Whether you are training for a cycling sportive in Sligo, a Marathon in Mayo, a Triathlon in Tralee an Ironman in Inishowen an Enduro event in Enniskillen, there’s something here that can give a massive boost to your performance nutrition and diet for the big day.

These are cutting edge nutrition principles that can give lots of great performances.

I Had a great discussion with Dr Crionna Tobin of Fuel and Perform over a cup of Coffee this week to go through a number of questions posed by some cyclists that I know or coach.

The discussion was very detailed as it usually is with someone of the calibre and experience of Crionna

We decided that the following questions covered most of the questions posed.

The questions

Q1 When doing fasted rides, in terms of timing, how best to fuel after the ride to extract the biggest benefit and what to eat?

Q 2: How should I fuel for a race and during a race?

Q 3: How should diet vary during the week, training days versus rest days?

Q 4 : How much protein should a cyclist eat for recovery?

Q 5: What foods should I avoid?

Q 6: What is your opinion on diets were that replace carbohydrates with fats?

Q 7: Lots of sports supplements out there, what should endurance athletes use if any?

She went away and answered the questions in great details. These are crucial questions that impact on performance and health of all endurance athletes.

Before we begin lets look at Dr Tobins background in Sport and nutrition.

Dr. Crionna Tobin, PhD, RSENr

Her background in sports nutrition Dr. Crionna Tobin, PhD, RSENr

A good diet matters

Food and fitness go together

Dr Crionna Tobin is recognised as one of the highest profile sports nutritionists in Ireland. Working in the sports nutrition industry. For the last 8 years she has gained a wealth of experience working with and educating many high profile teams and International athletes.

A PhD graduate of Dublin City University in the area of exercise physiology and nutrition, and a registered performance nutritionist, Crionna is driven by a passion to educate and inspire athletes on the powerful role nutrition plays in enhancing all aspects of performance.

Her approach to nutrition is balanced and flexible as she understands the practical day to day challenges people face in the area of nutrition & diet.

Her advice is based on the latest evidence based nutrition & performance nutrition research and moulded into individualised plans for each athlete based on their needs and goals.

Her message of food first is one that is delivered in an understandable, practical and enjoyable style.  She is excited about sharing her knowledge in an engaging and creative fashion to help each individual to achieve their sporting goals .

Training low

Q 1 : When doing fasted rides, in terms of timing, how best to fuel after the ride to extract the biggest benefit and what to eat?

A: I assume by training fasted you are referring to the ‘Train Low’ concept, which refers to training with low carbohydrate availability in terms of both dietary and stored carbohydrate (glycogen).

Training in this state has been found to enhance signalling pathways and upregulate enzymes involved in both carbohydrate and fat metabolism which ultimately enhances endurance training adaptations and performance.

Mitochondria

Both endurance and high intensity training sessions promote training adaptations which increase volume and size of the mitochondria. Mitochondria are the power plants of the muscle where carbohydrate and fat are broken down to provide fuel to the contracting muscle.

Recent studies have however found that manipulating carbohydrate around endurance training, particularly its restriction tends to increase mitochondrial mass more so than training when fully fuelled https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29498691.

The more mitochondrial mass the more efficient your fuel economy as you can use both carbohydrate and fat at greater absolute intensities during endurance exercise which has been found to improve performance.

Sleep low

There are a number of ways in which to apply the Train Low strategy however in relation to your question the best way to enhance training adaptations after a fasted ride is to restrict carbohydrates in the hours post exercise, perhaps even sleeping low (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26741119). This implies not eating any carbohydrate until breakfast time, which would obviously only be a strategy if your session was in the evening time

Protein

Note how heavily muscled this track sprint specialist is

However, it is critical that protein is supplemented after this training session either through a whey protein shake, food or both to minimise muscle protein breakdown and subsequent muscle loss. Eating protein in the recovery period will not interfere with the muscle adaptations but enhance the ability of the muscles to recovery.

