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!