable carbs.

Paul Laursen, PhD

(If you would like to add to this subject please feel free via the comments box at the end of the article)

If you’ve been keeping up with the news lately, you may have noticed a bit of a buzz on the topic of sports drinks, and how they aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. This comes on the back of Professor Tim Noakes’ recent book on the topic, ‘Waterlogged’, along with an independent investigation by the British Medical Journal and the BBC into the claims made by the sports drink industry and the shaky science behind those claims.  What I’ll do in this article is explain to you why the issue is important to grab ahold of as an age group athlete, and finish by outlining what science says will maximise your performance in your next long course triathlon event.

Why the issue of hydration is important?

There are a couple of reasons actually.  When we talk about nutrition and endurance sport, we’re usually interested in what we should consume before, during and after our race to compete at our best and remain healthy.  The main thing we hear

One the most mysterious parts to our racing…

athletes talk about, whether it’s a fellow triathlete or an elite we all respect, is how they either did or didn’t get it right on the day because of their nutrition and hydration.  This message is widespread throughout sport today.  While fueling, in terms of not getting enough carbohydrates on board during long distance events is a possible issue (i.e., bonking – discussed later), it very rarely  stems from a lack of fluid intake.  Instead, drinking too much tends to be the real (and potentially dangerous or even lethal) issue.  So that’s why this issue is important for you to understand and even discuss with your peers.  No one has ever perished in a triathlon from dehydration, and you can in fact perform quite well in a dehydrated state (i.e., the winners, our elite athletes, typically lose the most weight during the race) – but you can die from drinking too much.

How could this happen? 

I’m speaking to you as a scientist, practitioner, and age-group athlete myself when I tell you that this can occur, and does so, during endurance and ultra-endurance events; particularly in us age-groupers.  Remember that the message to ‘hydrate’ has been around for quite a while.  It’s gospel for many coaches, athletes, and even sports medicine practitioners.  It was less than 10 years ago that I used to promote this same message to my students when I lectured on the topic.  I would tell them, wrongly, that we have to drink to prevent any body weight loss during exercise.  That we have to drink to stay ahead of thirst because we can’t trust thirst.  And that even a 2% reduction in body weight from sweating will diminish our performance (this is what the lab-based studies were showing, and the industry promoting – problem was, the science wasn’t interpreted correctly as we now know we respond quite differently in outdoor conditions).

But that incorrect message from the scientists, myself included, filtered down to the masses, through the media and the sports drink marketing campaigns.  And we age-group endurance athletes remembered that message.  So when we feel muscle soreness and fatigue during our long distance racing, it’s only natural for us to think that some of those signals could be due to nutritional issues such as dehydration. Under such situations, when fluid is available (as it always is at aid stations) – we drink.  More often than not, and especially in slower athletes, we can wind up drinking too much.  As mentioned, this can be harmful to our health.

The disease of overdrinking – hyponatremia

Hyponatremia is a result of low sodium levels in your blood stream.  The reason you get low sodium levels in your blood stream from drinking too much is due to the simple principle of dilution (more water relative to the salt that’s already there).  The confusing thing to realise, and this is where the sports drink companies really get us, is that electrolytes in sports drinks do nothing to prevent this dilution.  That’s because the salt levels in sports drinks are so low relative to its high concentration in our blood stream.  So whatever you drink, if you’re drinking too much, that is, ahead of your thirst signals, you can cause this dilutional hyponatremia to occur.  The organ this acts on is your brain; hyponatremia causes it to swell.

When hyponatremia gets bad, you experience nausea, confusion and disorientation.  You’ll often be vomiting clear liquids too. Extreme cases of hyponatremia can occur when medical practitioners unwittingly exacerbate the problem by adding an intravenous bag of saline to one’s body in the medical tent, further diluting the blood. Sadly, this occurred on a number of occasions over the past decade, prior to our clearer understanding of the issue, resulting in preventable coma and/or death.  Twelve known fatalities have occurred, and thousands of hospitalisations have been reported as a direct result of hyponatremia..  This is why I am compelled to talk about the issue– this is why I feel the sports drink companies have gone too far with their message to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.  If the message is killing us, then clearly a pretty big line has been crossed.

What can I do about it and how can I maximise my long course performance and compete safely?