Watch outs

There are a number of watch outs when training low:

  1. Ensure that the session is of low to moderate intensity. Reduced carbohydrate availability means reduced fuel stores for intense training. Pushing the body to try to complete sessions at high intensity could lead to illness and/or injury and will in general need much more effort.
  2. Training fasted or with low carbohydrate does not implying training with a low or no carbohydratediet. It simply means restricting carbohydrate around training but consuming the same volume of daily carbohydrate as you would normally just increasing your intake at other points during the day to compensate for the reduced intake around training
  3. This strategy should be seen as a training tool and not a method of continuous training. It should be used in conjunction with well fuelling, high carbohydrate performance sessions.
  4. Always recover with a protein meal or shake to reduce muscle protein breakdown and minimise any negative effects of muscle loss on muscular endurance.
  5. Training low reduces exercise intensity of the session and/or increases your perception of effort; however, studies have found consumption of caffeine before and/or during training can increase session intensity. Note that I do not recommend the use of caffeine for those U18.

 Should you wait extra time after the ride then take on more carbs and protein?

There is roughly a 90 minute window of opportunity for carbohydrate replenishment after exercise and research has found that the rate of carbohydrate uptake into the muscle is faster at this time than another other. This will ensure that for your next session you will be able to train again at a high intensity and /or maintain intensity for a longer ride. If, however you goal is to maximise training adaptations as I referred to in the above answer you should restrict carbohydrate.

However, you will need to replenish your carbohydrate stores before your next training session to support intensity, strength and power. Protein should never be restricted in the recovery period. Consuming protein will support muscle protein synthesis, reduce breakdown and minimise any negative effects on power, strength and muscular endurance.

It depends on your recovery goal. If the session has been high intensity or very long and glycogen stores are likely low and if you have another similar session within 24-36 h then you should be replenishing these carbohydrate stores as close to the end of the first session as possible.

Ultimately, endurance training performance will be maximised through both fasted and well fuelled sessions as both induce training adaptations. An individual and periodised approach should always be considered when planning different nutrition strategies to compliment training.

Race Fuel

Q2  How should I fuel for a race or sportive?

getting the gears right for cycling

Gears for the long mountains

A: Fuelling for a race should ideally start 24-36 h before the race depending on the length of the race. The longer the race the more fuel you need to maintain intensity on the bike for the duration. Therefore, your main food focus should be around increasing your carbohydrate intake before and during the race.

Increase your carbohydrate intake before the race by adding an extra portion (1-2 Tbsp.) of carbohydrate foods (oats, pasta, rice, potatoes, bread) to each main meal, while also incorporating snacks high in carbs throughout the day such as these delicious banana bites or a carb loaded smoothie.

On race day you should eat your normal breakfast with extra carbohydrate. It’s easy to increase carbohydrate at this meal as it is easy to incorporate high carbohydrate foods into this meal; breakfast cereal, bread, orange juice. Aim also to eat a sugary carbohydrate snack 60 minutes before the race to top up carbohydrate stores, i.e. energy bar, handful of dried fruit etc..

  1. Carbohydrate intake during the race will also improve performance by maintaining blood sugar levels and in very prolonged races providing the muscle with fuel. How much carbohydrate you need per hour to sustain performance depends on the length of the race;
  2. Breakfast
  3. Carbohydrate fuels the muscle during competition allowing you to sustain a higher intensity for longer during the race and to move from 5th to 6th gear when the race requires https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26553495.
  • < 120 min consume 30g of carbohydrate per hour and and/or use a carbohydrate mouth rinse
  • > 120 mins consume 60g per hour. For the muscle to use 60g/h or more per hour the carbohydrate needs to contain multiple forms of carbohydrate, e.g. glucose + fructose or glucose + fructose + sucrose.
High speed Cycling in the Phoenix PArk

Mark Kiernan on the attack in the Phoenix Park

Research has found that using multiple sources of carbohydrate improve performance better than single sources particularly when events last more than 2.5 h. This is simply because multiple carbohydrate sources are absorbed by different transporters in the guy and therefore more carbohydrate gets into the body.

