Thursday, 29 December 2011

Travel Nutrition - The Basics

High performance athletes are constantly on the go, not only travelling around the country for competition and training, but often across the globe.  Managing your diet can be one of the most difficult things to do while you’re away, and your nutrition may need considerable planning and preparation before you travel.  This article aims to point out some of the common problems, and give advice on how to overcome them.

There are 3 main areas to consider:
Ensuring that you have adequate micro-nutrients to prevent illness (colds, virus, infections)
Ensuring that you have enough of the right calories to fuel performance and aid recover
Prevent traveler’s diarrhea, and other illnesses from unhygienic food preparation conditions and unfamiliar food.

Packing for your Trip
·   Pack as much food as reasonably possible for your outward journey.   Food should be a fresh as possible, bearing in mind that if you don’t like the food out there you may have to survive the remainder of the trip on processed foods such as cereal bars.
·    When packing foods keep airport restrictions on hand luggage allowance (flying from UK airports, you are only allowed 1 item of hand luggage), fluid restrictions (no liquids in hand luggage through security), and restrictions on exporting/importing meat products to/from other countries in mind.
·        Remember that if your flight is delayed you may not have time to eat in the airport before you catch your connecting flight.
·     Food available for sale at airports tends to be expensive and it can be difficult to find nutritious options.  It is always useful to have some supplies in case of unexpected delays.
·    If you have to buy food in the airport, buy the most nutritious available (e.g. fresh made sandwiches or rolls; fresh meat with salad) even if this is not the cheapest option.
·    Once you have cleared security, make sure that you buy adequate fluid supplies for your flight.

Good Foods to Pack
Dried fruit
Nuts and seeds
Tinned Fruit
Dutch breakfast cake (only 3% fat)
Cereal bars
Breakfast cereal
Fig rolls, Jaffa cakes & other low fat biscuits
Rice cakes
Liga, Rusks and other dry baby food
Jam, honey, peanut butter
Instant noodles
Baked beans, tinned spaghetti
Powdered milk
Powdered sports drinks
Jellies and sweets                              
Concentrated fruit juice and fruit squash
Peanut butter

Plane Food
·        It is best to take your own supply of suitable snack foods to supplement the meals supplied on board.
·      The vegetarian meal choice on most airlines is usually rice or pasta based so is a good alternative if you are expected to train shortly after you arrive.
·       Long hours of travelling can upset your digestive system.  To minimise constipation, drink lots of fluids and eat fibre-rich foods such as fresh fruit, wholemeal bread, breakfast cereals and vegetables.  When flying, a vegetarian or low fat meal usually provides more fibre than the regular meals.
·       Fluids are very important.  The humidity in an aircraft is around 10-15%, which means that the moisture is literally drained from your body.  Drink water or fruit juice.  Travelling with your own drink bottle on long flights is a great idea.  Don’t be afraid to ask for extra water or other beverages
·        Don’t drink alcohol on the flight.
·        Avoid drinking too much tea, coffee and cola; all of these may increase dehydration
·        Avoid overeating to relieve boredom.  Drink fluid instead!

The Dining Hall
·       If you are going to be eating in a dining hall, try to get a copy of menu in advance.  Using sound nutrition principles elect what you want to eat and stick to it.  Avoid trying everything on the menu. 
·        In most instances your meal should mainly be carbohydrate based (noodles, potatoes, cereal, bread), with some protein (eggs, meat, fish, cheese), and ample fresh vegetables.
·        Avoid eating food that you are not used to.
·        Practice eating what you will eat on competition day as soon as you arrive.
·        Eat plenty of fresh fruit when available.
·        Don’t be afraid to ask for alternatives if your nutritional requirements are not being met.

Food Safety
·      Be particularly careful in African, Asian and South American countries where food hygiene may not meet ‘Western’ standards
·       The general rule in countries which has a reputation for food poisoning the general rule is: ‘Peel it, cook it, shell it, or forget it’
·        Do not eat from stalls.  Eat only in places well-known or recommended by a reliable person
·        Where possible, eat food that has been well cooked.  It should be hot too.
·        If the local water is unsafe to drink:
§  Drink only bottled water or drinks from sealed containers
§  Avoid ice in drinks
§  Clean teeth with bottled water
§  Avoid salad vegetables unless washed in bottled or boiled water
§  Only eat fruit if it can be peeled
·       If vomiting or diarrhea does occur, it is important to replace lost fluids and electrolytes.  Oral rehydration solutions and a safe water supply should be used.  A bland diet consisting of dry toast, crackers, biscuits and rice may help.  Avoid alcohol, fatty foods and dairy products until the diarrhea has ceased.  If you are using oral contraceptives, beware that absorption may not have occurred due to diarrhea.