The answer really is quite easy.

  • First – just drink to thirst.  If you’re thirsty, then drink.  If you’re not thirsty, then don’t drink.  Your body’s own sophisticated, inbuilt mechanisms are there to tell you exactly how much fluid your body needs.  Just listen to it.
  • Second – forget sodium.  There’s never been a study showing a benefit of sodium supplementation to performance, and it doesn’t prevent cramping or hyponatremia.  So don’t waste your money on sodium tablets, and don’t worry about how much or little sodium is in any particular nutritional product.  It’s not going to matter.  You get all the sodium you need in your diet, and if you’re caked in sodium during your training and racing, it only means that you have possibly too much sodium in your diet, as your sweat glands only secrete sodium when there is an excess in your body – it does that to get rid of it.
  • Third – carbs are important, and are likely more important the longer your race goes on (i.e., 70.3 to Ironman).  This is because carbs support high intensity energy metabolism, and your internal (muscle and liver) glycogen levels (stored carbs) will diminish once your exercise duration extends beyond 3 hours.

A bunch of research over the last 5 years or so has shown that if you consume the carbs of glucose and fructose in about a 2:1 ratio (multiple transportable carbohydrates), you can get a bit more carb on board to benefit prolonged endurance exercise, and prevent ‘the bonk’ (many energy products with this ratio are currently on the market – just pick a few you like the taste of).  In general, you want to shoot for around 90 g of carbohydrate per hour in that 2:1 ratio, realising of course that individual differences will occur, so you might want to experiment with greater or lesser amounts for yourself..  I’ve found that 90 g/h is right on the money for me.  Remember that that carb could come from a banana, a gel, or even, a sports drink!  Just work it out so that each hour you’re getting about 90 g in that 2:1 ratio of glucose:fructose (details on my never-bonk.com site).  Last but not least – train well (volume is key) and pace appropriately on race day (i.e., at paces you know you can handle from your training).

If you’re like me and you like to play around with numbers and want your info in the palm of your hand, these guidelines and a calculator are available in an app version for iPhone and iPad from the iTunes store.

Train well, listen to your body, and drink to thirst!

 

About the author

Paul Laursen is the lead Performance Physiologist for High Performance Sport New Zealand, and is an Adjunct Professor of exercise physiology from AUT University, Auckland.  He completed his PhD from the University of Queensland in 2004, and has done a number of research studies examining the relationship between hydration status, body temperature and endurance performance. His hobby is triathlon and he’s completed 14 Ironman events worldwide.

 

The views in this article are those of the author. Trizone recommends that you seek your own professional advise specific to your body and needs before adopting a race nutrition plan.

 

Karl is a keen age group triathlete who races more than he trains. Good life balance! Karl works in the media industry in Australia and is passionate about the sport of triathlon.

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Nutrition

Upgrade Snacks to Mini-Meals During Training

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Anyone who does a lot of fitness training will know that they’re burning up the food they eat more efficiently and quickly than when they’re in an inactive phase, and there’s a tendency to think that as long as you’re exercising you can eat what you like, as you’ll soon be getting rid of those calories.

While this is true to a certain extent if you snack on anything you feel like, you may not be getting the best results from those foods. For instance, a doughnut might taste good, but it’s likely just to give you a quick sugar-rush burst of energy, rather than providing you with the slow-release energy that will see you through your next training session.

Snacking itself isn’t a problem, though, and can actually be a good way of providing you with sustained amounts of energy through the day, as long as you pick the right things to snack on. Some triathletes aim for six mini-meals a day, rather than three big ones. It depends on how much time you have available, of course, but remember you don’t need to cook each time you need to eat. You can include some raw snack options and also fit meals in after a training session. For instance, if you start the day with a training session before work, there’s nothing to stop you ordering breakfast to be delivered to your desk. The evolution of take-out and delivered foods means that today, take-out can be just as healthy as something you’d prepare yourself at home – there’s no limit on what you can order in if you’re short of time.

By having a range of nutrient-dense snacks to eat in between the classic meal times of breakfast, lunch and dinner, you can keep your glycogen levels up and ready for training sessions, and keep your appetite at bay, so you don’t end up bingeing on junk. A healthy snack doesn’t have to be hard to throw together.

