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Five Top Sports Nutrition Tips

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Are you planning to take part in a physical endurance event or fun run in 2013? Whether it's a long distance run, an ocean swim, a bike ride - or all three - we can all benefit from the best preparation possible. Leading Sports Dietitian Lorna Garden gives some great, practical insights to help you improve your preparation, performance and recovery - LEGALLY!


There are many strategies athletes can employ to improve their performance through diet. This area of research has grown considerably over the last  10-15 years, increasing our knowledge regarding high performance eating tactics.  Following are some key tips to help any active person optimise their health and their fitness.

Find the right fuel mix for your sport

The foods you eat each day provide the macronutrients to  fuel your body for exercise.  Different foods provide different proportions of carbohydrate, protein, and fat. Along with alcohol, which we don’t include as a major fuel source for many reasons (!), these three key  macronutrients  provide energy to our muscles, brain, and major organs,  along with vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients, and are vital for many functions in the body.

Much research over the years has gone into determining the proportions of these nutrients for best fuelling different types of exercise.   Whilst there is little doubt that we will continue to refine this knowledge, there are some general recommendations that we now understand to be useful for most active people. 

Carbohydrates and Protein

In summary, carbohydrate  provides the main fuel for exercising muscles, both in short duration (e.g. sprints) and long duration (distance running) type activities.  The longer the duration of the exercise, the more carbohydrate is used, so athletes doing endurance sports like triathlon, marathon running, ironman/woman, road cycling, and adventure racingwill require more carbohydrate each day than those involved in shorter duration events.   It is important to remember however, that many athletes competing in shorter events such as swimming, track events, and team sports, will often train for extended periods of time, which means that they may also have quite high carbohydrate needs during training periods.

As a guide, an intake of around 5 to 7 g of carbohydrate per kg body weight per day is recommended for general training needs and from 7 to 10 g/kg/day for athletes such as endurance athletes with increased carbohydrate needs.  This means anywhere from 350 - 700grams of carbohydrate a day for a 70kg athlete.   

Every active person also needs adequate protein.  People who are training hard require more protein than those who are less active; however, most athletes achieve their protein intake through the increased amounts of food they eat.   Most active people will need somewhere between 0.8 – 1.7 grams of protein per kg body weight per day. For a 70 kg athlete this is around 56 – 119 grams of protein per day.   Those looking to gain lean body mass may need as much as 2.0 grams per kg body weight, however once again, these amounts are not difficult to achieve with a well-planned high energy eating program.    It is important to spread protein intake out regularly over the day and to aim for a high protein, high carbohydrate snack immediately after intensive exercise to improve muscle recovery.

To check how much carbohydrate and protein you eat each day, download the app EasyDietDiary and enter your usual food intake over three or four days.  This information can then be used by a sports dietitian to plan a personalised program for you if required.

The nutrient most athletes don’t require more of is fat.  Whilst, healthy unsaturated fats such as those found in fish, nuts, seeds, olives, and avocado are important for many functions in our body, and should be included each day, saturated and trans fats however should be consumed in small amounts.  Apart from negative health effects, foods rich in these fats such as pastries, chips, processed meats, doughnuts, cakes and biscuits, can replace important carbohydrate and protein rich foods needed for training and recovery.

Most research suggests that long-term high fat eating interferes with optimal training gains.


Up the Anti(oxidants)

There is increasing evidence that many natural foods, in particular, fresh fruit and vegetables, contain an absolute myriad of important compounds with antioxidant activity.   Antioxidants protect the body from molecules known as reactive oxygen species (ROS).  During exercise the production of ROS increases, and if not neutralized by antioxidants, they have the potential to damage cells and reduce the body’s ability to perform, as well as increase the risk of diseases such as cancer and heart disease.   It makes sense then, for active people, to maximize their intake of dietary antioxidants.

Antioxidants include the vitamins A, C and E, and the minerals copper, zinc and selenium.  In plant foods, compounds known as phytochemicals are believed to have even greater antioxidant effects than vitamins or minerals.

Good sources of antioxidants include:

• Allium sulphur compounds - leeks, onions and garlic.

• Anthocyanins - eggplant, grapes and berries.

• Beta-carotene - pumpkin, mangoes, apricots, carrots, spinach and parsley.

• Catechins - red wine and tea.

• Copper - seafood, lean meat, milk and nuts.

• Cryptoxanthins - red capsicum, pumpkin and mangoes.