  •      The importance of fluid, especially in the hot and humid weather, cannot be overemphasized — always have an adequate fluid supply with you.
  •          Always make sure that bottles are sealed before you buy/use them.
  •          Ensure that you are always drinking from your own bottle

Eating for Recovery
Plan a recovery strategy, do not leave it to chance.
·        The best time to start refuelling is as soon as possible after exercise, as glycogen storage is faster during this post-exercise ‘window’ than at any other stage.  Carbohydrate store replenishment during the first two hours post exercise is 1 and a half times faster than normal.  It continues to be faster than normal during the subsequent 4 hours.  Therefore, eating carbohydrate during this time speeds glycogen recover. 
·        Most researchers recommend consuming 1g carbohydrate per kg body weight during the 2-hour post-exercise period.  So, for example, if you weight 75 kg you need to consume 75g carbohydrate within 2 hours of exercise.   For efficient glycogen refuelling, you should continue to eat at least 50 g carbohydrate every 2 hours until your next  main meal.  If you leave long gaps without eating, glycogen storage and recovery will be slower.
·        Immediately post exercise, choose foods with a high or moderate glycaemic Index (GI) in either liquid or solid form (or a mixture of both).
·        Suitable foods include cereal bars, rice, sports drinks, breads
·        If exercise suppresses your appetite, try apples, grapes or other fruit.
·        Nutrient–rich carbohydrate foods and meals after exercise, not only help refuel, but also help boost the immune system which is suppressed immediately post exercise.

Another area to consider?
Meat production in some Asian, African and South American countries is not subjected to the same rigorous controls as in Europe.  Use of illegal hormones to aid lean meat production has been blamed for inadvertent doping offensives, particularly in the case of Clenbuterol.  Clenbuterol is a banned substance in sport, and levels can be raised by eating contaminated meat.  Mexico and China have both been associated with illegal Clenbuterol use.  Care should be taken when travelling to these countries.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Anti-oxidant supplementation in endurance training- Is it necessary?

Free Radicals are produced through everyday activities and are thought to cause cell damage and in the defence against these threats are anti-oxidants. Therefore interest has surrounded the importance of dietary anti-oxidants and many health conscious people and athletes have turned to nutritional supplements to ensure that these are covered within the athlete’s diet, leading to antioxidants being the likely most common sports supplement used by athletes.

However, recently there is more evidence that the presence of free radicals has important physiological functions in cells and the balance between these and the anti-oxidants are an important for any physiological functions.


There are two types of anti-oxidants endogenous and exogenous- in both cases they scavenge the Free Radicals and convert them to un-reactive species and therefore minimising the damaging effects.

Those not synthesised by the body need to be obtained extrogenously and include vitamin A, C (may strengthen immune defence) and E (enhance energy balance at high altitude).

In some cases counteracting reactive oxygen species (ROS) via acute antioxidant supplementation can positively affect performance and maybe protect against ROS induced fatigue.

However more recent findings do not support the belief that ordinary anti-oxidant substances such as Vitamin A, C and E improve performance or delay fatigue in those athletes who have a well balance and varied diet (Rodriguez 2009). Similarly, supplementary vitamin C an E does not have a protective effect against muscle damage (Beaton et al 2002).

There is also the case that these ROS play an important signalling role for adaptation of endogenous oxidant defence system and for mitochondrial genesis and angiogenesis and when radical appearance is overly suppressed these signals may therefore be weakened or abolished, therefore questions have been raised about efficacy of high doses of exogenous anti-oxidants such as Vitamin C and E during endurance training and that they could be counterproductive.


This perhaps opens the debate around the use of anti-oxidant supplementation. Its too early to condemn all forms of anti-oxidant supplementation it is also recognised that there are certainly circumstances in which supplementation is probably advantageous such as high-altitude training camps, since free radical production is intensified and endogenous defence weakened in hypoxia, or around important competitions where only the eventual benefits remain relevant.
It is necessary that the right balance is needed for optimal health and training effects and this optimal balance remains open, alongside the effects of dose and timing.

For now the case may be for athlete’s to realise that sometimes in terms of anti-oxidant supplementation it is not the case of the more the better, and the key is to have a healthy balanced diet, which contains a wide range of fruits and vegetables to maximise anti-oxidant intake through natural sources.

Antioxidant supplementation and endurance training: Win or Loss?
Gross et al (2011) European Journal of Sports Science; 11 (1): 27-32

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Geeting a good nights sleep

There is limited evidence of the sleep requirements of athletes and their characteristics but it is likely that sleep is one of the most important factors for an athlete’s recovery. Achieving the appropriate quantity and quality may not only have significant implications on an athlete’s performance, but being able to identify athletes who may have trouble with sleeping patterns may be critical in indentifying athletes who are at risk of overtraining.

Why do we need sleep?

There have been three proposals put forward (Frank 2006),
-Restoration of immune function and endocrine systems
-Restoration of nervous system
-For brain function- learning and memory

However it is likely that it is a combination of all three.

How can you get better sleep?

Nutritional Options
Tryptophan- This essential amino acid is converted to serotonin and may improve sleep onset, further research is needed in terms of timing and dosage.

But foods high in Tryptophan can be easily included in your healthy evening dinner- Milk, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, beans, cheese and leafy green vegetables, or by having a hot chocolate before you go to bed.

High GI Foods- can alter serotonin levels and may increase the ratio of free tryptophan and branched chain amino acids- this is recommended 4hours before your normal bedtime, which for many athletes who train in the evening will work as a recovery snack.

There are also things to avoid:
although this can help with the initial sleep phase it will cause disturbances in the second half, and therefore will decease the overall quality of sleep.

Caffeine- is a mild stimulant and therefore will impair sleep, but there are different tolerances. This can be a negative for athletes who use it for performance enhancement, particularly in an evening session.