Go-to mini-meals or snacks

To maintain blood sugar levels, an ideal training snack will contain both protein and fibre. Proteins are good for muscle mass but also satisfying your appetite. Eating fibre-rich foods allows your blood sugar to rise steadily and fibre provides volume to make you feel satisfied. It also aids digestion and encourages regular bowel movements.

Yoghurt with raspberry compote and muesli

“Kaffeine, Fitzrovia, London” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Ewan-M

Simple snacks that fit the bill might include a handful of almonds and a sliced apple, or a plate of carrot sticks and a portion of hummus. Sweeten things up with a Greek yoghurt, topped with raspberries and a few walnuts or pumpkin seeds. If you’re in a savoury mood cold roast beef slices layered with cheese slices and cherry tomatoes can be made into an appetising snack in seconds if you’ve got a well-stocked fridge. Baked potatoes can be cooked the night before and eaten cold, or reheated in a microwave, and adding cheese or tuna will provide the protein.

Baked sweet potato with feta cheese and chives

Punctuate your day with a snack like those described above an hour and a half after each main meal, and you’ll avoid hunger pangs and keep your body fuel

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Nutrition

Recovery Smoothie – Supercharged Green and Berry Smoothie

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After a long hard workout I like to get fueled right away. I find it easiest for me to get down a smoothie rather than solid food. By making a smoothie I am able to pack it full of nutrient dense foods. Below is my “go to” –

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Green & Berry Super Smoothie

Ingredients

  • 16 oz Coconut water
  • 8 oz Hemp milk
  • 1 Banana
  • 2 cups Baby Spinach
  • 1 cup Frozen Blueberries
  • 6 leaves Tuscan Kale
  • ½ Gold beet large
  • ½ nugget of fresh turmeric root
  • 1 serving Favorite plant based protein powder I use Vega Performance protein berry flavor for this
  • 2 tbsp Chia seed
  • 1 tbsp Acai powder
  • 1 tbsp Maca powder
  • 1 tbsp Spirulina
  • 4 large ice cubes

Instructions

  1. Place all ingredients into a high power blender such as Vita mix. Process until smooth. Consistency can be adjusted with cold water as you are processing.

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Nutrition

A Healthy Spin on a BLT

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Photo: Shutterstock

 

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BLT

Heirloom Tomato with Eggplant Bacon and Frisee
Servings 6 serves

Ingredients

  • 4 Tomatoes Heirloom variety
  • 1 Japanese eggplant Large
  • 3 heads baby frisee
  • ½ Maui Onion
  • ½ bunch Red Radish
  • ½ cup Vegan Mayonnaise Hampton creek, which can be purchased at local markets
  • 2 Lemon
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Cayenne Pepper

eggplant marinade

  • 2 tbsp Amino acids
  • 1 tbsp Brown sugar
  • 1 tsp Maple syrup
  • ¾ tsp Liquid smoke
  • ¼ tsp Cayenne

Instructions

For the Eggplant

  1. It is best to prepare the eggplant 1 day in advance using a dehydrator. If a dehydrator is unavailable eggplant can be prepared in oven. 

  2. Remove stem and slice eggplant approximately 1/8 -1/4 inch thick on mandolin. Place eggplant in marinade and be sure each slice is well coated. set aside for 30 minutes. 

  3. Place eggplant slices on dehydrator racks and begin drying. 125 degrees for approximately 12-14 hours. The eggplant should be almost crisp. Once removed from heat and cool the eggplant should crisp through. If it is not crispy continue drying checking every hour. 

  4. Alternately this can be done in an oven. 225 degrees for 1.5-2 hours

For the dressing

  1. Mix mayonnaise with lemon juice to taste and thin slightly with cold water so dressing is pourable. Season with salt and just a touch of cayenne to taste.

For the salad

  1. Clean baby frisee and clip edges of any discolored leaves.

  2. Slice maui onion paper thin using mandolin.

  3. Slice radish paper thin using mandolin

  4. Remove stem and core from tomatoes. The tomatoes can be cut into bite size pieces. Place tomatoes on plate. Seasing with salt and cracked pepper.

