I don’t profess to know everything, but I am lucky enough to know enough great coaches and experts that I can draw upon for advice.
This means I can give the best advice to parents of our club members and individual athletes. Here are two great examples of conversations I had with experts based in the USA answering questions from our athletes.
First up (seasonal relevance for those wanting to avoid post Christmas fad diets) a Q&A with Dave Ellis of “Fueling Tactics” who has worked with many professional and collegiate sports teams. He has a real understanding of how to apply nutritional theory to the real world.
Second up “What a parent should know about helping their child develop and enjoy sport over their lives” with Dr Brian McCormick. (skip the first 2 minutes of tech difficulties!). For those parents who feel pressured into getting their child into a squad, team or “academy” too early.
“Athletes have an inability to recover from one beat down to the next”
Dave Ellis presented twice at GAIN on fuelling athletes and supplementation. He is quite simply the best person I have seen talking about nutrition and feeding athletes in the real world. We shall be doing a live Q&A with Dave next week for our athletes and parents.
Stimulant dependent generation
A combination of lack of fitness, short off seasons, travel, pressure to perform and overall stress lead athletes to seek stimulants.
This means that there “are a bunch of landmines out there, that can go off at any time.” As a coach, you must realise what is happening, and be ready to adjust your training accordingly.
The stimulants come in different forms: over the counter ones like caffeine drinks or high fructose ones; or hidden in “herbal remedy” type health drinks or pills.
Chinese Grasp on supplementation
The slides, stats and videos that Ellis showed on the supplementation factories and warehouses were shocking to say the least.
Metal filings, hair, dust and bits of plastic are some of the things discovered in the food batches sampled. As they are sold by weight, metal might be heavier by volume than powder!
All the Vitamin C sources for fortification and supplements in the USA come from China. The quality control is not good, whether by accident or design. (This report from the FDA shows 615 supplements have been identified as tainted since Jan 1st 2008).
Talking of design, Ellis made some clear points about how the profit driven industry has a massive influence in the things we eat and buy.
It is a political landscape, where Gatorade pay the NFL $1.1 billion to be the official supplement provider to the league. Ellis can’t give Vitamin D supplements to NFL players because Gatorade don’t make them.
The profit driven industry create poor research studies, then publish them in pseudo science journals, then spin the poor results to the health industry.
This comes to you the reader via newspaper articles or adverts featuring sports stars drinking sugar drinks.
Over trained or under recovered?
Ellis talked a lot about the stressors involved in serious competition and their impact on the athletes. Training volumes and intensities are not that great for college and professional team sport athletes.
Instead, the players do not recover enough due to other factors. His BIG 4 contributors are:
Lack of sleep
Binge eating patterns
Missing post workout supplement/ food timing
3 step approach to fuelling
Here comes the real world application. Ellis shows how he sets up eating stations or works with teams to get these 3 key steps followed:
1 Less down time due to illness: eat fresh foods and vegetables. This should be put on your plate first.
2 Energy critical for work: slow and fast releasing carbohydrates, to be periodised according to your activity that day.
3 Less muscle soreness and improved recovery time: low, medium and high fat protein sources. Use a variety throughout the day, and only low fat proteins on rest days.
The poster shown on the right lists all the foods that are recommended and how they contribute to this pattern of eating.
This was not some lecture by a pseudo scientist talking about lipids and pathways and a diet based around marathon running. Nor was it a fad junkie trying to promote the latest supplements.
Instead, it was a highly informative and practical look at how important nutrition is and how athletes can improve their performance through simple changes.
I have taken his 3 step approach and showed it the athletes I work with. I provide our athletes with one of these posters, and they are really useful.
Scurvy has made a reappearance in Australia with only 7% of Australians eating enough vegetables every day. Less than half eat 2 portions of fruit or more too!
Before trying to get “specific sports nutrition advice” you have to take care of the basics.
A recent study1 has identified 41 “Powerhouse” Fruit and Vegetables which can significantly improve health. These nutrient dense foods have been found to be the most effective in reducing chronic disease.
Here is a review of the main findings of the research, as well as some practical guidance for getting the most out of your nutrition:
The study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention1 took numerous fruit and vegetables and analysed their nutrient content based on the 17 nutrients of public health importance:
Macronutrients– Protein, Fibre
Minerals– Iron, Potassium, Calcium, Zinc
Vitamins– A, B(Niacin, Folate, Riboflavin, Thiamin, B6, B12), C, D, E, & K
The foods were assigned a nutrient density score based on the bioavailability of the given nutrients. The highest scoring foods were classed as Powerhouse Fruit and Vegetables and are listed below in their categories.
