BRITE COACHING

TRAIN SMART, CONQUER GOALS. Led by Christine Fletcher, Coach to Spirited Ultra-Endurance Athletes

Execution & Discipline

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Already we are into the thick of race season and thus brings more specific training as each of you prepare for your big 2018 goals. Even though the ground work has been laid in the winter, now is the time to bring it together, translate the training to racing, maintain self discipline (more on this below), maintain a high level of ‘desire to train’, and define execution for your key events. As race reports flow in or coaches meet one on one with athletes about upcoming races, the narrative evolves towards execution and best efforts. 

Sometimes when I ask an athlete “what’s your execute a plan?” they glare back like a deer in headlights. I too delivered a first-class glare before understanding what a) a successful day meant to me b) what the term execution even meant. 

So let’s talk about execution. 

Let me just say this, if an athlete decides to execute the plan, I mean really follow through, a good day almost always presents itself. Optimum execution can be a complex concept to play out effectively because so many factors can influence a long race (some controllable, some not) and for some a long day can be 14, 16, 24 hours+.  I don’t need to tell you guys that the margin of error grows with every passing hour.  Nonetheless, the formula to success is the combination of a million good decisions with as many executable factors as possible. The sum of these two factors almost always net out a great result. 

Make a lot of good decisions + set and execute upon achievable targets = successful execution.  

What about all these decisions to be made? What about external forces? How does one remember everything they set out to do in the plan? The best execution plans stem from a somewhat simple outline. Too many complex details packed into one plan can derail your ability to execute simply because you have too many things to think about.  Athletes use all kinds of tricks to remind themselves when to eat, when to drink, how to feel, who to thank (pictures of their kids on top tube!), what pace to ride/run, where their bike is racked, what direction to go, etc. As we tire, the more reminders we may need. Optimum execution takes planning and lots of it. It starts early in the process, it takes practice, it takes time away from your day to sit down and write it out, visualize it, create the framework then make sure it is possible. Create techniques that work for you and watch what others do. Over the years I have observed and learned from so many athletes - I adopt and adjust their ideas to work for me. On the rare occasion, I make up my own trick. Brite Coach Britni Bakk has taught me more tricks of the trade then she will ever know! 

The other aspect of embracing and owning race execution is to practice it and simulate it in training sessions. Practicing your execution in training allows you to process decisions, visualize the sequence and plot fuelling or gear or hydration or pacing. Come race day, it’s just a matter of doing what you already know how to do with a few other people around to bring out the best in you.

Consider this “execution” mindset for your next event: 

Focus on OUT-EXECUTING your competitors or peers around you. If you are the one athlete that remains focused, holds attention on the task at hand and sets out to do what you planned to do, you will guarantee yourself a great outcome. If you focus on out-executing everyone around you, you will rise to the surface simply by committing to execution. The trick is to apply your plan in action. Anyone can write out a plan, create lists and set intentions but the magic happens when the plan is applied in the field when critical decisions need to be made. So few actually do this. It is all too easy to go off plan. It’s much harder to stay the course, persevere and carry through with your execution plan especially when unforeseen forces are driving you to give up and give in. Those who do execute always have a great race. 

 

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Where Does Discipline Comes From?

On the heels of execution, I wanted to also touch on discipline since this too is a reoccurring theme in recent discussions and observations in training logs and athlete feedback. 

On occasion, I notice athletes seeking external discipline to help carry their training especially at this time of year when training gets specific, longer and more interruptive of life. If you signed up for a race or event, you experienced a moment of commitment to a goal. The goal was in the future and the consequences of your commitment did not seep in quite yet. As days, weeks, and months rolled on, you started to notice how this commitment had consequences to your usual schedule. That volleyball game you play on Sundays is now bumping up against a planned ride. How’s this going to work? 

If you are one of those athletes that easily flips the switch, gets onboard and structures your life to accommodate new training time with work, kids, family and many one hobby then you likely understand where discipline comes from. If you are someone that is bumping up against a new training load or how to “get it all in” or creating a new normal for yourself, then maybe discipline is a trait yet to be developed. Either way, everyone, including myself, can use a reminder about where discipline comes from. 

Discipline comes from within. Discipline is an internal force.  Sure, you can have discipline imposed on you by another person, a coach or a self help guru but the reality is none of them will give you real discipline.

