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Nutrition on a plate

Our Perspective on Human Performance

Nutrition on a plate

Nutrition on a plate

As part of the Winter series from the recent Training Peaks Endurance Coaching Summit I want to highlight some of the content Dr. Asker Jeukendrup presented in Manchester….it was also great to hear such candid words from the legendary Dr. Seiler (which I have previously posted) and the prioritised training needs of athletes. Asker, with equivocal research and publication status, is a high profile and well-published nutritionist in the world of performance sports, a consultant to pro-tour cyclists as well as top-level footballers.

My first reaction was that Asker highlighted the problem recreational athlete’s face pretty well, that there is a lot of confusion and controversy over nutrition in performance, for what are quite rationale reasons, when we really think about. The fact is, many food groups are demonised on an annual basis through commercial agendas for magazine/ book sales or advertising revenues, we could presume. One year it may be fat, then carbohydrates, then sugar …and now attention has turned to individual supplements, which may be warranted for many of the 55,000 unregulated products out there. Asker suggests a high percentage of these may not even contain the stated ingredients or even have contaminants, and that’s from some ‘reputable’ manufacturers. In this unregulated industry the risk is on the consumer rather than the manufacturer. This is just plain scary for what are now termed nutraceuticals almost, and go inside our bodies on what is often a daily basis.

Like myself, Asker believes that the only ergogenic supplements (not sports foods) that can significantly affect performance are Caffeine, Creatine, Nitrates (Beetroot), B-alanine (amino acids/ protein) and bicarbonate, which I have described fairly extensively in previous posts. This is concluded from multiple studies with evidence-based conclusions, not ‘beliefs’ or anecdotes of beneficial use from random users, but actually evidence! You can access Askers archived posts on multiple topics with fully cited references here.

Everyone’s an expert nowadays…everyone has an ‘good’ opinion if they eat, drink and play sport, he said, I laughed…it’s true, people like to regurgitate those headlines that they feel fits their own experience. I actually dislike commenting on areas outside of my expertise and BASES actively discourage that from their members especially in vocational practice, it prevents the spread of misinformation…but that’s why I attended the ECS, I wanted to learn more factual info on performance sport within my sphere. But just like training…reports of individual benefit from a diet or supplement is just that, undocumented effect in one individual, not many differrent types.

There is also plenty of confusion between performance and health nutrition info…such as, information on clinical cases of obesity or diabetes may be tangled up with what is good for ultra-distance athletes or IronMan competitors. I would like to highlight an exception here however, as Generation UCAN happened to be a product that has therapeutic use in clinical patients (children with glycogen storage disorders) but has been found to have significant performance benefits in steady-state athletes looking to become more fat-adaptated. I have personally ran a basic field test of its effect on blood lactate with a slightly ambiguous interpretation of its effect on promoting greater fat metabolism to fuel performance. Read more here.

Perhaps Asker wasn’t aware of SuperStarch as an example or only considered typical dietary advice, I will never know. But he is right in suggesting that athletes need to have established the bottom of the nutrition pyramid with good foundation of real-foods first before adding supplementation on top for race preparation, if the basics aren’t there. Even before considering supplementation, are athletes thinking long term about diets or just sitting down day after day eating similar items without thought, and without much consideration to activity, type, duration and intensity?…..this encompasses periodisation of nutrition.

But also, does the body know where the source of carbohydrate, fat or protein has come from?…for instance fast food compared with freshly prepared wholesome food? It has been suggested that it does not through some elegant studies, and so is there any bad food at all? Or is it just the frequency and amount that makes any food bad. Paracelsus first stated the principles of toxicity hundreds of years ago in 1493…”Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.”

The confusion between high-carb and low-carb has got people in a tiz about it, and is almost polarised now, in two camps. But the obvious physiological compromise is why not do both? Train in both states to take advantage of benefits of carbohydrate metabolism with full muscle glycogen and also fat metabolism and neuromuscular adaptations under low carbohydrate availability (low glycogen muscle stores) …again this is the essence of nutrition periodisation, and something I have written a couple of full posts about intermittent carb-cycling in the off-season, for runners and cyclists alike.

Asker illustrated this with example days from a typical pro-teams training week;

  1. Low-carb morning followed by a moderate intensity session [fasted] with low carb meal before a second fat burning session with high carb meal to finish.
  2. Or an alternative day would be high carb before a hard ‘race’ training session with a high protein/ low carb meal and then pre-sleep protein which would boost fat metabolism and promote adaptations.

This is what is needed to influence body composition, and what I have described in previous posts, which I will put together as one of my complimentary PDFs in the near future.

In a similar vein, ketogenic diets have been championed only on the results of a few poorly controlled studies, where very low carb diets improve fat oxidation and performance in some athletes. Although this is flawed because of the predisposition of those athletes and the nature of the exercise favours fat oxidation in the first place, cause and effect cannot be resolved from other dependent factors. There is an extremely interesting synopsis on the longer term studies between the impact differences of both ketogenic and low carbohydrate high fat (LCHF) diet here.

Asker finished with an anecdote from his time with Lotto-Soudal team and preparing meals during the tour. He noted that even though evening meals were customised to riders energy expenditure for that particular stage (readily calculated from power data and knowledge of the riders physiology, fat/carb metabolism) that the calories replenished were often perceived to be too little or too much, related to whether a riders appetite was suppressed by having worked so hard or others riders being bored because their energy expenditure was less, and where concerned by eating too few calories. This is simple science, calories in = calories out….but managing the psychology that accompanies it is trickier.

Whether this throws more light on nutrition as a general topic or not…only you can decide. What I will be able to do is put similar empthasis on the nutrition topics that I will highlight as part of my next info PDF.

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