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.
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:
- Proper fuelling, quite simply, enables performance during the session. It gives you energy.
- 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.
- 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.
- Post training fuelling allows the body to recover and prepare for the very next training session.
- 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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website www.brite.coach