External discipline is not strong. It will not survive. It will not stand on its own.  Self discipline, as the very term implies, comes from self…from within you. It comes from an internal decision to be better. If you don’t think you are disciplined it is because you haven’t yet decided to be. You haven’t created it yet. You haven’t become it yet. To become disciplined you have to make a decision and commitment. You must embrace it’s relentless power and become it. Discipline, in my experience, will make athletes better, stronger, faster, than anything else.  When an athletes doesn’t want to get up early on a weekend to ride, that’s discipline playing a hand. When an athlete would rather do other things but then later regret that decisions because they could have done it, that again is discipline playing them. 

And yes, if it were easy to have self discipline it wouldn’t be such a unique, practicable and improve-able trait. To get up early, to get it done and to get the training in is what you signed up for when you paid the money for that race. The process is not all unicorns and rainbows once you sign up for the event. Athletes don’t magically create themselves into the event: they have to do the work and put in the hours. No one, there is not one single except, is unique to this requirement.

The glory of finishing, completing and accomplishing something you signed up for is a direct result of the work you put in, the discipline you showed and the commitment towards that discipline. What’s not so shocking to anyone is that  discipline is a common thread through everything - if it shows up in our athletic life and training endeavours, it shows up in other aspects of our lives. We can use athletics and sport to practice a renewed commitment to being self disciplined. Every day we have a choice. Every day we get to renew our commitment. Every day we get to practice disciplined from within. 

 

Christine

Focus Constantly on Getting Better

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FOCUS CONSTANTLY ON GETTING BETTER

When athletes or "performers" focus on constantly getting better - be it through global health, relationships, nutrition, training, mindfulness or engaging both the internal an external worlds, one common thread is the journey has no end. The journey is constant, the goal is the path and the path is the goal. Below is an adapted list of 15 practices offered by author and expert in health and human performance, Brad Stulberg, on the path towards growth and development. 

STRESS
Stress is a stimulus for growth. Without stress living organisms don't adapt, don't change. So you need stress. But stress is only beneficial in the right dose and when you have the capacity, resources, and support to absorb it. And stress is only valuable when it's followed by rest.

REST
The space during which growth occurs. Without rest, we stand no chance at absorbing and growing from challenges we face. If you want to develop your body, mind, or soul you've got to understand that rest - that simply "being" - is every bit as important as doing.

WELLNESS
Health is multidimensional. It is physical and mental and emotional and spiritual. It is also integral to lasting progress. It is true that you can burn "brite" for a while without a foundation of health, but keep existing in this way and eventually you'll burnout. Sacrificing health is myopic. The long-game requires it.

COMMUNITY
Research shows that the people with whom you surround yourself influence your performance and wellbeing by up to 30 percent. When things are going well community pushes you and celebrates you and keeps you grounded. When things aren't going well a tribe of support is everything.

COACHING
A coach is there to see what you don't see and to point you in the direction of growth. The best coaching relationships are rooted in shared humility and caring. A good coach doesn't just show or tell. They walk with with you on your path - sometimes leading and sometimes following.

CONSISTENCY
Show up, even when you don't want to. Doing so makes you better not only at your craft - via compounding gains - but also at the skill of exerting effort itself. The path of mastery isn't about being consistently great. It's about being great at being consistent.

PRESENCE
In many ways, presence is synonymous with peak performance. When you are fully there - completely immersed in your pursuit with concentrated attention - you are almost always at your best. Practicing presence leads to a better body of work and a richer, more textured life.

CARING
If you really care about what you do you'll put your all into it. If you really care about the people with whom you interact you'll put your all into them. Caring serves as the cutting edge of personal and social evolution. Caring is quality. Caring is love. You've got to care.

HUMILITY
Once you think you know you cease to keep knowing. Once you think you're good you cease to keep getting better. But there is always more to know. Always room to get better. Without humility there can be no growth.
 

CONFIDENCE
It's knowing, based on a body of evidence, what you can and can't do, and then moving forward accordingly. Confidence isn't something that you have or you don't. It's not something you're born with. Confidence is something you build.

DRIVE
Drive means relentless pursuit. Often born out of insecurity, at its best it's fuelled by love. Drive must be channelled. It can be productive and beautiful and enlarging when pointed toward growth and development. It can be destructive and diminishing when pointed at external validation. The best drive comes from the inside.