Cruciferous- watercress, Chinese cabbage, kale, arugula, Broccoli, Cauliflower
Green Leafy- chard, beet green, spinach, chicory, leaf lettuce, romain lettuce, kale
Citrus- lemon, orange, lime, red and pink grapefruit
Berry– strawberry, blackberry
How many of these foods are you currently getting into your diet?
All these foods contain nutrients which reduce your chances of getting ill, meaning you can spend more time training and competing.
It is important to eat a variety of these fruit and vegetables to ensure that your body is receiving all of the vitamins and minerals it needs. You should aim to include at least one or two of these foods with every meal.
For example, in order to enjoy a healthy breakfast, include some blackberries and strawberries in a bowl of porridge, with some chopped nuts for extra protein.
Even simple additions to your daily diet such as a bag of fresh mixed green salad leaves with your lunch, or snacking on fresh fruit, will pay big dividends.
As with all good training, diet and lifestyle practices, it comes down to forming a habit. To learn more about habit forming, and for tips on how to implement positive changes to your routine, read here.
Eating for competition
When planning your meals around training and competition, it is still important to maintain a good intake of nutrients to help your body recover.
However one nutrient which should be limited directly prior to training or competition is fibre, as it is hard to digest and can potentially lead to gastric discomfort.
Parents and coaches often ask me “What should my child eat for breakfast?”
Diabetes starter packs
Eating the a healthy breakfast will aid concentration and help overall health and performance. The recent study on Primary School children in Wales showed that eating breakfast was associated with better SATS scores.
Unfortunately they asserted that breakfast cereals constituted a “healthy breakfast“. Read on and see why this is a big error...
If you are anything like I was, you probably eat the same thing for breakfast 6 days out of 7, and it probably hasn’t changed for the last 5 years. It will most likely involve reaching for a bowl of breakfast cereal.
It is important to know that porridge and muesli were omitted from this report because they are outside of the best sellers. “Is porridge a good breakfast?” is something I get asked every time I do a workshop on healthy breakfasts.
Whilst it is hot and has slow releasing energy, it is low on protein and vitamins. I would add nuts for protein and some fruit too. Wholewheat museli with no added sugar has a good balance. Avoid Alpen which is very high in added sugar.
Making the change to a healthy breakfast
4 years ago when I first read this report I made a determined effort to change what I ate. Four mornings a week involved a mad rush of nappy changing, kids dressing, tidying up and general herding of cats- so it was unrealistic to get a cooked breakfast.
But, I did manage to have Porridge or wholewheat muesli (with no added sugar) using nuts for protein.
Omelette with peppers, onion, tomatoes, chives, parpika and parsley
The other 3 days a week I had a bit more time and changed what I ate: This included eggs, grilled bacon or peanut butter on toast.
We also deliberately changed the cereals we bought and the nutritional value of the bread to make toast. The whiter the bread, the more refined the flour, the quicker the release of the energy and the less nutritional value it has.
Switching to wholemeal toast instead of white toast will immediately improve your breakfast.
Adding some protein/ fat and reducing cereal/ bread content will make it healthier still.
This will require some planning and alternative aisles visited in the supermarket- (a worthwhile investment on my part for me and family). I want to avoid a diabetes endemic in our house.
Now I only eat wholemeal muesli or porridge 1-2 times a week, the rest of the time I include fresh fruit and protein. More recently I have started eating eggs 3-4 times each week. This reflects guidelines on returning to a more early twentieth century diet, low in sugar and refined carbohydrates.
There is a current debate going on amongst academics (with apparently too much time on their hands!) about a misplaced decimal point in the original research that cited spinach as a great source of iron.
Dr Mike Sutton has written an analysis about the history behind Popeye’s adoption of Spinach.
He then looks at the claims that Popeye was responsible for a33% increase in USA Spinach consumption in the 1930s
This is a great piece that should be read by all undergraduates about why Statistics do matter but theirinterpretation must be relevant and taken in context.
“Socially embedded codswallop”
Sutton’s examination of the evidence is quite thorough and it shows how quoting “facts” or journal articles without reference, can quite easily then become “socially embedded codswallop”.