Gels, bars and fruit may also be used to hit your target carbohydrate intake per hour and what you use or what combination is generally down to personal preference. Gels and drinks are absorbed at a similar rate however bars should be low in fat and protein to enhance absorption.

As with all race days strategies it is essential that all of these strategies, timings and foods/supplements are trialled on training days. High doses of carbohydrate may cause gastrointestinal distress.

Daily Carbohydrate Intake

In general, daily carbohydrate intakes should range from 8-12g per kg body weight on race day depending on the length of the race. I recommend using an online calories counter app to calculate how much carbohydrate you are eating to see if you are hitting your target intake.

More carbohydrate for better performance

The majority of athletes I work with tend to be way off the mark and find that once they increase their intake, particularly around intense training blocks and competition their performance also improves.

Weekly diet

Q 3: How should diet vary during the week, training days versus rest days?

A: This is a great question as the majority of athlete’s diets don’t change regardless of whether they are training or not. On training days, the body needs more energy particularly to fuel and recovery appropriately after the training session.

In particular the athlete should increase their intake of carbohydrate particularly if the session has been intense or prolonged. The increased carbohydrate should be timed around training, giving the athlete more energy to training and the appropriate amount of carbohydrate to replenish stores used during training.

In general carbohydrate recommendations for a training day should be between 5-8g per kilogram body weight depending on the volume and intensity of training and the athlete’s body composition goals. In general protein intake should remain the same on both training and rest days to support muscle recovery and prevent muscle any muscle loss and negative impacts on strength and power.

Fat intake may increase during rest days to compensate for some of the calories lost by reduced carbohydrate intake. Studies have found that diets which contain 30% of total calories from fat are performance enhancing compared to low fat diets. However, when carbohydrate intakes are high to support performance fat intake can be low to stay within daily calorie recommended goals to maintain weight.

Protein and recovery

Q 4 : How much protein should a cyclist eat for recovery?

A: Protein is a seriously important nutrient for recovery providing the body with key elements to repair, regenerate and remodel the muscle after exercise. Each time you exercise there is some degree of muscle damage, the more intense and prolonged the session the more damage and therefore the increased need for protein.

Endurance athletes often neglect their protein intake as traditionally it was incorrectly associated with increasing muscle bulk and size. Eating protein cannot increase muscle size unless the muscle is stimulated through an appropriate resistance training plan, protein simply compliment your training programme.

An endurance athlete needs protein to support muscle repair and to some extent growth after each session which is essential to provide your legs with the power to perform.

Endurance training however primarily drives the growth of mitochondrial proteins in the muscle. The mitochondria are the power plants of the muscle where carbohydrate and fat are broken down to provide fuel to the contracting muscle. Protein is needed to facilitate their increasing size and volume the more trained you become allowing you to use fuel more efficiently increasing your performance economy.

Eating the right amount of protein per day for your body weight and training will enhance these training adaptations and ultimately your performance.

Protein is made up from amino acids which are the building blocks of muscle. As protein is not stored in the body it needs a continuous supply of protein through food to support repair and recovery.

Research recommends an intake of between 1.2-1.8g of protein per kg body weight per day for the endurance athlete, so if you are 75 kg (75 x 1.8) this is 135g/d. To support muscle repair and growth I advise spreading out your protein intake evenly throughout the day ingesting roughly 0.4g of protein t per meal, which would be 30g (75 x 0.4) per meal.

This is easy to achieve in a main dinner type meal but may need some planning for breakfast, lunch and snacking, try this tasty protein packed Quinoa recovery salad for lunch to increase your protein intake this week.

Although,I recommend trying to get all your protein from food first in some instances this is not as ways possible and supplementing with whey protein can be a convenient solution to increase protein intake in meals and throughout the day without compromising on quality.