• Flavonoids - tea, green tea, citrus fruits, red wine, onion and apples.

• Indoles - cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.

• Isoflavonoids - soybeans, tofu, lentils, peas and milk.

• Lignans - sesame seeds, bran, whole grains and vegetables.

• Lutein - leafy greens like spinach, and corn.

• Lycopene - tomatoes, pink grapefruit and watermelon.

• Manganese - seafood, lean meat, milk and nuts.

• Polyphenols - thyme and oregano.

• Selenium - seafood, offal, lean meat and whole grains.

• Vitamin C - oranges, blackcurrants, kiwi fruit, mangoes, broccoli, spinach, capsicum and strawberries.

• Vitamin E - vegetable oils (such as wheatgerm oil), avocados, nuts, seeds and whole grains.

• Zinc - seafood, lean meat, milk and nuts.


source: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcpdf.nsf/ByPDF/Antioxidants/$File/Antioxidants.pdf


Be inspired to enjoy a rainbow of different fruits and vegetables each day to maximize your natural antioxidant intake.


Plan for recovery

Most athletes quickly establish what food and drinks they feel comfortable with before they train or compete. More often than not, however, what is consumed after exercise is not given much consideration. Recent research suggests that the foods and fluids consumed immediately after exhaustive endurance exercise can have an important impact on how quickly the body recovers from that session.   In particularly, meeting carbohydrate, protein and fluid needs is a priority.

Current thinking is that consuming around 0.2-0.4g/kg/hr of protein along with 0.8g/kg/hr of carbohydrate within around 15 – 30 minutes after exercise can help stimulate insulin release and therefore glycogen replenishment at an increased rate.  Having carbohydrate at this time may also help reduce stress hormone production, therefore having a positive effect on the immune system.

Protein, or more specifically amino acids, in particular leucine, are essential in the immediate recovery period for the promotion of muscle protein synthesis, critical for muscle recovery and adaptation.

In practical terms, this means that a 60 kg athlete, will need to have around 20 grams of protein and 50 grams of carbohydrate soon after the completion of a training session.  Examples of foods and fluids that contain this include:

·      600ml flavoured low fat milk

·      2 tubs fruit yogurt

·      1 Sustagen Sport &  slice of bread with peanut butter

·      Roll with tuna & salad, small fruit salad

·      Protein shake (providing 20g protein) and 600ml sports drink


Remember these amounts are for athletes completing exhaustive exercise lasting longer than 60 minutes.  Lighter sessions will require smaller amounts of food for recovery.

Equally important is replacing fluid losses that have occurred, as quickly as possible.  A sports drink (carbohydrate/electrolyte drink) can be useful when large amounts of fluid have been lost, otherwise water is the drink of choice.


The art of Hydration


Knowing how much water to drink each day can be tricky, whether you are an Olympic athlete or a weekend warrior.   Various amounts are thrown around from time to time – 2 litres a day, 6 – 8 glasses etc., however, the truth is, that drinking enough to stay well hydrated is really quite personal.

There is little doubt that as dehydration increases, physical and mental performance decreases.  Dehydration can compromise performance in high-intensity exercise as well as endurance activities. Training and competing in a well hydrated state is a clever strategy for optimising your performance. 

Getting to know your sweat rate can help you determine how much you need to drink under different exercise conditions. Sports dietitians routinely measure an athlete’s sweat rate during training and competition in a range of environmental conditions, to provide them with the information required to design an individual fluid plan.

A simple strategy to work out your individual fluid loss is to weigh yourself in minimal clothing, before and after an exercise or training session.  The difference in weight is roughly equivalent to your total fluid losses.  e.g. 1kg = 1 litre.    Repeat this in different exercise situations to gauge usual sweat losses. You will then have an idea of the volume of fluid you need to consume over an exercise session to match your fluid losses.  If you are dehydrated after a session, you should aim to replace 120-150% of fluid losses that occur over the next 2-6 hours.  Aim to drink at frequent intervals during exercise to replace sweat losses as they occur.  Water is generally the best choice for fluid replacement, although in some high intensity and endurance sports, an athlete may benefit from the use of a carbohydrate/electrolyte sports drink. To minimise fluid loss, make sure you begin an exercise session in a well hydrated state.   Checking that your urine is a pale straw color and is copious in volume is a good indicator of being well hydrated. Believe it or not, there are now apps for smart phones to help you assess your daily hydration status by interpreting the color of your urine in conjunction with a weight change from the previous day! 