Possible strategy is to encourage it for finals or major competitions not the first rounds or heats.

Even simply getting your hydration right after training can affect your sleep. Consuming too much fluid following training can result in the athlete being hyper-hydrated and therefore likely to be disturbed throughout the night with trips to the toilet.

What else can you do?
•Sleep supplementation such as naps can have a positive influence of cognitive tasks. However nap appropriately- no more than 45mins and not late afternoon.
•Warm your hands and feet in cold environments
•Eliminate a bedroom clock
•Regularise bedtime

Nutrition, sleep and recovery Halson (2008); European Journal of Sports Science March; 8 (2): 119-126.

Clean Sport

So as the BOA take their fight to keep sport clean by going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, a good article is publicised in the Telegraph from Chris Hoy.

The lifetime ban is something I am personally very strong about, and I am involved in educating athletes about some of the risks out there, even to the detail of checking medication and supplements.

How can someone who has been banned for cheating, be allowed to take part in one of the biggest showpieces on the planet, especially one which stands for fairness and sportsmanship.

The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well- Olympic Creed.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Talent v Hard Work: The Debate

Recent years has seen an influx of bestseller books about success and talent.  Alongside, and probably not completely independent of, our obsession with celebraty and reality tv, it seems that there is a public interest in the ingredients of success.  Just like everyone thinks that they can be famous, they also think that they can be hughly successful if they take the right steps.  The good news, according to books such as Outliers (Malcolm Gladwell), The Talent Code (Daniel Coyle) and Bounce (Matthew Syed) is that they can.  The bad news is that the right step is hardwork and lots of practice - 10,000 hours to be more precise.

At the UKSEM Conference last week this hardwork notion formed one of the main themes.  Indeed both Coyle and Syed gave excellent talks in support of their position.  Meanwhile sport science blogger, Ross Tucker, pointed out the flaws in thier argument.  The truth is probably somewhere in between, but for me it doesn't really matter if the notion that you need only hardwork to succeed is completely true or not; what is important is that:
1. If you are not good at something at first, this doesn't mean that you will never be good at it - There truely is hope for all of us.
2. If athletes are good, and they think that talent is all they need to succeed, then why do they need to train or practice?

As coaches, or professionals working with athletes, we should always praise effort, not ability; as athletes we should never give up the fight.  Yes there are probably some aspects of our physical or mental make-up that makes success in certain sports easier, but always remember the people that have broken the mould: Usain Bolt was once deemed too tall for sprinting, Stefan Holm, the most successful high jumper of all time, isn't even 6 foot tall.

Outliers, The Talent Code and Bounce can all be purchased at Amazon or in any good bookshop.  If you want to watch Tucker's presentation from UKSEM and read his balanced perspective of the talent v training argument, check out his blog on the excellent The Science of Sport.

And, remember, whatever it is that you are trying to achieve, keep practicing!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Nutrition to stay Healthy- Part 1

After staying illness free for so long, even surviving the start of term I wasn’t surprised when I picked up a cold once I upped my training…… what I did find frustrating is it didn’t seem to shift, and when it did and I thought I was clear it came back.

Now for me at the moment, this isn’t a problem as I have no real goals for the rest of this year, its just about building a nice block of endurance, however if this was me this time last year it would have had a real set back in my goals.

Firstly I should have taken my own advice and once any signs or symptoms started to show, back off and get plenty of rest, secondly don’t come back too soon!!!

Now that it’s all cleared up, I need to ensure that I stay healthy which again is practicing what I would normally inform my athletes about eating a well balanced diet, but sometimes athlete's need more. After attending the UK Sports and Exercise Medicine Conference there were a couple of bits of information which might prove helpful for an athlete, thanks to the presentation by David Pyne (Aus)- Nutrient- training interactions to maximise training and performance.

Nutrition for Immune Health- Athletes

An immune system which operates within homeostatic limits protects against common illnesses that can impair an athlete’s ability to train and perform, the main action the athlete can take is to ensure adequate carbohydrate and protein intake, along with covering a wide range of micronutrients.

An athlete’s immune health should be based around a five point plan:
o Training- load and recovery
o Environment
o Psychology
o Lifestyle (Sleep, Diet, stress)
o Clinical conditions

Sometimes this is not always possible, and an athlete may consider supplementation to help improve immune function. When considering any type of supplement the athlete should bear in mind the following:

• Likely benefit or harm to the athlete
• Interactions between nutrients, supplements and medications
• Evidence based efficacy in controlled research studies
• Establish tolerance during training and competition
• Cost availability, risk of contamination at both the sport and the individual athlete level

Supplement Action Recommendation

Vitamin E- Quenches exercise induced reactive species- Supplementation not recommended
Vitamin C- Quenches exercise induced reactive species- Supplementation not recommended
Multi-Vitamin- Reduced reactive oxidative species and inflammation-
Supplementation not recommended on a well balanced diet
Glutamine -Immune cell substrate- Not recommended, body stores adequate
Branched Chain Amino Acids- Nitrogen source/ Glutamine Synthesis -
Not recommended/data inconclusive
Carbohydrate- Maintain blood glucose, decrease in stress hormone
- Recommended up to 60g one hour after exercise
Fish Oil Anti-Inflammatory effects Not recommended

