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Successful Sport Task Management Part 3: Regeneration and Nutrition

Again, we look at regeneration as the ability to recover from a given session, training phase or season and then be ready to move on to the next (higher) level.  We covered sleep and sleep-related strategies in Part Two, and we move on to the other main influence for Regeneration – Nutrition.

As with sleep, we try to keep things as simple as possible while remaining effective in regard to nutrition (including hydration).  Eating right is simple – not easy.  First and foremost we want to keep in mind that convenience leads to success (CLS).  That means we need to plan ahead and prepare for the coming week by creating a list of basic foods; planning for meals appropriately; buying our food; preparing some or most of our food for the week; and packing our prepared foods/meals as conveniently as possible to have things ready to go for our sleep and/or wake rituals.  The simplest way to do all of the above is to have a planning/preparing/packing day each week – what we call a weekly ritual.  This all-in-one day allows the readiness and convenience of foods that you have planned for in your diet to be ready to go when you need them.  This greatly increases the likelihood of sticking to your plan and getting the best regeneration nutrition bang-for-your-buck.

First and foremost all athletes should be eating as many colorful vegetables as they can at each meal, and eating colorful fruits less often but still daily.  There are so many benefits to eating a wide variety of colorful vegetables that if we listed them all in an ad most people simply would not believe the hype… Fresh, mostly raw vegetables influence our basic health that much!  Besides the many vitamins and minerals present, there is an astounding (and ever-growing as we find out more) list of co-nutrients, healthy bacteria, enzymes and phytonutrients in fresh vegetables and fruits.  Most often we recommend fresh vegetables, and then in descending order: frozen, dried and canned – raw most often, cooked less often.  There are color-coded vegetable and fruit charts if you are not coming up with many options, with a normal breakdown of green, white, red, yellow/orange, and blue/purple.  Simple – eat a wide variety of colorful vegetables at each meal… not easy.

Next, we want to be sure to eat a complete protein at each meal.  Complete proteins contain all of the required amino acids to effect optimal repair and recovery.  We break down muscle tissue during hard/heavy training and complete proteins provide the necessary building blocks to help regeneration proceed after this training.  One serving of a complete protein would equal any of the following foods about the size of your hand or your fist: eggs, meats, fish/seafood, and dairy.  Try to include a serving of protein at each meal, and as with vegetables and fruits above, include variety as best you can.

Along with protein an important building block for optimal regeneration are healthy fats.  We recommend including healthy fats daily, hopefully, some healthy fats with each meal.  Healthy fats include coconut oil, olive oil, nuts and seeds, butter and cream.  Healthy fats slow digestion, help control insulin levels, help rebuild and repair damaged tissues, as well as supply an important energy source.  An effective nutrition plan can not overemphasize the inclusion of these fats on a regular basis.

Water is vital to not only athletic performance but to our lives.  We recommend that athletes drink plain, clean water most often.  There are instances when non-calorie drinks such as coffee and tea are OK as well, and again – for the most part, athletes should be drinking plain, clean water.  A green drink (with vegetables, fruits, flax, coconut oil, etc) is a solid addition to a daily nutrition plan as well and could account for one of your daily meals.  Besides the green drink just mentioned and the workout windows described below, almost all of your fluids should be calorie free – plain, clean water.

Workout windows describe the area on either side of or during training.  This window of opportunity allows for protein, carbs, and fats to be used immediately not only for energy for training but also for immediate repair from training.  We time this window from about 1.5 to 2 hours prior to training to 30 to 45 minutes post training.  Before practice, we recommend a balance of clean carbs, proteins, and fats.  During training we most often recommend plain, clean water – and should training last over an hour and/or be exceptionally hard we recommend some type of training drink (Gatorade, Accelerade, etc).  Post-training we recommend some type of protein and carb combination to speed recovery and to avoid most fat and fiber at this time since these both slow digestion, and we want to get nutrients to our muscles as quickly as possible after training.  An easy and popular post-workout drink is chocolate milk, and there are several others that provide a quick source of protein and carbs (Accelerade, Gatorade Recovery, etc).  Experiment at practices to find out what works best to regularly help your performance (both training and recovery), and then use these same strategies for meets.  Do not complicate things at meets – what works for hard practices will work for meets.

Some probably think that we have forgotten the most important of all macro-nutrients – carbohydrates.  The above vegetables and fruits do contain some carbs, but vegetables especially tend not to have too many calories.  Well, in our opinion additional carbs are a little over-hyped.  Carbohydrates are fuel only – whereas protein is a mainly a major building block, and fats are both building blocks and a concentrated energy source.  Additional carbs would be most grains (breads, rice, cereals), potatoes, corn, and sugar.  In our view these additional carbohydrates should be looked at as activity-dependant, meaning you should eat as many carbs as needed to cover your training needs and no more.  In high-volume, hard training phases this may be a lot of carbs, and conversely, during the off-season this would be not-so-many carbs.  Individual experimentation should guide your efforts in finding what works best for your performance (as well as your waistline) in regard to additional carbohydrates.