PATIENCE
Patience is letting things happen instead of making them happen. Not to be confused with passivity, patience is about persistence. Gentle persistence. It's about surrendering to a process and being present as it unfolds. Staying on the path of mastery in any endeavour requires patience.

TOUGHNESS
Toughness is about doing the hard thing because it's the right thing. Sometimes this means putting your head down and grinding it out. Other times this means backing off and asking for help. Toughness lives on the inside. The people who don't act tough are generally the toughest of all.

ACCEPTANCE
You've got to be honest - and okay - with yourself. Acceptance does not mean doing nothing but rather acknowledging and starting where you are. Not where you think you should be. Not where you want to be. Where you are. Because if you don't start where you are, you'll never really get anywhere.
 

VULNERABILITY
Vulnerability starts with being honest with yourself. Why are you doing what you're doing? What are you seeking? What could you be doing better? Are you open to receiving help? Answering these questions - being vulnerable - is uncomfortable. But being uncomfortable leads to growth.

Brad's offers 10 Commandments to Peak Performance as well as 57 pages of key quotes from the book

 

Part III - Gut Health for the Endurance Athlete

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This is our final instalment of the 3-part series related to Nutrition, Hydration and Digestive Health in consideration of endurance athletes seeking peak performance. In Part I we discussed the role of Nutrition & Fuelling. In Part II we looked at Hydration Guidelines from Precision Hydration. We invite you to review and apply the guiding principles for this season's training and racing. 

Today, we take a shallow dive into the topic of Digestive Health.  Why a shallow dive? Well, because the topic of digestive health is deep, complex and rooted in one's unique micro-biome, cellular makeup and compounding life stressors.  While one athlete might experience bloating and gas, another athlete may experience irritable bowel syndrome and yet another athlete may experience overwhelming fatigue all of which we can trace back to some form of  gut dysbiosis.

What we hope to do here is underscore the importance of gut health and encourage athletes suffering from less than optimum digestion to seek solutions either through Brite Coaching's team of experts or your own network of specialists. 

The expression "I had a gut feeling" holds a lot of truth and worth tuning in to if you have an inkling that your inner garden needs some attention. 

PART III - HEALTHY DIGESTION & THE ENDURANCE ATHLETE

No matter how many kilometres you log as an endurance athlete, if you are passionate about going long and performing when it counts, you will do nearly anything to keep your streak going strong. Endurance athletes are often the ones that suffer from unidentified symptoms of gut distress be it seen in the lack of quality sleep, mental or emotional instability, unsettled tummy (aka: bloating or gas) in training and life, difficulty losing weight despite training load, suppressed immune system, re-occurring injuries and poor performance outcomes. 

Take a minute to think about a time (might be right now) when you felt a little off kilter, a little less "well" or a little out of sorts and what that felt like on global level. Chances are you can identify with some of the symptoms offered here or here. Healing from inner distress can be life changing as it relates to daily comfort and confidence and reaching new levels of athletic, personal, and professional performances. 

As a coach to the endurance community, the key markers I look for in declining global health likely related to digestion are chronic reports of poor sleep quality, frequent colds, constant stops during training runs due to loose stools, fluctuations in training consistency, irritability and moodiness, obsessive thoughts and behaviours, inability to hit targets in workouts, anxiety related to racing or performance, changes in appetite and most importantly, a dismal outlook on seeking optimal wellness. 

Our bodies and minds are very shifty. When they are not being served or nourished, they make a ruckus and throw everything off.  Recent research suggests that gut health and the connection between gut and brain is one of the most important aspects of wellness to address before anything else.  Ultra endurance athletes want to pay attention to this since their pursuit depends on assimilation and absorption of nutrients, fuel sources and hydration. If the digestive system is damaged, the body will be unable to support stress loads and thrive. Nutrients will go unabsorbed, the immune system will remain suppressed, the body will carry chronic inflammation in the gut lining and cognitive functions will be impaired. Current scientific interest in the athlete micro-biome  is discovering that many of our current ailments, from arthritis, psoriasis, Hashimoto's, depression, diabetes, asthma & even heart disease have some origins in the gut.