So from the information above the main way (and simple) way to help improve human function is to consume carbohydrate after training, the recommendation is within the hour after training ‘Golden Hour’ where carbohydrate is seen to have a positive effect with neutrophils.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Caffeine Intake and Sport

After the weekend where I was working with athletes there were a few questions on caffeine; so I thought it might be useful to do a quick recap:

The performance boost you get is the effect caffeine has on your central nervous system- therefore you become more alert, you react faster and you don’t think you are working as hard.
It will not cause dehydration (in moderate doses)- you will not need additional fluid to counteract the caffeine intake.
It affects everyone differently- Try it out in training sessions first. If you feel, jittery and nervous try reducing the intake, you don’t want it to impact on your performance, and try it before a race unknown.
You can develop a tolerance- Everyone has a different reaction to caffeine and how your body responds, but your body will adapt to the effects that happens and therefore the reaction you get will be much lower over time. You might want to reduce your intake in the couple of weeks before the race for the race day intake to take its affect.
Timing- Again this is something you would want to try during a training session first- and again it will be different for everyone. It will roughly take 60mins to have an effect so there is no point in taking it immediately before a race.
It’s not going to override the effects of poor training- although it can boost performance you will get more of a benefit from focused training.

It takes about three to six milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight (190-380mg for a 63kg athlete), to notice a benefit for most people. Anything higher you are likely to get side effects.


Expresso 30ml cup- 30-90mg
Coca Cola 33-ml can- 32mg
Tea (Black)- 235ml- 40-120mg
Red Bull- 250ml can -80mg
Filter Coffee-235m cup- 100-200mg

If you have any further questions, don't hesitate to leave a commend!

Friday, 9 September 2011

The Risks of Medication and Nutritional Supplements

Below is a link to an article in The Mail online, about the risks of using nutritional supplements and over the counter medications.  Not only is your chances of competing in major championships jupordised by inadvertant doping offences, but your reputation is forever tarnished, even if you didn't intend to cheat.  Always check your medications (even if they are bought over the counter), and remember that there are alternatives to food supplements (like a healthy nutritions diet).

Friday, 2 September 2011

The Application Form

Following Rachael's post yesterday about putting together a CV, I want to give some pointers on completing application forms.  More and more jobs require completion of an application form rather than a CV.  The same rules apply to application forms for funding, awards and scholarships.

1. Make an effort. If you expect somebody to take the time to read your application, be sure that you put some time and effort into completing it.  Don't just answer a questions with yes or no.  If you don't have a certain experience or quality then please explain.

2. Write in plain English, and not in txt speak.  Application forms are official documents, and shouldn't be written like you are writing to a friend.

3. Don't presume that the person reading the application already knows everything about you.  Even if you do know the person, then you still need to complete the form as if they had never meet you.

4. Complete the form properly.  If you are applying for a job by application, your CV will probably not be read, even if you are given the opportunity to attach a CV.  NEVER put see CV on an application form, and always ensure that the application form covers all the important aspects about you.

5. Be specific and concise.  If you are completing a scholarship application form state exactly what you have achieved.  Only include relevant results (not a life history of every competition that you have ever participated in).  Don't presume that the person reading your application is an expert in our sport, so include levels, divisions, leagues etc, where appropriate.

6. Don't beg.  This is true for both job and scholarship applications.  Don't guilt trip the person by saying that if they don't give you money/a job, you won't be able to do your sport or live any more.  Millions of people participate in sport for the pure pleasure of it, and never expect anybody to pay for their hobby.  Show what you can offer back, and how you can utilise the funding to best effect.  Don't come across as hard done by.

8. Give the person reading the document a reason to offer you an interview/funding/scholarship.  If you leave blanks or omit information, they may have nothing to go on.

7. Proof read the final document before submitting.

It is important to remember that the people that are reviewing your application are putting time, effort and money into reviewing your application.  Please, please, please make an effort if you are serious about your application.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Preparation for Life at University, Part 2 (Time Management)

In part 2 of our series of advice for adjusting to Life at University we look at some simple time-management tools and how to use them.

Time Wheel
The one that I like to begin with is the time wheel.  This is a simple 24-part pie-chart divided to represent the 24 hours of the day. 

Step 1: Choose a colour to represent each of the main tasks that you do during a typical day (e.g. sleeping, eating, travelling, training, working, lectures, studying, socialising, reading, on internet, other leisure activities, quality relaxation activities).

Step 2: Now think about how you would spend an ideal day and colour complete the circle accordingly.  If you normally need ten hours sleep then fill in ten of the segments with the sleep colour.  If you have five hours of lectures a day then fill in five of the segments in lecture colour.  If training should take up three hours, then fill in three of the segments in that colour…and so on.

Step 3: Now think about how you spent yesterday.  Fill in another wheel based on what you actually did yesterday.  If you spent two hours on the playstation, then fill two segments in the appropriate colour.  This step can be repeated over a number of days.

Step 4: Compare and contrast your idea wheel (Step 2) and your actual wheels (Step 3).  This is a good way to work out where all your time is going.  Is your ideal wheel unrealistic and does that need to be adjusted, or are you spending time doing things that you don’t need to do.  Make a list of the things that you are wasting time on.  Some of the following tools and exercises will help you come up with ways of overcoming procrastination and time wasting.