  5. Dress baby frisee in lemon dressing and place on top of tomatoes. 

  6. Garnish salad with maui onion and sliced red radish.

  7. The eggplant “bacon” can be broken into pieces and placed over top. Enjoy.

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Nutrition

Quinoa Tacos

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Quinoa Tacos

Servings 4 people

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Red quinoa uncooked
  • 1 ¼ cup Water + ½ cup
  • 1 white onion large
  • 1 cup Tomato based salsa
  • 2 cloves Garlic
  • 2 tbsp Olive oil
  • 1 tbsp Smoked Paprika
  • 1 tbsp Chile powder
  • 1 Tsp Cumin
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 1 dozen Corn tortillas
  • 2 Vine ripe Tomatos
  • 1 bunch Kale stemmed and washed
  • 2 Avocado

Optional Cashew Crema

  • 1 cup Raw Cashews
  • 1 tbsp Nutritional Yeast
  • 1 tbsp Cider Vinegar
  • 1 tsp Lemon Juice
  • salt to taste

Instructions

  1. Bring 1 ¼ cup water to a boil. Season with 1 heavy pinch of salt. Once boiling add quinoa and reduce heat. Cover and simmer 15 minutes. Remove heat and set aside 5 minutes.

  2. While quinoa is cooking prepare garnish. Cut tomato medium dice. Chiffonade kale. Slice avocados.

  3. Cut onion small dice reserving ½ cup for garnish. Mince garlic. Sweat onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent.

  4.  Add paprika, chile powder, and cumin to onions and mix on low heat.

  5. Add cooked quinoa, ½ cup water and 1 cup salsa. Heat mixture through and keep warm.

  6. Assemble Tacos. Warm tortillas over open stove flame. Add avocado, spponful of quinoa, kale, tomato & onion. Top with your favorite salsa and cashew crema.

Crema

  1. Cover cashew with boiling water by 1 inch. Let stand 30 minutes – 1 hour

  2. Drain and reserve liquid

  3. Place in blender with remaining ingridients. Blend until SMOOTH adding the reserved liquid until desired consistency (It should look like siur cream)

  4. Chill until cool. Adjust acidity and seasoning with lemon and salt.

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Nutrition

3 Key Tips for Race Day and Recovery Nutrition

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Most triathletes, at every level, spend a great deal of time tweaking their gear and tweaking their training programs. But I’m amazed by the number of athletes who neglect an area of preparation that can potentially have more impact on their performance and results than any other, especially on race day – nutrition.

The effect nutrition can have on performance was highlighted when I was competing in Ironman  70.3 Cairns. Normally I use a Bento box to carry my nutrition, but since Cairns was a 70.3 I decided to try taping my gels to the top tube of my bike. It seemed like a good idea, until the rain came down and I lost all five gels. When you’re burning more than 700 calories an hour you need all the calories you can get and there’s no way you can give your best when you’re running on empty. I ended up coming in fourth. I learnt two important lessons in Cairns – don’t trust tape on a rainy day and take your nutrition seriously if you want to succeed.

Nutrition is a massive topic, so rather than try and cover everything I want to give you my own ‘Bento box’ of ideas, information and tips. Here’s some wisdom that comes out of my own experience and research. Dip into it and grab whatever is helpful. I’ve broken it down into tips that will help you with your nutrition before the race, during the race and after the race. Enjoy!

Before the race

When you are tapering your training load before a race, you’ll need to carefully watch your food intake and reduce it accordingly. Less training means you need less calories, so try to balance your calorie input with energy output. Concentrate on eating healthy, nutritious, balanced meals. Eat clean!

  • 7 days out from a race – continue to eat well, stay with foods you’re used to and don’t overdo the carbs at this point. Sleep is really important, so avoid too much caffeine.
  • 3 days before the race – it’s time to increase your carb intake (by 50% or so) and start loading. Magnesium loading will reduce the likelihood of cramps on race day. Cut down on fibre to lessen the chances of gastric upset and definitely steer clear of the spicy stuff. Keep it simple.
  • The day before the race it’s time for some final carb loading, especially at lunchtime. Your evening meal shouldn’t be too heavy – you definitely want it to be digested before race time in the morning and you want a good night’s sleep – eat earlier rather than later.