Spinach is one of several “superfoods” that are quoted as having special values, mainly because of its iron content”. In fact E.Segar (Popeye’s creator) chose Spinach because of its Vitamin A content, rather than its iron content.
Spinach is a source of non-heme iron, which is usually found in vegetable sources. Unlike heme iron found in animal products, non-heme iron is not as easily absorbed by the body.
That is because Spinach also contains oxalic acid (sometimes referred to as oxalate). Oxalic acid binds with iron, hence inhibiting its absorption.
The iron content changes with cooking too. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one cup of cooked spinach provides ~3.5mg of iron whereas a cup of raw spinach only contains 1 mg of iron.
So, Spinach does contain Vitamin A, and some degree of iron, but isn’t a substitute for other meat and fish sources of iron.
The take home message here is NOT “Spinach is bad for you”.
Instead, it is check the evidence, and put stats into context.
Thanks to Anton Parker for the tip (one of the aforementioned Academics with too much time on their hands!)
I use a pyramid method of recovery when coaching my athletes- there is little point going onto the next level until you have done the first. The further down you go, the less proven are the strategies.
You will notice that many of these require minimal cost. This may seem unusual to you.
That is because most recovery methods you hear about are trying to sell you something! Sleep is free, as is water (mostly).
Cool down 10-15minutes of movement at 50% of maximum effort.
Fluid and fuel intake within 15mins post exercise. main meal within 2 hours. 1.5 litres of water for every kg lost or for every hour of exercise (depending on climatic conditions). This should contain some protein and carbohydrate. A banana sandwich, Apple and Greek Yoghurt, and a glass of whole milk are all nutritious.
Contrast showers- 30secs hot\ 30 secs cold four sets, then normal shower.
Relaxation– may not help physical recovery, but it can help deal with stress of competition, allowing better quality sleep, which will then assist physical recovery.
Ice bath– may be especially beneficial after contact sports or excessive volume.
Compression suits– might be useful for journeys after competition where you are sat down for a long time. Could be useful on flights too. Avoid sleeping in them as they create too high a body temperature. Never, ever train in them.
I see many athletes wearing expensive compression suits, but neglecting the simple, cheaper and better proven methods of recovery. (see recovery infographic).
Most teenage athletes that I coach have done some sort of healthy eating course at school. My 2 children are at Primary School and they have had lessons on healthy eating too.
Why then are teenagers unable to transfer this into practice?
I recently asked some young athletes to fill out food diaries to see what they actually ate. I also asked them to write down what they thought was a healthy meal. It makes interesting (and alarming) reading.
Teenage boys’ healthy meal plans
Boy#1 2 poached eggs, cous cous, pasta.
I asked if he could cook that meal, he said you don’t have to cook it! Then he said yes to poaching the eggs, boiling the pasta and “you don’t have to cook cous cous, it comes out of the fridge“!
When asked how to improve it, the other boys said add some veg. So he wrote down turnip and seafood cocktail sauce.
Boy #2 grilled chicken, white rice and jacket potato.
Boy #3 Sea bass, broccoli, rice, new potatoes.
The two most glaring things from this are the absence of vegetables or fruit and the doubling of carbohydrates at each meal i.e rice and potatoes. I will keep their sport secret otherwise it is obvious who they are, but there is no need for this carbohydrate overload.
Remember, they were asked to write down a “healthy” meal.
Teenage girl’s weekly food diary (7th-13th Dec)
However, they were paragons of healthy eating compared to this girl from their peer group. I have put in bold the sugar/ junk items on her menu. This girl wants to be a professional athlete.
Breakfast- coco pops and glass of orange juice
Snack- cookie and packet of baked crisps
Lunch- cheese and pickle sandwich, 2 oranges, grapes, breakaway, twirl
Dinner- beef stew with broccoli and a glass of water
Dinner- chicken breast burger, corn on the cob and chips
Breakfast – cocopops
Lunch- toasted cheese sandwich
Dinner- pasta with broccoli, sweetcorn and carrot
I am being generous and thinking that the burgers are grilled and come from a butcher.
As Sy Wiggall told me “Your body is made up from things you put into it“.
Change your eating habits now
In all my coaching, I am only interested in action and results. In education, filling out a folder, or cutting and pasting material are deemed “learning“. Remember that these athletes are supposed to be motivated and want to train/ play full time.