Whey protein can be easily added to porridge, smoothies, yogurts to increase the protein content of meals and snack. Whey protein is also an ideal option for the fast delivery of amino acids to the muscle after an intense training session.

Although there has been some controversy in the scientific community around whether the ingestion of protein after exercise is warranted for recovery, there is no doubt amongst practicing sports nutritionists that this is a great opportunity to maximise muscle recovery to enhance training adaptations.

Protein should be a vital part of your recovery. Its role in repair and regeneration will allow the body to adapt appropriately to your training session so you are able to train more intensely for your next session. The more intensely you can train and recover the more you can push the body to ultimately drive performance improvements.

Foods to avoid

Q 5: What foods should I avoid?

A: Unless you are intolerant or allergic to foods there are none which I would recommend you avoid. There are however foods that I recommend you minimise for health and performance.

Carbohydrates which are refined and high in added sugar such as sugary breakfast cereals, confectionary, sports drinks, etc., should only be consumed around training. These types of carbohydrate give the body a fast deliver of sugar before, during and or after training to support energy and recovery.

However, at all other times the carbohydrate in your diet should come from healthier wholegrain carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables to provide the body with not only energy but also essential vitamins and minerals.

It will come as no surprise to you that junk food such as confectionary, crisps, biscuits, take-aways etc. should also be minimised. In fact a 2018 study (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29328911) found that mice eating a fast food diet experienced changes to their immune system similar to those that occur during a bacterial infection.

Eating a diet high in sugar, fat and salt and low in fruit, vegetables and fibre increased the number of immune cells in the blood. The scary part of this research is that even when the mice went back to eating their normal healthy cereal diet the immune system was pre-programmed to be more sensitive the next time they ate fast food. The fast food actually changed their genetic material making them more inflammatory after future visits to McDonalds!

What does this mean for humans; I speculate that fast food causes a similar inflammatory response in our body. Eating a fast food diet may result in the body’s immune system becoming more programmed to react to unhealthy food more easily causing inflammation and the problems associated with it such as diabetes and/or cardiovascular disease.

The more you nourish the body with foods that contain micronutrients, antioxidants, phytonutrients and other health promoting nutrients the healthier the body which will only have a positive knock on effect on performance.

Carbs versus Fats

Q 6: What is your opinion on diets that replace carbohydrates with fats?

A: It depends what aspect of these diets you want my opinion on but if it is in reference to performance I think that these diets do not support performance athletes.

Replacing carbohydrate with fat means that the muscle will use fat as the body’s predominate fuel source. As fat can only be broken down aerobically exercise intensity is reduced.

Fuelling the body with carbohydrate allows the body to exercise at much higher intensities. Without carbohydrate the body has no capacity to kick into 6th gear and support a sprint and/or series of sprints. Ultimately, scientific studies have proven time and time again that if performance is your goal, if you want to achieve better times and win races carbohydrate is the most important fuel source.

Sports Nutrition Supplements

Q 7: Lots of sports supplements out there, what should endurance athletes use if any?

A: Firstly, it is important to recognise that supplements are exactly that, they are manufactured to supplement an already healthy performance enhancing nutrition plan. The food you eat provides you with more powerful nutrients to support health and training than any supplement on the market.

However, supplements, when taken appropriately can complement a healthy diet and further enhance training adaptations and competition nutrition. For a cyclist my top 3 supplements are as follows:

  1. Carbohydrate + Protein Recovery Powder
  2. I find it easier when working with cyclists to manipulate their carbohydrate and protein goals using separate powders but each individual will have different needs and preferences.
  3. Similarly, you may want to use your carbohydrate solution before and/or during rides to supplement your glycogen stores when there is not a need for protein.

For example, you may find it difficult to hit 20-30g of protein at breakfast time but hit your carbohydrate goals easily so a whey protein supplement could help you in this instance.