There is no benefit to overhydrating (and in fact chronic over hydration can lead to a potentially serious condition known as hyponatremia) so it is good to learn as much as you can about your individual fluid requirements. 



Secret weapons?

Despite what the growing number of supplement manufacturers will try and convince you, there is no magic pill or potion that will substitute for a great training program, well planned eating strategies, and positive sports psychology.  However, if you have got all of these fundamentals sorted, and take your sport fairly seriously, there are a couple of ergogenic aids that have growing research suggesting they may be useful under certain conditions, for those looking for an extra edge.


Instead of a coffee before your next long run, it might be time to reach for the beetroot juice. A growing number of studies are reporting that nitrates can improve exercise performance by reducing energy cost, thereby increasing energy efficiency. It is believed that nitrates in food are converted to nitric oxide in the mouth and the stomach, and it is nitric oxide that has beneficial effects on sports performance.

Nitrates are highest in green, leafy vegetables such as celery, lettuce, rocket, spinach and beetroot. Beetroot juice is a concentrated and palatable way of ingesting nitrates and is used in much of the research. Studies reporting benefits have used around 300mg nitrates, taken up to 2 hours prior to endurance exercise, although more research is needed to determine ideal timing and dosages. This amount of nitrate can be found in approx. 250-300g of nitrate rich vegetables such as rocket, spinach, bok choy, broccoli or beetroot. Alternatively around 200 – 500ml of beetroot juice will offer similar doses (less for beetroot ‘shots



Creatine is a compound which is found in muscles either as free creatine or as creatine phosphate. We turnover around 2 grams of creatine a day, and this comes from dietary intake (animal muscle foods such as meat, poultry and eggs) and from that manufactured by our bodies from amino acids.

Creatine phosphate is an important component for the resynthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which is the primary fuel source during maximal exercise (e.g. 5-10 second sprints).  

There have now been many studies published that indicate that creatine supplementation can increase muscle creatine content and improve exercise capacity and performance.   The most consistent evidence is for creatine supplementation improving recovery between repeated bouts of high-intensity exercise with short rest periods (e.g. weight training, resistance training, boxing, many team sports and racquet sports). 

It does not appear to be of any benefit to endurance or aerobic activities, possibly even being detrimental as a result of small weight gains associated with creatine loading.

Creatine supplementation is generally taken in a loading regime consisting of 20-30 g of creatine per day for around 5-7 days. Generally, this is split into four or five 5 g doses over the day to help sustain plasma creatine levels.  Eating a large amount of carbohydrate (about 70-100 g) with each dose increases creatine uptake via the stimulatory effects of insulin, so it is a good idea to have the creatine doses along with a meal or al carbohydrate-rich snack.  A smaller daily dose of  3-5 g can be taken however, this can take up to a month for muscles to become loaded with creatine.

Typically, creatine loading increases total creatine and creatine phosphate by 25% above resting levels. The response is individual and some athletes may improve their stores by 50%. Some research has suggested that athletes whose levels are initially lowest might respond best to supplementation. Obviously only those who can achieve a substantial increase in muscle creatine levels will show improved performance.  

Creatine loading is associated with an immediate weight gain of around 1kg which is likely to be as a result of fluid stored with the creatine inside the muscle cell.  A number of athletes continue to gain weight (often more than 5kg) over the next months, and believe this to be mainly muscle gain.  This is likely to be due to the athlete training harder and more effectively when loaded, particularly in the gym. Researchers are investigating whether there is any direct increase in muscle protein synthesis or increased cellular volume, in response to creatine supplementation.

Supplementing with creatine will provide only a small improvement in performance in a small number of people, and is most suitable for those competing at a high level, in repeated sprint type activities.



Caffeine is a compound that is found naturally occurring in the leaves, beans and fruit of some plants.  It is widely consumed by a large proportion of the adult population in Australia in the form of coffee, tea, cola drinks, energy drinks and chocolate.

It has long been believed to help improve athletic performance, and until 2004 was listed on the World Anti-Doping Agency Prohibited List.  It has since been removed based on the recognition that caffeine enhances performance at doses that are indistinguishable from everyday caffeine use, and that the previous practice of monitoring caffeine use via urinary caffeine concentrations is not reliable. WADA does, however, continue to test urinary caffeine concentrations within its Monitoring program to investigate patterns of misuse of substances in sport.