What are those teenagers eating who are inactive?
This was a useful exercise as it gave me an understanding of where those kids actually are, rather than them giving me answers they think are right.
This same group of athletes will be asking about supplements: without even considering changing what they put into their body.
The 3 steps I recommend you take are:
Record what you are actually eating over 3 days.
Eat more fresh produce: set a target based on what you are currently eating. Every meal or snack should have this.
Reduce sugar intake. This is a real problem. The free change4life programme is excellent and has a new sugar swap app.
“Irresponsible parenting leads to obesity epidemic after Halloween”
Jumping on the American Bandwaggon and sending your kids out to Trick or Treat tonight? (Whatever happened to apple bobbing?). You might think that the occasional sweet won’t do any harm, but it is the common sugary foods that could be turning your child into an addict.
The Sugar Addiction
Are you constantly tired and turn to sugar as an energy boost?
Do you turn to sugar to improve your mood?
Do you become irritable if you haven’t eaten and turn to sugar for a snack?
Do you eat high carbohydrate meals (pasta, bread, cereals)?
If you answer yes to any of these you may be addicted to sugar. With current busy lifestyles we look for energy boosts wherever we can find them so that we can keep going for longer.
These can come from chocolate, energy drinks, cakes, coffee etc. We end up requiring more hits to maintain the high; this high-low cycle of sugar can make our bodies insulin resistant leading totype 2 diabetes.
Some people have become addicted to sugar as a result of trying to achieve weight loss. They have bought fat free/low fat foods as part of what they believe to be a balanced diet. However these foods may contain less fat but contain more sugar to improve taste.
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” you tell your kids, but only if it is balanced. Unfortunately most breakfast cereals are not healthy (here‘s why) and the early sugar rush leads to more cravings later.
In order to eat a balanced diet we need to be more diligent with looking at food labels, any sugar has to be clearly labelled (under Carbohydrates). This will include both naturally occurring and added sugars but will give you a good idea of the foods content.
Top 10 “Healthy Foods” packed with sugar
1. Cereals – Cereals will promote themselves as being a good source of vitamin D for example, however they don’t show high levels of sugar. Balance the cereal with a source of protein or naturally slow sugar releasing fruit such as an apple.
2. Fruit juice – Nearly every conceivable fruit juice or fruit drink option is available in supermarkets, to added sugar content choose 100% juice compared to concentrate. Dilute with water when drinking.
3. Yogurt – Yogurt can be a healthy snack option, but not when it’s loaded with added sugars, those with artificial sweeteners have fewer calories. Plain low-fat yogurt topped with your favorite fruit is your best option. Tesco Low fat natural yogurt contains 7g sugar per 100g serving.
4. Granola – These may seem a healthy option, however they can be full of trans fats that can increase you risk of heart disease. Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Oats & Berries bars contain 8.7g per 42g serving (2 bars).
5. Tomato Sauce/ Ketchup – Sugar is a common ingredient in ketchup, but it’s the source that matters. One tablespoon (17g) of Heinz tomato Ketchup contains 4g sugar.
6. Canned fruit – It’s always a good idea to include more fruit in your diet. Canned fruit can be packed with sugars though if they are in syrup. A healthy option would be fruit canned in water/ natural juice or buying small tubs to hold your fruit in.
7. Sports drinks & Vitamin water – Vitamin water sold is stores as healthy can contain high levels of sugar, Glaceau Vitamin Water contains 23g per 500ml. Sports drinks can also contain high sugar levels, this could mean you get a sugar spike at the start of a game but then hit a low during the match. (Better to make your own).
8. Low fat Salad dressing – Light salad dressings replace the fat with sugar. Be sure to check the food label for the amount of sugar in your store-bought dressing. Hellmans Fat Free Salad dressing contains 10.8g per 100ml compared to their Caesar dressing which contains only 3.8g per 100ml.
9. Smoothies – Many shops promote their smoothies as being healthy, however their products can contain more sugar than coke. Innocent smoothies can contain over 10g per 100ml.
10. Bread – Breads typically have a touch of sugar added to them. About half of the brands we looked at had about 1 teaspoon of added sugar per slice. Be sure to read the label and ingredients for the types of added sugar.
