Optimum nutrition for peak performance
For virtually every sport, a winning performance requires the right nutrition. Sports diets vary hugely depending upon the sport. For power sports such as weight lifting, a strength boosting diet high in protein would be preferred. Heavy duty contact sports such as rugby, (American) football and hockey often require diets high in calories and carbohydrates in order to bulk up and maintain mass. On the flip side, high intensity and endurance sports such as running and cycling require diets relatively low in fat with careful control of carbohydrates across the glycemic index to successfully manage energy needs.
Andy Stevens, Development Manager of online retailer Cycle Stuff Direct Cycle says:
The quote most cyclists will have heard is, ‘Eat before you’re hungry, drink before you’re thirsty and stop when you are full’ which is something that Andy thinks works really well. He says:
For extended periods of exercise the your body needs to refuel the electrolytes lost through sweat. Sports drinks and gels can provide the required boost and maintenance required and are also easy to consume so don’t interfere with the activity. Afterwards re-hydration is vital.
Glycogen and protein should be taken into consideration. Glycogen stores will be depleted, and muscles tired with strained muscle fibres. The body will replace glycogen for effectively is carbohydrates are consumed immediately after exercise.
The 20 minutes following exercise is referred to by some as the metabolic window. This is the period where the body is most receptive to nutrients in order to recover and replace. It’s also important to take in some protein within twenty minutes of finishing your ride as this is when your body is most receptive and the best time to consume protein, ideally in a pre-digested form such as a whey protein shake as blood and other resources used by the digestive system are being drained by muscle usage.
Performance boosting beetroot
The University of Exeter’s Sport and Health Sciences department has published a new paper in the Journal of Applied Physiology looking at the effects of taking three different doses of beetroot juice on different exercise intensities.
The research team, led by Professor Andy Jones, used Beet-It, concentrated beetroot juice, which is sold in 70 ml shots. The three doses used in the study were 1 shot, 2 shots, or 4 shots.
The findings suggest that two concentrated beetroot shots (with about 0.6g natural dietary nitrate) are better than one in order to produce optimal performance gains during “severe” intensity exercise (activity which results in exhaustion after 6-10 minutes). These 2 shots are best consumed 2.5 hours before the onset of exercise.
For those about to carry out “moderate” exercise, drinking up to 4 shots of beetroot juice, about 2.5 hours before the start of the activity, is thought to be optimal for improvements in exercise economy. Exercise economy is a strong predictor of long duration exercise performance such as is needed for marathons and cycling road races.
Professor Andy Jones said:
Previous research has indicated that beetroot improves sporting ability and stamina because of its high nitrate content.
This latest study suggests that effect on performance is at its peak 2-3 hours after ingestion, and that the effects gradually decline, with little improvement being seen after about 12 hours. In the study, the amount of oxygen required to maintain a given level of moderate exercise decreased after taking beetroot juice – in effect, it took less energy to cycle at the same pace. The best results decreased oxygen consumption by about 3%. The sample groups also did a cycle test to exhaustion. Interestingly the group which took two doses gave the best performance results, suggesting that larger quantities may not lead to greater stamina for athletes.
Beetroot juice has already been attracting a lot of attention from the sports world. Memorably David Weir, winner of four gold medals at the 2012 Paralympic Games, told Boris Johnson it was instrumental in his success.
Vitamins & Minerals
A key focus in sports nutrition is to replace minerals lost through sweat, and to provide vitamins that help the body to optimise the effect of exercise. Increased appetite following exercise can be attributed to a physiological effect of the body seeking such nutrients.
- Sodium (salt) is an electrolyte that helps to regulate body fluids. Whilst too much sodium can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure, the body requires more than 500 milligrams per day in order to function. As sodium is lost in sweat, it is important to replace it following exercise. The amount of sodium in the body determines the amount of water the body stores. High intakes can cause body tissues to swell up, but too low may cause sodium and water retention.
- Potassium found naturally in bananas and coconuts is an electrolyte found in muscles that aids sodium in regulating body water levels. It also helps to facilitate electrical potentials across muscle cells and nerves with cause contractions. An important mineral in endurance sports, a deficiency in potassium can lead to an imbalance in fluid levels resulting in dehydration, cramps and weakness.
- Magnesium Research finds even marginal magnesium deficiency significantly reduces exercise performance. Heavy exercisers, like marathon runners, can produce large amounts of lactic acid, resulting in painful muscles and cramps. Magnesium allows the body to burn fuel and create energy in an efficient way which does not lead to lactic acid build up. But during vigorous exercise, critical minerals including zinc, chromium and selenium, in addition to magnesium, are excreted in sweat and are difficult to replenish.
- Vitamin D found naturally in sunlight, egg yolks, oily fish and dairy produce has been shown to improve athletic performance and heighten health levels to their optimum. It also increases the size and number of Type II (fast twitch) muscle fibres. It is thought that having more fast and slow twitch muscle fibres may determine which sports athletes excel at and how they respond to training. With this clear evidence it is surprising that it is only now becoming a trend in the fitness sector.