Depending on your daily carb and protein goals it may also be beneficial to have separate carbohydrate and whey protein powders which you can mix and match to more accurately achieve your fuelling and recovery goals.

In this instance consuming a carbohydrate + protein powder allows you to consume a large number of macronutrients in a low volume. A typical recovery product can provide 80g of carbs and 25g of protein in 500 ml of water.

  1. Daily intakes of carbohydrate and protein may reach above 500g and 150g respectively. When you consider a large bowl of pasta is 100g of carbohydrate and a chicken breast is 30g of protein this can amount to a considerable amount of food to be eaten to hit your recommended target intakes.
  2. Ideally an athlete should get all of their carbohydrate and protein from food. However, when training loads are high and fuelling and recovery is a priority daily carbohydrate and protein recommendations will also be increased.
  3. Carbohydrate powders/drinks/gels/bars

Carbohydrate is the most important fuel source for a rider to sustain intense training and maintain competition pace. Therefore, during rides, particularly, those lasting > 2h it is a vital fuelling strategy.

Carbohydrate intake during the race supports performance by maintaining blood sugar levels and in very prolonged races providing the muscle with fuel. How much carbohydrate you need per hour to sustain performance depends on the length of the race;

  • < 120 min consume 30g of carbohydrate per hour and and/or use a carbohydrate mouth rinse
  • > 120 mins consume 60g per hour. For the muscle to use 60g/h or more per hour the carbohydrate needs to contain multiple forms of carbohydrate, e.g. glucose + fructose or glucose + fructose + sucrose.

Research has found that using multiple sources of carbohydrate improve performance better than single sources particularly when events last more than 2.5 h. This is simply because multiple carbohydrate sources are absorbed by different transporters in the guy and therefore more carbohydrate gets into the body.

Gels, bars and fruit may also be used to hit your target carbohydrate intake per hour and what you use or what combination is generally down to personal preference. Gels and drinks are absorbed at a similar rate however bars should be low in fat and protein to enhance absorption.

As with all fuelling strategies it is essential that they are trialled on training days. High doses of carbohydrate may cause gastrointestinal distress.

Caffeine

Caffeine  The performance benefits of caffeine have been found in doses as low as 1-2 mg per kilogram of body weight. This implies that if you are 80 kg a dose of 80-160 mg may improve your performance. However, everyone has a specific tolerance to caffeine depending on their day to day consumption. Some people may need 3-6 mg/kg body weight to feel similar effects particularly if they are used to consuming lots of coffee on a day to day basis. Individual Response

When racing caffeine has been found to have positive performance effects when taken both before and/or during the race. Depending on the length of the race caffeine can be taken at different strategic points throughout or 40-60 minutes before your most important sprint/climb part of the race to give you that performance boost to leave your competitors in the dust!

Caffeine is a great performance tool and without doubt improves endurance performance. However, it should be trialled and tested in training and should not be used unless you have a good performance diet in place first. Caffeine should also never be used by those under 18 and its effects can be more potent and detrimental to performance but more importantly health.

Others react negatively to caffeine supplements and don’t like the feel that caffeine supplements have on them at all, so it is very individual response to the supplement and its dosage.

 Performance benefits

This basically means that the exercise bout feels easier to complete and therefore times and effort are usually improved as the rider can push themselves more.

There is a mountain of scientific evidence to support the positive effects of caffeine and endurance performance. Caffeine taken 15-60 minutes before exercise exerts an effect on the central nervous system resulting in reduced perception of effort and/or reduced perception of fatigue.

Supplements are taken entirely at the risk of the athlete and therefore you should choose a supplement based on your need, risk and being fully aware of the consequences if the supplement is contaminated. Use the inform sport http://www.informed-sport.com/ website to assess whether supplements have being batch tested or go directly to the manufacturer. Some reputable manufactures have specific sites you can order batch tested product from directly. For more information on the safety of supplements go to Sport Ireland

For cutting sports nutrition information follow Fuel and Perform   

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