If you think you suffer from less than optimal digestion, experienced in a plethora of ways, we encourage you to look deeper into how to heal your gut. We love this resource for more in-depth information about healthy gut protocols, hormonal balancing, immunity support and gut-friendly recipes. Ultimately you want a diagnosis and protocol that addresses your specific issues as a result of testing and working with a team of specialists. 

Taking care of your digestive health and gut functions may be the single most important step you can take to support your endurance practice and help you live your happiest and healthiest days. 

 

 

Part II - HYDRATION FROM AN ENDURANCE ATHLETE'S PERSPECTIVE

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Why is starting hydrated so important? "Once you begin sweating you're generally going to be fighting a losing battle against fluid and electrolyte loss, so starting off properly hydrated can be extremely beneficial," says co-founder of Precision Hydration Andy Blow. "When you're properly hydrated you have a larger reservoir of fluid to draw from over time than if you're dehydrated."

PART II - HYDRATION FROM AN ENDURANCE ATHLETE'S PERSPECTIVE

In our Part II of our 3-part series related to Nutrition, Hydration and Gut Health for endurance athletes, we will focus on dynamic topic of hydration, electrolytes and the individualization of fluid balance. If you missed Part I (fuelling guidelines for the endurance athlete) please take some time to review the information as each aspect is optimized when working together. 

Becoming dehydrated during an endurance event can easily derail not only a potential breakthrough performance but it can also turn a functional athlete into a zombie stumbling aimlessly through a race course. Becoming dehydrated is subtle, cumulative and brings on very uncomfortable symptoms that are difficult if not impossible to reverse on the spot. Appropriate rehydration takes hours, sometimes days, due to the slow process of fluid uptake by the cells after severe dehydration kicks in. 

Similar to nutrition & fuelling resources, there is a plethora of information available to athletes about the role of hydration and strategies to manage fluid in-take and electrolyte balance. And, to be consistent in guidelines to athletes - there is no one strategy that works for everyone. With some of the information below (and more through Precision Hydration), we want to help athletes avoid severe dehydration as well as learn how to individualize hydration over the course of ultra endurance events. 

In Part III, we will discuss the role that gut health (and global stress) plays in athletic performance. Optimized gut health is at the root of everything related to energy, wellness and assimilating all hard work you do to become a performer on and off the race course.

Let's begin by discussing "the role of sports drinks" before moving into some guidelines and helpful resources. 

 

WHAT DO SPORTS DRINKS ACTUALLY DO? 

Content by Precision Hydration

Today you can get thousands of different sports drinks containing all manor of things. But what are they actually good for?

Well, your body burns energy when you're exercising because of the work involved in contracting your muscles and it also loses water and electrolytes through sweat. Whilst you have stores of all of these things, all three do need replacing if you exercise reasonably intensively for long enough.

Water, sodium and calories (in different proportions) are the three main things you need to keep the body going during prolonged activity. These are the bottom line ingredients a sports drink has to contain to address your body's needs when you're working hard and sweating. Most other things are just fluff.

There are some drinks containing additives with proven performance benefits, like caffeine, that can be somewhat useful as well, but at the core of it a sports drink is really just a delivery mechanism for water, salt and sugar.

Although the exact composition varies slightly from brand to brand, all of the major 'ades' (Gator and Power) offer a 'one size fits all' solution of approximately 6% carbohydrate and between 400-500mg of sodium per litre, flavoured to make them palatable (palatability matters when it comes to selling beverages).

Interestingly, this 'industry standard' is supposedly quite a bit more sugary and less salty than the very first iterations of Gatorade; perhaps catering more to taste and carbohydrate fuelling needs than maximising their ability to hydrate. This is especially interesting given the direction in which many sports drinks recipes are moving these days.

These drinks are generally termed 'isotonic' because they contain a similar amount of molecules to the body's own fluids (in the region of 285-295 milli-osmoles per kilogram), meaning they're a similar 'thickness' to your blood. As a result, they move across the gut wall into the blood stream at a fairly decent rate.

A good way to think of these industry standard isotonic formulations is that they are designed to be a jack of all trades. They aim to balance the delivery of digestible carbohydrate energy, some electrolytes and fluids to meet all of the main requirements of an exercising body.

To that end they can work pretty well in certain circumstances, for some people. However, this means that they are in fact the masters of no particular function. Despite their apparent versatility, they neither deliver energy nor fluids and electrolytes as effectively as products designed specifically to do one or the other.