The Traditional Diary
It sounds obvious, but don’t expect your brain to remember everything. Carry a diary around with you and write down important date including competition dates, meetings, exams, holidays.  This way you can make sure that you don’t miss important appointments or double-book yourself.  It also highlights busy weeks, and when you may need to do a bit of forward-planning and preparation.  Of course your diary doesn’t have to be a traditional paper one.  Electronic diaries work just as good.  Just be sure that everything is in the one place.

The Weekly Planner
This is my favourite tool of all, and each Sunday evening I take 20 minutes to fill in a new one for the week ahead.  If you week is reasonably structured (set lecture and training times), then you don’t need to do a complete new one each week.  Weekly planners both help you to get into a routine (set a plan, see if it works, adjust if appropriate, until you find a schedule that works for you), and organise your week.

When putting together a weekly plan, follow these simple steps:
Step 1: Put in all the immovable appointments (lectures, meetings, group training times).  Step 2: Add the things that you need to do at certain times, but which don’t have to be set (e.g. S&C sessions that you can’t do straight after a heavy training session and which have to be done when the gym is free; optional tutorials).  Don’t forget to add travel time if required.
Step 3: Add the rest of your training sessions at the most appropriate times.
Step 4: Add all other tasks that must be done in the week (e.g. weekly shopping).
Step 5: Add some recovery and relaxation time, and social activities if appropriate.
Step 6: Assign tasks to other blocks of appropriate time (e.g. course work may be assigned to a larger block of time while doing the ironing may be assigned to a smaller block of time.
Step 7: Work out the logistics and make a list of anything you need to pack the night before (e.g. if you are going straight from lectures to training on a day that you won’t have time to have lunch the you will need to pack books, lunch and training kit).

Prioritised to-do Lists
We’ve all done to-do lists at one stage or another and are great for keeping you motivated.  Usually these are simply a list of things that we need or want to get done as a particular stage.  Prioritised to-do lists are a slight adaptation of the traditional list.  They split tasks into urgent and non-urgent tasks, and low and high importance tasks.  This way unimportant tasks don’t get in the way of more crucial ones and everything is done on time.  Similarly lists of tasks can be subdivided into big and small ones.  Big tasks can be done during larger blocks of time, and smaller ones can be done during shorter time periods, or to get a break from larger tasks.

Monthly, termly, or three-month planners are a good way of identifying busy time periods, and making appropriate adjustments.  They differ from diaries in that they only contain half or full day events or tasks, and not every meeting and appointment.

Year planners wall charts work in a similar way, and can be used to plan your training year as well as your academic/work schedule.

In Summary
There are no quick or easy fixes to time management.  The main components are to set goals (what do you want to achieve with your time), and be organised (plan in advance, make lists of what is to be achieved).  Good time management takes practice, and different tools are appropriate for different people.  Pick what suits you best, and adjust as appropriate.  Each tool will take some practice before it is utilised to best effect.  If you are starting a new job, or going to University for the first time, it’s a good idea to get practicing straight away.  Don’t leave it 4 or 5 weeks until you get ‘settled-in’.  Being organised will actually help you get settled in to begin with.

Finally, things don’t always go according to plan.  In fact, they rarely do.  However it’s easier to adjust a plan than to make one up as you go along.  If one of your lectures is cancelled, you can do a task that you had scheduled later that day, or one that you were struggling to fit in later in the week.  Make the most of your time.

Preparation for Life at University, Part 1

As the start of the new university term approaches, we hope to bring you a range of blog articles that will give you some ideas on how to organise your life, get the most out of university life, and help you strike a balance between sport, study and social life.

Having spent most of the past 14 years either studying or working at a University, I am what is known as the eternal student.  This is partially because I’m scared that if I move away from University I’ll have to grow up, but mostly because I have an appreciation of the importance of the university years.  I believe that the university environment can be a perfect one in which to nurture talent and realise your true ability.  Yes exams and assignments are difficult, but it’s only when you go on to a nine-to-five job that you really appreciate how easily you had it.

From my experiences, these are some of the top mistakes students-athletes make while at University:

  1. Drinking too much
  2. Not bothering with their sport in the first year because they want to make new friends,
  3. Training too hard and get injured all the time,
  4. Take a ‘year-out’ of their sport to concentrate on their final year,

I’ve never met a person who said that they wish they’d drank more at university or went out more often.  I’ve met many who whished they’d concentrated more on their sport and studies.

Be Sensible about your Training Schedule
Many athletes train too much when at University.  If you have the opportunity to train with a good group or team, it’s likely that you can access sessions twice a day, 6 or 7 days a week.  Be careful though.  This intensity may be appropriate for a 3rd or 4th year student who has gradually been increasing their training over the years.  It is not appropriate for a first year who has previously only trained 3 or 4 times a week.  Be sensible.  Speak to your coach about what you have done up to that point.  Don’t feel that you are being soft by not doing all the sessions available to you.