There is no magic to eating for performance, just a simple set of guidelines to follow consistently.  Make correlations as you can between performance and nutrition, as well as weight and performances (weight being guided mainly by nutrition).  Temptation and inconvenience tend to be the biggest enemies of nutritional success, so follow the advice above and keep things as simple as possible with effective, convenient meal strategies that suit your tastes and lead you to improved performances and increased regeneration.

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Competition Nutrition

The most important thing about competition nutrition is to find and USE what works best for YOU. Having said that, here are some useful tips…

1. Stay hydrated. This should be in-practice throughout your training, so it should pose no real problem. 3L of fluid per day for 170 lb. athlete – adjust volume up or down by bodyweight.

2. Eat carbs to fuel activity. Avoid fats and overly processed sugar (sugar-cereal, pastries, etc) until after your competition on a given day. Eat high carb, moderate protein foods or drinks pre- and in-competition.

3. Eat a moderate to high calorie breakfast (or dinner the night before if early a.m. comp). DO THIS! It is the energy that FUELS your performance.

4. Stick to foods and drinks that you are somewhat familiar with. The day of your most important competition is not the day to find out that _____ gives you the cha-cha’s.

5. Be certain you have adequate sodium, potassium, and magnesium in your every-day diet. These electrolytes go hand-in-hand with proper hydration. V-8 or a like drink is an easy way to cover all of these electrolytes. Salted almonds + raisins work, too.

DO NOT complicate this! The training you have put in is ALWAYS the main thing. Stay fueled for competition by covering all of the basics first, and then fine-tuning anything else. Personally – for whatever reason – I train and compete well with a training drink (usually Metabolol II or Accelerade), Gatorade or Cytomax, and Snickers bars. This works for me (Why? Who cares?!?), so this is what I use… just be sure to use what works for YOU!

Easy Action Tips

– Drink plenty of fluids all week
– Eat breakfast every day
– Eat familiar carb foods/drinks around competition (and training)
– Drink V-8 or something similar during the week
– Eat to fuel your performance (usually more, not less) the day before

Again – this is not complicated, so just do it. There are no magic bullets – and should you need to fall back on something it will always be the training you have put in; not a drink, a pill, or whatever.

The above products I mentioned I trust – but mostly because they have worked for ME, they are from reliable companies, and they are readily available. Follow the easy action tips and fine-tune the rest to suit YOU.

  • by John Coffman, Contributing Writer 
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Water or Gatorade?

This is a bit of a rant, so I’ll apologize up front.

I can not even come close to guessing how many times someone has asked “Shouldn’t I be drinking Gatorade?”. It seems that all of the commercials have worked – people (not just athletes) drinking Gatorade with meals, at work, before bed… the list goes on and on. So let’s get some things straight…

1. Gatorade is intended to replace water and electrolytes in HARD training lasting OVER 1 HOUR, and/or in HIGH HEAT training lasting more than 30 minutes. It’s proven – Gatorade can help improve hydration and hence performance… UNDER THESE CONDITIONS!

2. Gatorade is not “magic”. It is water with sucrose (table sugar), dextrose (another type of sugar), Sodium (salt), Potassium, and flavoring. Gatorade is mixed as a 6% carbohydrate solution to facilitate faster emptying from your stomach/gut to rehydrate you faster while providing fuel for working muscles. You could make your own similar drink with:

1 Liter of water
4 Tbsp. sugar (60 grams, equaling a 6% solution of carbohydrate)
_ teaspoon of table salt or 1 teaspoon of baking soda (Sodium)
_ teaspoon of “No Salt” (Potassium)
Crystal Light or Sugar-free Kool-Aide to taste

No magic added.

3. You may not need the extra calories. Training drinks (Gatorade) and recovery drinks (carbs + protein) are useful if you are in hard training, but on off days or easy days are simply extra calories. Generally speaking, you should be consuming non-calorie drinks most of the time – unless you are trying to gain weight. The extra calories that come from drinking Gatorade (or ANY calorie-containing drink) throughout the day may be adding to your waistline. Choose water or Green Tea most of the time.

Basic hydration comes from a basic practice that people have been doing forever… drinking water! Simple, effective, and true. There are effective training drinks, such as Gatorade, on the market – and during times of intense or prolonged training and competition they may be helpful. There are, however, no magic bullets. Hard, consistent training matched with solid recovery (nutrition, hydration, and sleep) will always yield results. Know when to drink water and when to use a training drink, and you may end up saving your waistline and your wallet.

  • by John Coffman, Contributing Writer 
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Carbohydrates. Performance and Activity

Diet is certainly tied to performance, but how so? Proteins and fats help build and re-build tissues (muscles included) and form the foundation of our hormones and enzymes that control most of our bodily functions. So where do carbohydrates fall in our dietary needs? The easiest way to think of carbohydrate needs is to think of them as being activity dependant. By that we mean for a given day you should base carbohydrate intake on your activities for that day. If you have an easy or recovery day – limit your carb intake. A reasonable limit on recovery days is around 100 grams, and most of these 400 calories should come in the form of vegetables, fruits, and perhaps whole grains (like oats – not like boxed “whole grain” cereal!).