They also fail to take into account the fact that calorie, fluid and electrolyte requirements are not synchronised. People's physiology, exercise habits and confounding factors (like the weather) all vary. This means that a single product with a set composition is sadly never going to work for all people, in all scenarios.

So, whilst traditional isotonic sports drinks might work fairly well in small amounts and for shorter activities, where they really start to struggle to deliver is in situations where exercise is prolonged, sweat rates are high and/or individual needs for components like sodium are on the higher side.

That's because, during these longer and sweatier activities, the balance of what your body needs to maintain performance starts to shift away from primarily carbohydrates (as is the case in relatively short, intensive endurance events) towards a greater emphasis on fluids and salts as losses of these finite resources start to mount up over time. This is when serious dehydration or electrolyte depletion becomes more of a threat.

If you're relying entirely on an isotonic drink to replace fluids and electrolytes and you simply increase your intake to meet your escalating needs when your sweat rate is high, gastro-intestinal distress (a.k.a 'gut rot') is often the unfortunate consequence.

That's something that has derailed many endurance athletes to say the least! This 'digestive unhappiness' happens because the stomach and intestines get overwhelmed with the high levels of sugar in the drink. Beyond a certain volume, most people will start to feel sick and bloated which is clearly no good for performance.

To avoid this scenario many athletes learn - often through simple trial and error - to dilute isotonic drinks down with water on hotter days or during longer events, making them hypotonic (i.e. a lower concentration than blood). This does make them easier to consume in large volumes and so helps to solve the fluid replacement issue to a degree, but it has the unwanted side effect of diluting the already minimal levels of electrolytes found in them down to largely insignificant levels.

And this is the reason why a select few modern sports drinks (including the Precision Hydration) have moved on to a hypotonic composition.  These tend to have lower levels of carbohydrate (around a 3% solution, rather than the 6% solution in isotonic drinks) and much higher electrolyte content. 

Whilst the lower level of carbohydrates in the drinks makes them slightly less effective for fuelling, it makes a lot more sense than using isotonic drinks to try to meet all of your needs at once, but not quite fully meeting any of them.

Athletes who drink hypotonic drinks meet the lions share of their fuelling needs through consuming solid or semi solid options like gels, energy bars or 'real' foods instead, depending on the event. In other words, by largely separating your fluid/electrolyte replacement needs from your energy requirements, you can dial both in to your individual physiology rather than finding a 'happy medium'.

If preventing excessive dehydration is the main role of a sports drink, then there's a strong case for looking at the substance it is trying to replace - sweat - to help determine the optimal composition.

The interesting thing about sweat is that how much sodium you lose in it varies dramatically from person to person. Whereas the intracellular electrolytes found in sweat (potassium, calcium and magnesium) tend to be lost in very tiny and consistent amounts in sweat, sodium loss (which is predominant ion in extracellular fluid) can vary 10 fold between individuals. It ranges between around 200mg per litre (32oz) of sweat and 2,000mg/l.

And, although it's so variable between one person and the next, sweat sodium concentration remains pretty stable within an individual, so your own sweat composition can be almost permanently categorised as Low, Moderate, High or Very High.

Coupled with differences in sweat rates (driven by genetics, work rate, environmental temperature and so on) and total sweat volume losses, over time sodium output can vary 30 fold between two athletes doing the same activity.

Because sodium plays such a critical role in fluid balance, nerve impulse transmission and muscular contraction, a truly effective sports drink needs to replace it at a level that takes into account this high level of variance in losses from one person to the next.

In other words, whilst a 'one size fits all' formulation might work for some of the people some of the time, it will never work for all of the people, all of the time. And this is especially true for the 'outliers' - those people whose sweat volume and sweat sodium concentrations are either very high or very low - as their needs are not well catered for by a single formulation of drink that aims to hit the middle of the bell curve.

All of which leads us to the point we're at now with sports drinks starting to become tailored to meet the physiological requirements of the individual athlete. 

Below are a few links to some great articles on the Precision Hydration Blog addressing some of the most common questions and offering further impetus to address your own personalized hydration needs.

You can train as hard as you wish, but if you ignore the fundamental nutrition and hydration habits then you will inevitably reduce adaptations, heighten stress and risk of injury, and also experience fluctuating daily energy. 

