Colin Allan is a professional rugby-player-turned-PT and performance coach, with a specialist interest in hyper-tailored training and nutrition. In this blog post, Colin continues on from his previous nutrition post…..
Now having read my article on general nutrition you probably think that that is that, however as with many things in the world of nutrition…..not quite. As I’ve already written ideally as much if not all of our nutritional needs will come from natural, nutrient rich high fibre sources however given our increasingly frenetic and stressful lives plus the need to recover from an increasingly demanding training schedule, being pragmatic, help will be needed. For the majority of athletes the first stop are supplements and the first issue here is to decipher what we need from what the supplements industry wants to sell us.
Always bare in mind that the supplements industry in the U.K. was worth £670million in 2008 and has grown considerably since then. A Mintel report highlights that one on four U.K. Adults admits to using a sports supplement in the last 3 months and the sports market is worth £66million and growing. Like any industry it’s primary goal is to sell as much as possible and just as the market has expanded so has the range of products making the selection more baffling than ever. Fortunately research can helps us unfortunately all of the products discussed here merit an article each however here I’ll skim over the most effective.
The consensus of research supports the use of the following supplements for endurance athletes however there are conditions to when and why one might use them.
First up always buy from a reputable company, the likelihood of being asked for a ‘pee’ test after a 4hr marathon are fairly minimal but you still want to know what you are putting in your body. A 2004 study found that 18.9% of supplements tested contained or were contaminated with pro-hormones. The informed-sport.com website provides a list of certified brands and products that are guaranteed clean.
Multi-Vitamins: Although there is only moderate support for a multivitamin but strong evidence for anti-oxidants, a broad spectrum multivitamin and mineral supplement is however generally recommended. If no deficiency exists then there is little evidence that this will improve your performance but if you are struggling to consume enough whole foods and you are particularly stressed it can act as an ‘insurance policy’ against falling ill. It may also be wise to use a multi-vitamin if you have cut back on calories to loose some weight so any potential deficit is covered.
Meal Replacement: Next we will want to consume the right calories at the right time in order to optimise recovery from the impact of training. A great way to do this is to consume a mixture of carbohydrate and protein after training, if this can’t be done via whole foods a meal replacement powder with a ratio of approx 2g of carbohydrate to 1g of protein, so 40g:20g will help replenish muscle glycogen and repair muscle tissue. A couple of years ago chocolate milk was all the rage however 500ml has around 50g of sugars so be careful if you are trying to lose weight. These types of products can also be used to simply address the issue of consuming enough calories to sustain training volume and therefore recover from training together with the stresses of daily life however they should not be used at the expense of whole foods.
Carbohydrates: For many pre and during training carbohydrate consumption should be limited to longer (+75mins) runs only. Our daily carbohydrate intake will be sufficient to replenish glycogen stores unless we are already on a low carbohydrate diet in which case it will be necessary to augment our intake. We’ll really only know if we monitor our weight along with our hip to waist and how we feel in particular if our legs start to feel ‘heavy’. If you want to load up pre-run use a jumbo porridge flake based meal, boosting fibre and zinc to boot. Getting used to consuming a carbohydrate and electrolyte solution is important for the big day and during longer runs attention should be paid to hydration and electrolytes both before and during. Drinking too much water alone can result in hyponatremia. A potentially fatal condition that results in swelling of the brain.
Caffeine: Caffeine stimulates our central nervous system and is the worlds most consumed psychoactive drug. It has been well proven to enhance endurance performance however there are some caveats. If you already consume a lot of caffeine any benefit from consuming a pre-exercise caffeine drink or supplement will be minimal or the dose needs to be so great that it can interfere with our nervous system and produce trembling, nausea, nervousness and headaches. Sports performance benefits most when the dose is low to moderate caffeine consumption therefore it is best to minimise consumption beyond that taken before exercise.
Five take home points:
- Always buy from an informed-sport.com approved manufacturer
- Consider a broad spectrum multivitamin and mineral supplement
- Consume a Carbohydrate:Protein meal or meal replacement after training
- Don’t use meal replacements to substitute for whole food
- To benefit from caffeine use, minimise casual drinking from tea, coffee and soft drinks
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Ref: Ch. 13 Nutrition For Endurance and Ultra-Endurance Training Bosch A. & Smit K. Sport & Exercise Nutrition Latham-New S., Stear S., Sheriffs S. and Collins A.
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