Caffeine is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and has a number of effects on the body’s tissues and organs. The actions may vary between individuals and include both positive and negative responses.  

Research in recent years has shed more light on the likely ways in which caffeine assists performance, and has changed the recommendations for its use as an ergogenic aid.

In summary:

·      Caffeine can enhance performance in a wide variety of sports including endurance sports (> 60 min), brief sustained high-intensity sports (1-60 min), and team and intermittent sports.  There is a lack of available data to determine whether it can help in skill sports involving low intensity exercise and in single efforts involving strength or power (effects appear to be small and limited to certain muscle groups).  The long term use of caffeine to enhance training performance also requires more work.

·      A variety of regimes of caffeine intake, including consumption before and during exercise, can enhance performance. New research also suggests that caffeine doses as low as 2-3 mg/kg can be effective.

·      Different people react differently to caffeine intake. Although caffeine may enhance sports performance in most people, some people do not respond at all, and others may experience a negative reaction. Ingesting caffeine before and during exercise should always be trialled during training.

·      The major benefits of caffeine on exercise capacity and performance appears to come from its effects on the central nervous system.  It was previously thought that caffeine enhances endurance performance because it promotes an increase in the utilisation of fat as an exercise fuel and 'spares' the use of the limited muscle stores of glycogen. However, studies now show that the effect of caffeine on 'glycogen sparing' during endurance exercise is short-lived and inconsistent and that not all athletes respond in this way.  The effects on the central nervous system appear to reduce the perception of fatigue and allow optimal work loads to be maintained for a longer period.

·      There are a variety of protocols of caffeine intake that can enhance performance. These include the consumption of caffeine before exercise, spread throughout exercise, or late in exercise as fatigue is beginning to occur. Different protocols may achieve optimal performance outcomes even in the same sport or individual. The best protocol will be determined by the particular event, how practical it is to consume a caffeine containing product during the event, and the individual preferences of the athlete.

·      When choosing caffeine containing products it is very important to remember that the caffeine content can vary considerably. The caffeine content of hot tea, coffee and iced coffee varies widely, depending on the brand, the way that the individual makes their beverage, and the size of their mug or cup.

·      For detailed information on the caffeine content of common beverages, foods and sports supplements, visit these two links. 



The take home message for athletes with regard to caffeine is that whilst it has the potential to reduce the perception of effort in a wide range of sporting situations, athletes do not need to consume large doses of caffeine, or in fact, consume more caffeine than the rest of the Australian population, to achieve their sporting goals.  Athletes who want to use caffeine to enhance sports performance should trial its use in different training situations and develop a supplementation strategy that uses the lowest effective caffeine dose.

Keep in mind that many trials on ergogenic aids are done in laboratory settings rather than real life situations.  This means that the recommendations made now are likely to be re-evaluated as more research becomes available on athletes in training and competition situations.  It is also important to remember that almost all research is carried out on adults, and this information should not be extrapolated to children or adolescents.

For more information on these and other ergogenic aids visit Sports Dietitians Australia and the Australian Institute of Sports websites.  




In conclusion…

The science of sports nutrition is dynamic and continually evolving as we learn more about the exciting effect that diet and nutrition has on our ability to exercise, at any level.

Amongst the science, however, it is important for athletes to develop a good food philosophy, where a wide range of natural, local foods are enjoyed with friends and family.   Taking the time to eat slowly and savour the flavour and texture of food is just as important as choosing the right amount of carbohydrate and protein. 

Enjoying the psychological as well as the physiological effects of good food will help create a well balanced athlete who performs at their optimum in all aspects of life. 


Bulk Talk

Great article on the nuts and bolts of sports nutrition!

All the basic nuts and bolts and covered here, one other we like to recommended is Medium Chain Triglycerides Oil or MCTs oil, it is a “good fat” produced from coconut oil and palm kernels and is available as a natural supplement.

MCTs are used as energy much faster than glucose and have over twice the calories per gram, making them an excellent energy source and anti-catabolic supplement during intense resistance training or endurance sports.

If your interested can read more here - http://www.bulkpowders.com.au/essential-fatty-acids/mcts-oil-medium-chain-triglycerides-oil.html
By: Bulk Talk
Posted on: 2014-02-20 21:46:47
Five Top Sports Nutrition Tips
Lorna Garden
Accredited Nutritionist (AN), Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD), Dietitian, Nutritionist, Sports Dietitian, Sports Nutritionist