Balance Training Intensity and Social Life
It is inevitable that there will be some late nights during your time at University.  Whether this is a social night out, or an all-nighter to get an assignment finished on time, don’t ‘punish’ yourself by still trying to do high intensity sessions the next day just because they have been scheduled.  You are much more likely to get injured or pick up a cold if you train when you are tired and dehydrated (i.e. hungover).  Plan ahead.  If you have an important session, don’t drink the night before and come home early, or adjust the training plan so that you have a light session the day after a night out.  If you have more nights out than you do high intensity sessions in a week, then you probably going out too much.

Get Plenty of Sleep
Don’t underestimate the value of sleep.  When you are trying to pack you life with study, training and partying, it’s easy to try and burn the candle at both ends.  Sleep is very important though.  Set aside one evening a week when you go to bed early and catch up on sleep lost during the rest of the week.  This is far more effective than having a lie-in.

Eat Sensibly
The traditional student diet of pizza and curry is probably not the best for a high-performance sports person.  Be sensible, plan ahead and eat as much fresh fruit and vegetable as possible.  Over the coming weeks we will suggest some healthy, cheap, easy-to-prepare meals and snacks that you can use.

It may sound like a bit of a contradiction, but enjoy your student days.  You don’t have to drink every night to make the most of the student experience.  Be clear about what you want from your days at university.  With a little bit of organisation, everything else will fall into place.

In part 2 we'll take a look at basic time management and planning strategies.  Fell free to post your own advice and time saving tips in the comments section at the bottom of the post.

Developing your CV

Many athletes need to find work to support their playing career alongside any funding they may receive, and at the moment when competition for jobs is fierce the CV must stand out!

There is no right or wrong way to write a CV, it is a very personal document for each individual and it does take time to get it right.

Athletes need to start to think about developing their CV early so that it’s ready for when they need it, and start to think about the transferrable skills that they have throughout their athletic career.

Transferrable skills are general skills you can use in any job. You can gain these skills from previous work experience, voluntary work, sport, your home life, hobbies and interests. They enable you to be adaptable and flexible.

As well as numeracy, literacy and IT Skills, employers like staff to be experienced in the following skills:

· Problem Solving
· Organising
· Communicating effectively
· Meeting deadlines
· Management and Leadership
· Negotiating
· Motivating people
· Making decisions

If you feel that you need to develop these skills further ideas are:

Work Experience
Short Courses
Develop new interests
Public Speaking
Organising events
Group work/ Team Building

So what is the purpose of a CV?

It acts as a 20 second interview and every word counts! Athletes need to be able to prioritise their experience and skills to provide a good first impression and to be put forward for interviews.

CV’s should demonstrate where a player meets the criteria, what they can add to the organisation, highlight achievements and leave the reader wanting to find out more.

Use achievement verbs to start sentences such as:
Develop, Managed, Established, Accomplished, Exceeded, Promoted
Created, Investigated, Budgeted, Delegated, Reviewed, Analysed, Transformed and Encouraged.

Personal Profile:

2/3 sentences at the start of a CV to describe who and what you are, what experience you have, what unique skills or strengths you possess and a short career goal and or statement about what you can contribute to the company or sector you are applying to work in.

Reverse chronological order
Potential Employers want to know about a players experience and skills above anything else.
Make use of bullet points to break up the text (Prioritise bullet points)
Length should be 2-3 pages
Use Bold, Italics and underlined sparingly to divide sections
Ensure dates, company names and job roles line up
Keep font simple (10 or larger)
Use the justify function
If sending electronically save as a PDF
Try to avoid any gaps in work or education
Set up a sensible email address


Avoid Jargon
Use the past tense
Stick to 2-3 pages
Check spelling, punctuation & grammar
Be positive
Focus on achievement and skills
Check, Check, Check


Use I on a CV
Lie or exaggerate
List everything
Mention mistakes
Include D.O.B or martial status
Include a photo
Fire off a CV without any thought… it takes time

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Monitoring training status in endurance athletes

On Friday I was fortunate to be part of a lecture on the topic of the 'sick' athlete and ideas on how athletes can be monitored in a way to detect any markers which could identify potential points of vulnerability or the beginnings of an illness. The information below is the notes that I wrote during the session, a lot of it not new science, but it was interesting to put it in the applied sense and always useful to be refreshed and hear different opinions!

With all athletes early intervention and acting on signs and symptoms of getting ill is extremely advantageous in an athlete’s lifestyle. Good coaches should be able to recognise when an athlete is not quite 100% healthy by monitoring their performance such as split times and be able to respond accordingly. But is there a way of identifying periods of potential illness before they happen?

There hasn’t yet been a single marker indentified which can indicate when an athlete is vulnerable to illness or when they are at the initial stages. Many ideas have been tested, but the most accurate and less invasive is to ask the athlete to simply keep scores of areas of their wellbeing. Ask the athlete to simply score the following areas 1-10 with 1 being the worst, 10 being the best.

• Fatigue
• Quality of Sleep
• Concentration Strength
• Emotional Liability

Add up scores to give a total score and over time the athlete will begin to notice a pattern and maybe recognise times when the athlete is becoming more vulnerable, most likely when the scores are lowering.

Athletes are at a higher risk of developing a URTI (Upper Respiratory Tract Infection) especially endurance athletes due to the higher breathing rate, which offers a higher chance of breathing in infections. This is made worse when the mouth is dry and instead of them being washed down into the stomach and killed off by the acid, they stay in the throat and lead to illness.