Links:

https://www.precisionhydration.com/blogs/hydration_advice/this-guy-shaved-25-minutes-off-his-im-time-by-finally-getting-his-hydration-strategy-right

Links:

https://www.precisionhydration.com/blogs/hydration_advice/should-you-drink-water-to-thirst

Links:

https://www.precisionhydration.com/blogs/hydration_advice/how-much-dehydration-can-you-tolerate-before-your-performance-suffers

Hydration Guidelines:

As detailed in our Nutrition Article (Part I), below are guidelines for hydration. Remember, you're not just fuelling & hydrating for training and racing, you're fuelling & hydrating for performance in everyday life as well. 

For starters, think of hydration in terms of two aspects:

  1. Training & Racing Hydration: Fluids consumed in training
  2. Life Hydration: Fluids consumed outside of training 

Training & Racing Hydration:

  • Sessions less than 60 minutes: drink to thirst with water. No need for sugary sports beverages. Women in high hormone phase or post menopausal will have dampened thirst sensation so utilizing a timer to cue when to hydrate can be beneficial.
  • Sessions over 60 minutes: consume one bottle per hour on average (will vary based on humidity, heat and other factors) or approximately 10-12 ml/kg body weight/hr.
  • Shoot for the higher end range when temperature is above 24 degrees Celsius.   
  • Aim for 3-4% concentration of carbohydrates in solution. 
  • When you consume calories, it is best to consume fluids with little hits, more consistently. Taking in large amounts of calories or fluid at one time may cause GI distress.
  • Sipping every 10-15 minutes.
  • The longer the session, the more important the hydration becomes.
  • Electrolytes balance will be based off your Precision Hydration results. 

Life Hydration - Fluids Consumed Outside of Training:

  • There is no place for sugar-laden drinks in daily life. 
  • Shoot for half of your body weight in fluid ounces.
  • Sip on water throughout the day.
  • If training heavily, add pinch of salt, a splash of maple syrup and a little bit of citrus in your water. The sugars from the maple syrup will help pull sodium into the cells as well as provide some natural minerals. Alternatively, invest in Precision Hydration sachets for ease and customization.

PRECISION HYDRATION SWEAT TEST

As many of you will learn at the Brite Camp on Fuelling the Hungry & Thirsty Endurance Athlete in Whistler, BC (June 29th to July 1st), Precision Hydration has been championing personalized hydration for years now and it's really starting to catch on. PH offers athletes an Advanced Sweat Test - which tells you exactly how much sodium you lose in your sweat and allows us to build a personalized hydration plan around that data. They also offer a free online Sweat Test  that'll help you get started with refining your hydration strategy through some good ol' fashioned trial and error in training.

NEXT UP...

PART III - HEALTHY DIGESTION & THE ENDURANCE ATHLETE

No matter how many kilometres you log as an endurance athlete, if you are passionate about going long and performing when it counts, you will do nearly anything to keep your streak going strong. Endurance athletes are often the ones that suffer from unidentified symptoms of gut distress be it seen in the lack of quality sleep, mental or emotional instability, unsettled tummy (aka: bloating or gas) in training and life, difficulty losing weight despite training load, suppressed immune system, re-occurring injuries and poor performance outcomes.  

Taking care of your digestive health and gut functions may be the single most important step you can take to support your endurance practice and help you live your happiest and healthiest days. In Part III, we will discuss the role the gut plays in an endurance athlete's life and the signs and symptoms that signal less than optimal functioning. While we will shed light into practical solutions and options, sometimes it takes a deeper look into how symptoms are showing up in your body, mood or performance. If you feel you are under performing or losing your edge, digestive health might be the key to your next breakthrough.

 

Part 1 - Defining Nutrition for The Performance Athlete

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In the lead up to the "Nutrition & Hydration Endurance Training Camp" hosted by Brite Coaching in Whistler, BC (June 29th to July 1st), we want to empower and educate athletes with some helpful information as it relates to fuelling and nourishing your training and daily activities.  This will be the first article of a three part series on nutrition, hydration and digestion health.

