By Hayley Christensen | Sports Dietitian | May-2017
Are you an elite level competitive athlete? No? So why should you be worried about your performance in the gym? Optimal performance can maximise fat burning, maximise muscle gain, strengthen your body, protect you from injury and improve health and wellbeing; however, many of us just ‘go through the motions’ without concerning ourselves with maximising performance in our training sessions. Each training session is a yellow brick in the road towards the city of Oz. The better you train day-to-day, the quicker and more successfully you’ll reach your fitness, body composition and health goals. So, what contributes to optimal performance in a nutrition sense? There are three KEY concepts for optimising performance: optimising health, optimising fuel and optimising recovery.
Key concept number 1: micronutrients are essential for optimal health and thus essential for optimal exercise performance and recovery
Revising on my previous rant/blog about the importance of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) in metabolism and thus health, we need them to act as catalysts in a wide variety of reactions, such as antioxidant function, cell detoxification, hormone regulation, gene expression, fat catabolism, muscle protein synthesis, energy production, brain neurotransmission, movement, vision and then a thousand more processes. So I ask you this, how well can you train if you’re tired, cranky, sad, anxious, hungry, sick, injured, or have an unmanaged chronic disease? Do you think this would lead to a great or not-so-great training session? If the answer is ‘not-so-great’ (which is it), then you’re obviously not optimizing performance and consequently not going to reach your goals at the same rate, or maybe not even at all. So, forget the supplements, forget calorie counting your colourful vegetables and instead, consume them in unlimited quantities to boost your vitamin and mineral intake. These micronutrient-rich food sources provide very few calories, and the high micronutrient concentrations help boost metabolism (and all the processes I spoke of) so you get back more calories through metabolic efficiency then what you actually intake!
Key concept number 2: carbohydrates are the preferred and most efficient fuel source for optimal health and optimal exercise performance
Consider your body a high performance car tuned for high octane 98 petrol. It’s going to perform best if you fill it with the fuel it’s been tune for. However, if you fill it with diesel, it will drive for a few km, may splutter and spurt, acceleration is a but sluggish, and eventually something will go wrong and it’ll break down. Carbohydrates are the high octane 98 petrol of the human machinery.
Every cell in your body requires energy in order to perform the way it’s meant to, and as such it’s important to supply the fuel it needs to survive and function effectively. Carbohydrates are the preferred fuel source for every cell in your body, particularly brain and muscle cells. If you don’t eat sufficient amounts of carbohydrates, your metabolism begins to function inefficiently in order to convert proteins (either from the dietary or body proteins, i.e. muscles) into carbohydrates to supply the fuel it needs to survive. Ensuring you are consuming the optimal amount of carbohydrates from good quality (i.e. micronutrient-dense) sources can help improve metabolism efficiency in many different metabolic reactions, from fat burning to hormone production. How much and what type of carbohydrates you need depends on a whole heap of factors including your goals, health, genetics, gut tolerance, somatotype (body composition), incidental energy expenditure, and exercise program focus and energy expenditure. For each individual that I write a meal plan for, this has all been factored into by collecting a whole heap output and health data. The point is, it’s a little more complex and a whole lot more individualized than a 1 size fits all rule. The best way to know your own individual requirements is to work with a sports dietitian specialising in your specific sport.
Key concept number 3: consistent intake of carbohydrates, protein, and vitamins and minerals over a 24-72 hour period are essential for optimal recovery, optimal health and optimal exercise performance.
In order to optimize recovery, we need to provide metabolism with the best quality building blocks and provide the right signaling molecules in the right concentration to initiate DNA modulation that will build new tissues and repair damaged tissues. Immediately post exercise, there is a spike in DNA activation that initiates synthesis of tissues, such as proteins and connective tissues for muscle, but we need the biochemical building blocks to create the tissues. However, the post work-out recovery period isn’t just the first meal/shake/snack after exercise, research has shown it’s actually for the next 24-72 hours! Think about it logically, if you’ve ever been sore for a few days after a weight training session, then this is your body still trying to recover. Initiating DNA modulation also occurs from some molecules in food (this is the exciting scientific field of nutrigenomics), and also provides the building blocks for the synthesis of new or repair of old tissues. So for the next 24-72 hours, what you do and do not put in your mouth has just more of a crucial impact on recovery then the 1 hour post-exercise window does!
In layman’s terms, the specialized factory worker (signaling molecule) knows the right switches to push to turn on the machinery (DNA modulation) that will make the end product (new or repaired tissues) if the right raw products are placed into the machine (protein, carbs, fats and vitamins and minerals). Not a whole lot of the end product is going to be made if the factory worker is only on shift for an hour, we need him there for a few days! Once again, if you put crappy raw material into the machinery, then you’ll not get a high-quality end product. Aim for a nutrient-rich protein source, nutrient-rich carb source, healthy fat sources for the next 24-48 hours. How much and what types of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamin and minerals you need depends on a whole heap of factors as previously mentioned. To know your own individual requirements, contact me today to book an appointment.