There is also a strong correlation between injury and URTI’s showing the increase in incidents of injuries following the 6 weeks after a URTI.

Ways to reduce this:

• Chewing Gum- causes you to swallow more, giving the bacteria/viruses less time to settle in the throat.
• Drinking and staying hydrated
• Making sure the athlete eats plenty of carbohydrate as this reduces the ummunosuppression post exercise.
• Washing Hands
• Antioxidants- Vitamin C and Zinc- should be taken during vulnerable times, such as when other team members are sick, before travel or an increase in training load.
• Being aware- knowing when the risks are e.g. beginning of academic year. Self awareness is critical.
• Don’t under estimate the value of sleep- be prepared when staying away take your own pillows to help you sleep more easily.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Real-life Transitions

As Rachael mentioned in her previous post, she has just moved city and started a new job.  And she's not the only one.  I started a new job at University of East London at the beginning of June, and am still adjusting to life in the big city.  London has never really appealed to me, but the opportunity to work in high performance sport, within spitting distance of the Olympic park in the run-up to the Games was not one that I was going to turn down without at least considering.

As both of us have been going through such dramatic transitions, now would be a good time to discuss transitions, how major life changes can affect your training, and what you can do to minimise the impact on your sport.  Remember, major transitions don't always have to be viewed in a negative light, and certainly some of the major transitions that I've encountered in the past have had massive positive impacts on my sport.  Moving away from home to start university 13 years ago give me independence and maturity which in turn had a positive influence on my running.

Please feel free to share your experiences and advice using the comments tool below.  We are particularly interested to hear how individuals make the choice of which university to attend, and what do you consider when choosing a job after university.  Do you consider your sport and training or do you just take what's on offer and hope for the best?

On Thursday 2nd June myself and a rather large suitcase made the relatively short flight from Waterford to London Southend Airport.  I had 5 days in which to find somewhere to live, celebrate a birthday, run a race, prepare myself for the world of full-time work again, and get my head around living in London.  The first three I achieved with reasonable success; the 4th I'm still dealing with...and may well be for a long time to come.  I've done this whole moving away from home several times before, and usually with very little notice.  I believe in just getting in there and dealing with what life throws at you, but always keeping in mind what my goals are.  I made a very strong promise to myself, that I wouldn't let my training suffer, and while that worked quite well to begin with, unfortunately I pushed it a little too much, and have spent the last few weeks injured.  I set myself some priorities though, and dealing with them early on has definitely helped me settle into a training routine pretty quickly.  I had done a gym session, and a track session, and been to Birmingham to pick up my bike all within 10 days of arriving.  These are usually the type of thing that I 'put on the long finger' because I'm either too shy or to lazy to sort them out.  It's all about priorities.

So my advice to any athlete moving away to university in the coming months is to use the first week to seek out everything that you need for training, if you have not already done so.  Register with a doctor, find a training group and facility, sort out gym membership, ask advice on where to find a good physio and sport massage therapist.  Don't keep putting these things off, and spend time chasing them up with you really need them.  If you can plan in advance and sort out these things before you even move, then better again.

But most of all, embrace the change, enjoy the new way of life, and take full advantage of the additional challenges and opportunities that the transition can bring.  Be in control of you own success.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Managing Multiple Transitions

At many points during an athlete’s career, they will come across various transitions, education, performance and lifestyle. Identifying when these are likely to happen early makes the transitions to manage. One at a time can be easy to recognise, but the problems occur when the transitions overlap, for example a step up in education combined with a change of club and coach. During this time the athlete needs to manage balancing out the time demands and the change in workload of the education as well as developing new relationships with team mates and coaches, as well as managing different coaching patterns and expected demands.

All this can both be physically and mentally draining for the athlete and may cause higher stress levels and therefore the athlete can become prone to illness and fatigue and maybe a slump in performance which can be frustrating and again cause stress levels to rise.

So it is easy for me to talk about how things should happen and how they should be managed, but when the situation happens to me, how do I deal with multiple transitions.

Take this last month (while things have been temporarily a bit slow with ALD), after securing a position at the University of Bath as their Talented Athlete Lifestyle Officer, I have had to manage the transition of moving location, changing jobs, managing a change in personal relationships as well maintaining or wanting to increase the intensity of my training.

So how have I done? Having a month between accepting the job and my start date, gave me plenty of time to try and make the transition as smooth as possible. However life would be too easy if it all went without any disruption!

Unfortunately due to illness and other work commitments I was unable to look for accommodation until the weekend before I started, my first day was at a conference and I was needed to come home the first weekend away for a competition!

However two weeks into the job, I am happy with where I live, have managed to juggle into a new work routine and begin to build on the professional relationships within the new office, and now I have to find a club to regularly train with and fit that into my new routine. I have managed to keep a good aerobic base through joining the gym and running and swimming in my own time, maybe over doing it sometimes.

Managing the last few months have been helped by having the time to prepare and plan for the changes that are about to happen, being able to communicate with my friends and family and having the physical help to move my belongings to the new location.

I have also been fortunate that the changes have been during an off season or out of competition period for me which have meant I have been able to just maintain my fitness levels.