Jack Lalanne predicted the future of sugary foods
Sugar addiction is not a new problem, back in the 1950’s Jack Lalanne confessed to being a sugarholic as a teenager and could see it becoming a prevalent problem in American society.
He recorded this video back then which is still current today
Pay attention to the food that you eat.
Be aware that “low fat” often means “high sugar”.
Have some protein and fruit/ vegetables at every meal.
Drink water as your first choice.
Don’t go Trick or Treating.
The NHS provide a great free “sugar swap” series of ideas.
Comments from then Health Minister Anne Milton in 2010 about Doctors telling people they are fat generated much comment.
I don’t have a problem with honest feedback– there is too little of it– as long as you then give some solutions to help the person concerned.
An example in Netball is that one player was described to me as “not agile enough.” I then asked the coach what she had done to help the player concerned to improve. “We give them all a folder“. Great.
Living in Devon I see a lot of fat people, maybe it is an economics issue, it is a poor county, maybe it is a lifestyle issue- large distances to travel by car.
Luckily most of the athletes I train are very lean and have trouble putting on weight- a different problem altogether.
Whose fault is obesity?
This report makes some interesting points, but I still believe it is an individual’s choice as to whether they eat that extra biscuit or not.
Lifestyle has changed, working with young athletes, it is surprising how few of them walk or cycle anywhere to get around. Part of that is a cultural aspect of safety issues and ease of access to facilities, but part of it is they are not in a habit of using their feet.
As a coach or parent- how much of a good example do you set? Young people tend to respond to practical examples and role models rather than being told what to do.
Start your exercise programme today with this Free Guide
but not necessarily better than water (see here for comparison). You can easily make your own sports drink which will help you save money and tailor it for your own needs.
The label on water states that it contains no carbohydrates, sugars, protein or fat for that matter.
Water acts as a buffer when body temperature rises if there is high specific heat (the specific heat of water equals 1 when 1 kilogram of water is heated 1°C between 15 and 16°C).
However the effects of water are to cool you down, rehydrate and help increase the mineral and vitamin absorption of a daily diet. Electrolytes are something that Lucozade does not contain enough of.
Some fluid facts
Fluid losses of 1–2% of body weight or greater induce the need for fluid and electrolyte replacement.
Losses as small as 1–2% of body weight stimulates thirst.
The hypothalamus is the center of the brain where thirst regulation is dictated
Fluid replacement guidelines have been established to minimize exertional dehydration.
Dehydration, as defined by a 2% loss of euhydrated body weight, negatively impacts athletic performance.
An athlete engaged in prolonged exercise can lose 5 L of fluid per day with a range of 4,600–5,750 mg sodium and much smaller amounts of potassium.
3 different types of sports drink
Isotonic– quickly replaces fluids lost by sweating and supplies a boost of carbohydrate. This drink is the choice for most athletes – middle and long distance running or team sports. Glucose is the body’s preferred source of energy therefore it may be appropriate to consume Isotonic drinks where the carbohydrate source is glucose in a concentration of 6% to 8% – e.g. High Five, SiS Go, Boots Isotonic, Lucozade Sport.
Hypotonic – quickly replaces fluids lost by sweating. Suitable for athletes who need fluid without the boost of carbohydrate e.g. jockeys and gymnasts.
Hypertonic – used to supplement daily carbohydrate intake normally after exercise to top up muscle glycogen stores. In ultra distance events, high levels of energy are required and Hypertonic drinks can be taken during exercise to meet the energy demands. If used during exercise Hypertonic drinks need to be used in conjunction with Isotonic drinks to replace fluids.
Want to make your own?
Isotonic – 200ml of orange squash (concentrated orange), 1 litre of water and a pinch of salt (1g). Mix all the ingredients together and keep chilled
Hypotonic– 100ml of orange squash (concentrated orange), 1 litre of water and a pinch of salt (1g). Mix all the ingredients together and keep chilled.
Hypertonic – 400ml of orange squash (concentrated orange), 1 litre of water and a pinch of salt (1g). Mix all the ingredients together and keep chilled.
Replacing sodium, after exercise is very important. Lucozade sport contains 23mg of sodium whereas the other types do not contain enough for replenishing what the body has lost through sweating and exercise.
Dehydration is one of the main causes of fatigue with only 2% body water loss potentially causing this. Therefore maintaining hydration during an event is crucial.
Although Lucozade contains enough sodium, water is still the best for hydration.