PART I - NUTRITION FROM AN ENDURANCE ATHLETE'S PERSPECTIVE

Endurance athletes are in fine company with each other as they experiment with diet cults, nutrition trends and a plethora of food choices to fuel their training and racing as well as nourish their bodies throughout the day. Nutrition to an endurance athlete is, after all, the substance that gives the body energy to perform work, recover and operate from minute to minute.

How can we better understand what our bodies need when and why?

Nutrition is a young science and seems to be changing all the time. If we dig deep into the various diet cults out there, they suggest similar benefits with a different prescription. Initially trying a new diet is novel and may produce "results" but over time the stress and social awkwardness of sticking to a specific dietary regime negates the benefits and the body revolts with signals of under nourishment and deprivation. Before digging into an entirely different rabbit hole, we will save the "diet cults" debate for another day. The purpose of this write up is to focus on the difference between nutrition and fuelling along with what the body goes through when undernourished after training or in our daily, often stress-filled, lives.

Let's boil this big topic down to two components.

For our purposes, nutrition encompasses:

Fuelling - calories consumed during training/racing and immediately following those sessions (as a recovery source).

Daily eating -main meals consisting of macronutrients (Fats, Proteins and Carbohydrates).

It's important to distinguish and isolate fuelling vs. daily eating as each have distinct habits which can make or break an athletes overall experience in endurance sport.

FUELLING

This component is everything for the training athlete and they must get it right if they are seeking performance gains throughout the season. While there are many more reasons why this is so, here are my top five:

  1. Proper fuelling, quite simply, enables performance during the session. It gives you energy.
  2. Proper fuelling helps the athlete manage their daily eating habits be it with portion control or food selections. The less ravenous you are the more likely you will choose wisely and consume in moderation.
  3. When we train, we produce appropriate circulating stress hormones, which serve a very important role in creating adaptations in strength, endurance and power. However when the session is done, we want to reduce these stress hormones and begin the recovery process immediately. If an athlete goes without fuelling following key sessions, they face the day with elevated stress load and negate or delay recovery and thus growth.
  4. Post training fuelling allows the body to recover and prepare for the very next training session.
  5. Last but not least, proper fuelling is the fundamental tool in your management of energy.

CONSEQUENCES OF TRAINING STRESS & FUELLING

Let's look at a typical high achiever, corporate executive and family man training for a 7-day cycling stage race along side his uber fit and competitive buddies. Over the winter he gained some weight, yoyo-ed with his eating habits and used starvation tactics to get "things under control." The result of such behaviours is consistently poor training performances and periodic evening binges. What he may not realize is that his athletic goals are hugely tied to his fuelling habits and must be corrected before any fancy training adaptations are implemented.  Training more and eating less is rarely the answer, for anyone.

Let's look at what happens to the body after training:

TRAIN: Hard or long (or both). Boom! Body is flooded with stress hormones. No post-training refuelling. "Short on time. Rushing to the office. Will get a coffee on the way and snack later."  The body is now hyped with circulating stress due to the training session and in anticipation of a full day. During a day of work, the stress levels remain elevated and the body finds calmness or balance, aka: system overdrive.

The above sequence of events is a typical example of when an athlete trains really well (appropriate stress to the system and muscular damage) yet has not implemented sufficient recovery to benefit from the energy expenditure. Without refuelling, the muscles cannot repair and the body cannot recover. Add to that, energy stores utilized during training are not replenished having a subsequent effect on future training episodes. In the long term, what this adds up to is a loss of muscle and tissue integrity as well as supressed physiological adaptations. We can't forget to mention the yoyo effect of performance in subsequent training episodes. The psychological effect of this experience creates a heightened sense of unpredictability and mistrust in how the body will perform in future. The brain cannot trust that energy will be in the tank thanks to past experiences.

Now let's turn to how this patterning affects daily eating habits.

Post workout, the metabolic rate is high and the body is highly efficient at absorbing carbohydrate and storing it as glycogen in the liver and muscles (energy packets). Protein is also required for muscle synthesis and repair. When athletes do not replenish they go into what is often called: Athletic Starvation. The body says "oh no...in starvation mode, I must send a signal to the brain that I need calories and fast!" And the cycle of over eating on poor food choices begins. Portion control goes out the window during times when the metabolic rate is low and the carbohydrates and sugars consumed are stored as excess body fat vs. being utilized to repair tissue or reduce stress hormones.