So my words for advice for athletes about to manage big changes in their lifestyle….. Plan, communication and take your time……there are occasions where you may have to be reactive rather than proactive, but hopefully for you these are few and far between!

Friday, 10 June 2011

More about overcoming setbacks

As I mentioned in a previous post, it seems that some athletes have an incredible ability to overcome setbacks along the way.

This interview with Steph Twell highlights just how far some athletes go to get back to full strength after major injury.  Steph broke her ankle when headed for victory in an international cross country race earlier this year.  For most this would be a career ending blow; for Steph it seems to be an inspiration to come back better than ever.  She started aqua jogging pretty much straight away afterwards, and is applying the same degree of dedication to her rehab, as she does to her training.

Just over a year out from the Olympics and all the extra pressure that will place on the British athletes, this injury may even have been a blessing in disguise for Steph.  Only time will tell.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Revision Techniques

With many athletes in the middle of exams at the moment, trying to balance your studying and sport can become very demanding. Here are some tips to help you study more effectively.

The sooner you start practicing the sooner they become a routine, and make balancing your priorities much easier

· Try to summarise the topics at the end of each module or chapter. This will help you gain a better understanding and a quick review of the information covered. Think about using a diagram to summarise too.
· Active reading- take notes, underline or highlight while you are reading
· Practice drawing diagrams, using visual aids can be a valuable tool to assist learning.
· Say things aloud- self talk helps you have a clearer understanding of a topic
· Develop formula cards- word on one side definition the other

Pre-reading activities- prepare for revision like preparing for a training session. Write down what you want to achieve from the session.

Post reading activities- Condense the main points in to summaries and try to use a diagram to explain what you have covered.

Good Luck!!!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

A Little Bit of Motivation

I have just being doing some reading about the 1968 Olympics and am inspired by the story of John Stephen Akhwari.  John represented Tanzania in the marathon at the Games.  During the race he fell and dislocated his knee joint.  He continued running, and finished last of the 57 finishers in 3 hours and 25 minutes, more than an hour after the winner.

"Akhwari finished in 3:25:27, more than an hour after the winner, when there were only a few thousand people left in the Olympic Stadium and the sun had set. 17 of the 74 competitors in the marathon that day did not finish the race. John Stephen Akhwari, bloodied and injured, was not one of them."

When asked why he continued running, Akhwari simply replied "My country did not send me to 5,000 miles to Mexico City to start the race. They sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race."

While we would never suggest competing while injured and risking long-term damage to your body (in fact we would very much advise against it), we feel that Akhwari's sentiments, and his determination to finish, embody the Olympic ideal.  Be inspired to finish your 'race' today, no matter what it is.

Akhwari recovered from his injury, and went on to compete for a further 10 years.  He finished fifth in the 1970 Commonwealth Games marathon. What a hero!

The Olympic Stadium in Mexico City as it stands today.  It must surely have been a welcome sight for Akhwari in 1968

Monday, 25 April 2011

Jet Lag

Interested in learning how to reduce the negative effects of jetlag and travel fatigue?  This factsheet, from one of our sister websites ( provides information and practical advice:

Jetlag Factsheet

Like all aspects of performance, planning is key.  Adjustment to the new time zone can start before you even leave home.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Doping News

Athletes that are subject to WADA's anti-doping rules, should be very careful not only about the medications and supplements that they take, but also about the source of their food.  Recently positive tests for clenbuterol as a result of eating contaminated meat products have been reported (most notable in the case of 3-times Tour de France winner Alberto Contador).  This recent article highlights the risk:

Contaminated meat products in China?

Be very careful!  Contador may be cleared to compete, but his reputation will forever be tarnished.  UK sprint hurdler Callum Priestley wasn't so lucky.

We will include further articles on doping in sport and precautions to take to avoid unintentional doping violations.  In the meantime, check out the UK Anti-doping (UKAD) website for further information.

Athlete Life Development are committed to drug-free sport.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Overcoming Setbacks

Life in sport is all about striving for your dreams no matter what obstacles are placed in your way.  Be it injury, illness, financial difficulties or a lack of support, even the best athletes have had to overcome major setbacks on their way to the top.  It's how athletes overcome the setbacks that distinguishes the very best from the also-rans.

There are many great stories of how individuals have overcome adversity in sport, but this lighthearted, if somewhat extreme, story demonstrates just how far some individuals are willing to go to follow their dreams.

Girl trains cow to jump fences

No path to the top is smooth.  Be inspired to overcome your obstacles today.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011


Welcome to the blog and resource page for Athlete Life Development.  We are a pair of consultants specialising in providing lifeskills, career and development support to performance athletes.  This page will include links to resources, topics for discussion, and tips for athletes and coaches.  Please feel free to add your comments and get involved in the debates.

First up, this is a great link to remind athletes about making the most of their life as an athlete, and to prepare for life after sport.  For many, the transition into life after sport can be a daunting one, but with proper planning, the stress of retirement from sport can be greatly reduced.  This is what Ato Boldon has to say on the matter:

10 things retired athletes know that active ones don't

What are your tips for current athletes?  How do you think they can prepare for life after sport?  Please post your comments below.

Career planning is just one of the many services that we provide.  For further details please contact us.