Be aware that as you carb-load your weight will increase slightly – your body stores 3g of water for every 1g of glycogen it has stored. You will lose this during the course of the race.

Race day

Your body can store roughly 2000 calories in your muscles and liver as glycogen and in your bloodstream as glucose. When you wake up, you will need to top up the energy you’ve burned overnight. That’s going to be an early breakfast. Experts suggest that you need to consume roughly 2g of carbs per kg of body weight and recommend eating it at least two hours before the race – which makes for a very early start! Keep your breakfast low in fibre, low in fat and easily digestible.

  • Whatever you’re going to eat pre-race, make sure you have ‘road-tested’ it beforehand so you know that your stomach is going to be okay with it. Take into account the pre-race nerves too.
  • Your body can store enough carbs for roughly 60 – 90 minutes of racing, depending on the intensity. That means that when you come out of the water after the swim you’re already heading into calorie deficit and will need to start refueling straight away. You may feel hungry, but eat something anyway – a gel, small snack or sports drink.
  • The bike leg is the best opportunity to get some calories into your body. Most athletes use gels and fluids as their primary source of carbs on the ride. Stick with whatever is kind to your stomach and ensure that you are getting enough energy each hour to set you up for the run.
  • Remember eating isn’t just about providing the required calories. I know some Aussie athletes who love Vegemite sandwiches – they are tasty, high in easily digested carbs and have plenty of salt to help reduce the risk of cramps. I like to carry some treats in my special needs bag. Sometimes a Mars Bar is a good treat which helps me stay positive as well.

Post-race recovery

After a race nothing hits the spot like a cold beer! But it’s important to realise that an Ironman event places a massive strain on your body and recovery is as important as preparation for a triathlete. So, before you drink alcohol, carefully consider how you can quickly begin the refuelling and repairing process. Here are some tips to aid your post-race recovery:

  • Your key goals are to restore your liver and muscle glycogen stores and replace the fluid and electrolytes that you have lost through sweating. Obviously, the extent of these deficits will depend on the intensity of the racing and the conditions you’ve been racing in. For example, Kona is an intense race and even on a good day the heat and humidity are tough. When you cross the finish line your glycogen levels are depleted and you are significantly dehydrated. A cold beer is not going to be enough!
  • It may take up to 24 hours to restore your muscle glycogen levels. Current research indicates that immediately beginning to consume carbs, in the form of high GI foods can help with this process. How much should you eat? The experts suggest consuming 1 -1.5g per kg of body weight of carbs in the first few hours is optimal and about 6 -10g per kg of body weight in total over the first 24 hours will significantly aid recovery.
  • You will also need to rehydrate and replace the sodium lost through sweat. Most sports drinks don’t have quite enough salt, since this can affect the taste, so you can add this in through what you eat.
  • Coffee, caffeine-rich energy drinks and alcoholic beverages may make you feel better, but they’re all diuretics, so they’re not going to help with the rehydration process. Enjoy them sparingly if you want to recover quickly and effectively.
  • Recognise that deliberately and sensibly eating and drinking may be the last two things you feel like doing, so plan for your post-race recovery beforehand and then stick to the plan – your body will thank you and you will recover much quicker after the race.

A final word

I know many triathletes who are more concerned about the fuel they put into their cars than what they put into their bodies. You need to take nutrition seriously – the time and energy you put into developing a nutrition plan that effectively and comprehensively covers training, racing and recovery is a great investment. And it’s an investment that will pay off in helping you achieve your best both on and off the course. Eat healthy, eat right and reap the benefits!

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Nutrition

Healthy and Fast – How to keep your immune system strong

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Why it is so important to keep your immune system strong & why it will help you go faster!

We’ve all heard it before – ‘eat more fruit and veg’, ‘sleep more’ blah blah…. But as endurance athletes and mostly as age group athletes who work and have many other commitments other than training, it is often these points that are ignored for ‘more kms’ in the strive to get faster. In this article, and in following ones, I am going to explain to you why it is vital that you listen to these messages and why there is far more to getting ‘fit’ (& then faster) than just training.

When we train, we are putting our bodies under stress. This stress is designed to break our bodies down slightly, so that when we are recovering from training, we rebuild stronger and faster than before. Sounds simple right???