During times of starvation, the body, the brain and energy levels go for a roller-coaster ride. When starvation becomes habitual, athletes will experience energy fluctuations, body composition issues, brain fog, magnified stress and overall lethargy. Worse, athletes start to contemplate their training plan, unmet goals and creative ways to manipulate a very obvious solution.

FUELLING SOLUTIONS

Let's look at solutions and general guidelines for the endurance athlete to not only manage the above consequence of Athletic Starvation but to also thrive in training and racing. The next seven guidelines will help every athlete steer clear of unpredictable performances as a result of missed fuelling:

  • Always have a carbohydrate rich pre-workout snack of real food, low in fibre and high in nutrients 30-60mins prior to training.
  • Sessions 60mins or less, do not require calories unless the athletes is very hungry.
  • Sessions greater than 60mins with intensity do require caloric support. This is when sugar is your friend. Even the most low carb high fat athlete is going to consume sugar as their pre-dominant fuel source when training/racing.  In cases where the intensity is very low athletes may consume small amounts of macronutrients.
  • Refuel post-workout within 30minutes no matter the workout you JUST did. And focus on JERF (just eat real food).
  • Plan snacks throughout the day. Mid-morning, mid-afternoon and perhaps before bed.
  • Daily meals need to consistent of all three macronutrients (attach 5 Rules).
  • Evening meals should largely consist of plants, fats and protein with less emphasis on starchy carbohydrates.

The spin off benefits of implementing supportive fuelling habits around daily eating will ultimately help athletes experience consistent improvements in performance along with enhanced recovery from session to session not mention improved sleep quality and hormone balance.

DAILY EATING: MEALS & SNACKS OUTSIDE OF TRAINING SESSIONS

The goal of daily eating is to support global health. We want to maximize real foods that are minimally packaged and processed, nutrient dense, made of mixed macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein and fat) clear of diet cults and evangelism. A good way to think of daily eating is "mostly good" with everything in moderation without elimination, weighing foods or living like a monk. However, daily eating habits will only be effective if you get your fuelling right and nailing your fuelling is wildly influential on your daily eating habits. The two components are intrinsically linked in a symbiotic relationship.

Daily eating supports:

  • Your platform of global health
  • Your immune system & resilience
  • Your cellular health by providing essential vitamins & minerals for bodily functions
  • Your muscular and tissue health (maintenance and repair)
  • Your energy management throughout your day

And yet...and yet...endurance athletes tend to share the following debilitating daily eating habits:

Do not consume enough calories to support the training load.

Select the wrong types of calories to support their training and health demands with an over reliance of starchy carbs and sugars.

Integrate "fuelling" sources into their daily feeding windows such as sugary drinks, bars and bloks instead of nutrient dense food.

Plain and simple, small tweaks in daily eating will go a long way if an athlete focused solely on eating real food, mainly plants.

MANAGING MEALS

We often think of daily eating as three square meals throughout the day. Athletes need more flexibility in how their eating habits are arranged. As a guiding principle, athletes should establish breakfast as the largest and most important, carbohydrate and protein rich meal of the day. It may also serve as a fuelling meal for an upcoming workout. As the day progresses, meals should taper in amounts and shift towards less starchy carbs (vegetables) with more emphasis on protein, good oils and fats. The less polarized your meals are throughout the day, the more consistent your energy levels will become.

FINAL THOUGHTS

If athletes take nothing else away from the guiding principles in this article, take this one: let calorie-counting go. Drop it today to focus 100% on habit generation. Zero in on macronutrients during mealtime and snacks while limiting high sugar foods and starchy carbohydrates. Think global health vs. immediate gratification with consequences down the line.

Nutrition (fuelling and daily eating) is a massive component in potential to perform. Training is an ongoing performance journey and therefore your eating should be too. Cement habits and always nail the fuelling. Figure out where you fall short in your nutrition habits and address those before revamping your training or diving into evangelism.  Often times, athletes with excess body fat need to train less and eat more to readjust their stress hormones and let the body know it's ok to shed fat.

Fuelling is a performance mindset. Daily eating is the platform of global health.

Part II will focus on hydration and how it too is affected by and affects nutrition and absorption of calories.

If you have questions about your own nutrition, fuelling, eating habits or how to join the Brite Coaching Training Camp, please contact me at christine@brite.coach or visit our website www.brite.coach