Nutrient timing can be very beneficial for athletes

This weeks guest blog in Nutrition Corner comes from Matt Lomas at Diet Doc Derbyshire

Ready. Set. Go!

And don’t forget your kilogram tub of Haribo sweets.

As humans, we love extremes in all walks of life, and it’s no different with endurance athletes.

Give me the quickest, sickliest carbs I can find and this race is mine.

Nutrient timing can be very beneficial for athletes but it’s not magic. It won’t suddenly transform your physique or performance but it can certainly, and often does work.

It’s a tool for your tool box, every situation doesn’t require the same tool. Depending on a number of things (Duration, intensity, competition or practice) your approach is probably going to want to be different each time.

If you’re competing and you want to be primed for the race then the weeks before and the run up to the race are going to serve you well (consistency as always). You may want to subtly increase your carbohydrate intake on the run up to the race.

Having 10 bowls of pasta the night before will probably lead to a lot of new body fat being stored and a gut load that will leave you wanting more than a port-a-loo.

So what are we wanting from pre-work nutrition? Here are some things I would look for…

– Sustained energy

– Enhanced performance

– Hydration

– Preserve muscle mass

– Speed up recovery

So let’s break it down further…

Eat some Protein

This is going to enable you to maintain the muscle you already have and hopefully help increase muscle size a little too. The more adapted to the exercise you are the better and faster your recovery will be.

Eat carbs

Most will eat carbs alone in the run up to an endurance event. Carbs will be beneficial and should be added to a meal but the suggestion of sugary carb drinks might not be necessary. Those can be more beneficial in high intensity situations.

Eating carbs will stimulate the release of insulin so when combined with protein will prevent protein (muscle) breakdown.

The preservation of muscle & Liver glycogen (stored carbs) is going to be a main factor behind muscle retention too.

Little fat intake

Fats don’t appear to improve or diminish endurance performance – that’s what carbs are for.

They don’t help slow digestion down a significant amount either so I would try to keep fat intake moderate to low, just what you’re typical day to day fat consumption would be. It is necessary for vitamins and minerals but a full tub of Whole Earth peanut butter won’t do to much for you. Save the calories for carbs!

Depending on your genetics, metabolic rate and other lifestyle variables, shoot for a well-structured meal (as mentioned above) 2-3 hours before the event and you should be good to go. This gives you plenty of time for digestion. If you like to have something closer to the event, an option would be a protein shake with fruit and a few nuts.

Now let’s take a look at what our aim might be after the event…

– Recovery

– Rehydration

– Refuel

– Build muscle

– Improve future performance

Protein after exercise

Eating protein after exercise is going to help prevent protein breakdown and stimulate protein synthesis – ideal for better recovery, adaptation and performance.

Older research suggested that quicker releasing protein like whey and hydrolysed was the route to take but more up to date literature is suggesting that it’s the protein before the event that’s going to be a bigger factor.

So either whole food choices or powders will be beneficial in a similar way. Shoot for 40-60g if you’re male & 20-30g if you’re female.

Carbs after exercise

It’s unnecessary to stuff yourself with refined carbs and sugars to ‘spike’ insulin. A mix of whole food and some fruit will do the job. I would say this would be a better choice as it will be better tolerated, restore glycogen equally over 24hrs and it may also lead to truer performance the next day.

If you are exercising twice in the same day or exercising for more than 3 hours straight then the super quick glycogen replenishment may suit your needs – different horses, different courses!

Fats post event

The first thing you think of after the event will probably be quick releasing carbs (and a beer). Fats may have their place though!

There seems to be some evidence suggesting that increases in fat post workout may have some benefits of its own, so could be beneficial in small amounts.

Fat shouldn’t get in the way of protein and carbs nor should they be a buried thought.

Whatever the sport, whatever the event, context is always key and like most situations with nutrition & exercise, subtle changes will always beat crazy extremes.

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