If we don’t give our body the right conditions to rebuild, or don’t allow it the time to recover, we will end up just breaking it down bit by bit. This so often ends in illness or injury, which is so common in the build up to Ironman race day.

Many studies have shown that ‘moderate’ exercise improves our immune system, giving us greater ability to ward off bugs and prevent injury. However, I don’t consider training for an Ironman, a half ironman or training seriously for shorter races to be ‘moderate’! Above this moderate level of exercise, our bodies immune systems are actually weakened by the long hours we are spending trying to get faster.

To me, a fit athlete is not necessarily a healthy one. So often people will arrive at their ‘A’ race either sick, having been sick or injured. The healthier you can keep yourself and your immune system during the build up to your big race, the more likely you will be able to get through the training and be able to peak at the right time! While it is always a tough juggle, especially for those time poor athletes, try to avoid being one of those athletes with their eyes hanging out of their heads!

There are several key areas that will help you keep that immune system strong and your body absorbing all the training you are putting it through.

Anti-oxidants

Our bodies naturally produce free radicals, which for the chemically  minded, are molecules which lead to destruction inside our bodies. These have been shown to deplete our immune system and can contribute to injury or sickness.  When our bodies are under stress, especially during intense exercise, their production is increased.

Anti-oxidants are the saviours, as they pair with free radicals to stop them being destructive. While our bodies produce some anti-oxidants, during times of stress or high training load, supplementation is vital to keep this balance under control. Foods such as beetroot, sweet potato, berries, red capsicum, oranges and broccoli contain high levels of anti-oxidants. The other way to combat these free radicals is supplementation with Vitamin A, C and E and minerals zinc and iron , which are all high in anti-oxidants. Alternatively several vitamin manufacturers make a stand alone anti-oxidant supplement. Many leading nutritionists recommend however that you get these from whole foods, as they contain other vitamins and minerals which are essential for good health.

Additionally the typical ‘more is better’ attitude that so many athletes employ has been recently shown not to work with anti-oxidants, (with the exception of Vit. C). Thus a diet rich in whole foods can help to moderate this and give our bodies the required levels and may even help you in the quest to become leaner for that big race.

A more recently researched mineral or flavonoid is Quercetin, which is also a powerful anti-oxidant. Early research has shown this to also be very supportive of our immune system by fighting virus’, have strong anti-inflammatory properties and support cardio-vascular health. Quercetin is found richly in blueberries, apples, red onions, tea and broccoli.  While early studies are limited, it has also been shown so far to improve endurance capacity.

Sleep

When we are asleep our bodies are repairing and rebuilding from the damage we do to them every day by normal life and training. During our sleep our bodies are reaping the rewards of training, not during the actual training itself. Training puts stress on many of our bodies systems and breaks us down slightly, with the effect of this being our bodies ‘super compensating’ and rebuilding stronger and faster than before. Additionally, during our sleep is also the only time our bodies are producing Human Growth Hormone, which is vital for us as athletes to get stronger and quicker.

Considering these facts, if we cut our sleep short, we are not only limiting the amount we absorb from our training, we are also risking injury and illness. This then has a two-fold negative effect on our performance.

Diet

It is vital that while we train and immediately following training that we eat something which contains carbohydrates and ideally protein (especially post exercise). While many of us recognise the importance of this on immediate performance, it is also very important for our immune systems. This is because when our blood glucose levels are low, it triggers our bodies to release stress hormones, which suppress the immune system. Additionally when our bodies don’t have the required protein to ‘rebuild’ post exercise, it makes our immune system further susceptible, as our bodies require protein to build the necessary cells, antibodies and cytokines to fight illness.

An important thing to remember also is that every cell in our bodies is replaced every 6 weeks and during heavy training, even less. Therefore the quality of these cells is highly dependent upon what we give our bodies to produce these cells (nutrition, hydration) and the conditions we expose our bodies to (sleep, stress, training). The higher quality these are, the higher quality the cells will be and therefore the better you will feel and the better you will perform!

So in the lead up to the last races of the season, whether you are just looking to finish or to win, there is far more to performance than just the hours or kilometres. Don’t lose sight of the ‘small things’ which are vital for performance.

The simple message is; if you treat your body well, it will treat you well when it really counts.

 

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