Training and performance – especially sessions lasting more than 1 hour, will need extra fuel in the form of carbohydrates. So if your planned afternoon session is a difficult one, base your carb intake on this – perhaps in the neighborhood of 200 grams of carbs for the day. These are estimates, of course, and individuals should adjust from these guidelines as needed. And if you are in-season or in a particularly difficult training block? The upper range for carb recommendations is 3 to 4 grams per pound of bodyweight. Again, this would be during a training block with a higher than normal volume, and these extra carbs should be spread throughout the day and more concentrated around your “workout window” – or the hour prior and two hours post-training. Most of these carbs should again come from vegetables, fruits and whole grains – and be as un-modified and un-processed as possible. This helps maintain stable blood sugar levels and insures a solid intake of vitamins, minerals, phyto-nutrients, and fiber.

“But Gatorade is a training staple – and workout drinks containing both carbs and protein have been shown to increase recovery rates by as much as 300%!!” We concede this point thoroughly. The ONE time you may want to include Gatorade (or the like) is in a session lasting more than an hour, and including a carb + protein drink somewhere in your workout window is a wise choice for faster recovery, as well. Gatorade throughout the day, though? Unless you are training all day, not a great idea. Your body has “storage” for excess fuel – it’s called body fat. And increased body fat is rarely if ever the path to improved performance.

Bottom line – concentrate carb intake around workout windows, eat an amount of carbs appropriate for your current activity levels, and carb-containing training drinks belong around training sessions (workout windows) – whether Gatorade or another. Eat carbohydrates to fuel your activity level and help your performance – don’t eat carbohydrates to fuel your fat cells!

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One of the most overlooked aspects of successful training in the Western World is that of regeneration. Regeneration is the product of sound training and methods that help in repairing athletes to function better. Recovery (or rest) and restoration (return of energy, hormonal, or other levels) are entwined in this process, but do not provide a complete picture in and of themselves. Regeneration can be looked at as the optimized integration of these and various other factors. Regeneration in sport can also be defined as:

1. Continuous management of muscle tension, structure, and tone
2. Accelerated removal of the effects of fatigue
3. Rapid restoration of energy systems and energy substrates
4. Improved ability to renew physical activity, without wasting the athlete’s energy unnecessarily.

Hydration, nutrition, active and passive recovery methods, as well as additional supplementation can and should be optimized to enhance performance.

The Training Diary provides an area for recording these factors under “Regeneration.” Hydration status heads this section (H2O) and provides space for “IN” (or intake) and “OUT.” Intake can be recorded as an actual amount, or most usually as good or bad. Record a value you can use and understand. “Out” is simply the number of times of urination each day. A hydrated value for “out” is usually a bathroom visit five times or more each day.

A meal/nutrition log follows. Space for seven meals (or “feeding opportunities”) is included. What you eat, when you eat, and how much you eat will all affect performance and restoration. Tracking and modifying your nutritional habits to fit your needs, day-by-day and training phase-by-training phase, is key to complete restoration and your best performances. Space is provided to the right to notate what you feel you need to track. This could be as simple as good, great, or poor; or as detailed as listing some or all of protein (P), carbohydrate (C), fat (F), and/or calories for each meal or just at the end of the day. At the very least you should record your daily meals until you have a baseline for optimal regeneration to work from. General reference points for hard training and peaking are 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, 3-4 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight, and around 15% of total calories coming from fat intake. It is not so important that you hit these exact numbers (maybe not important at all), but that you understand the amounts/ratios that help to enhance your performance.

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Workout Nutrition

WHEN you eat can be as important as WHAT you eat regarding workout nutrition. There are an endless array of supplements and wonder-foods available, many promising a great return if you simply purchase their product. Well, there are some supplements that could help with workouts and recovery, but they are just that – supplements to a regular diet and exercise program. Get your regular diet and eating habits in order first, and then you’ll be able to tell which supplements really seem to help you out.

So how do you go about getting your eating habits in order? Start with the things that matter the most, of course. We will detail this in a future newsletter, but the bullet points:

  • Eat breakfast everyday
  • Eat a complete protein with each regular meal
  • Eat every two to three hours
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day
  • Drink mainly non-caloric beverages

Before you start counting every gram and half-gram of fat in your diet, get these basics in order. Eating smaller, more frequent meals can not only stop cravings, but leave you felling less hungry during the day, improve insulin sensitivity, and improve recovery from training. Get this in order first.

This all leads us to the title of this article – workout nutrition. Besides (or possibly including) breakfast, timing nutrient intake around your training is the most important aspect of recovery. Multiple studies have shown far higher recovery rates (in some studies as much as 300%!) for those consuming a pre- and post- workout drink containing both carbohydrates and protein opposed to those consuming only water around the workout window. We will define this workout window as 30 minutes prior to and 30 minutes post-workout, and this nutrition should come in the form of liquid and contain little to no fat for ease of assimilation. There are many drinks that address this issue (Endurox, Surge, etc.) and fit this bill – but there is an easy choice in your local grocery – – chocolate skim milk. An easy to find, relatively cheap way to increase your recovery from hard training. Add a small bottle to your workout bag and sip some about 30 minutes prior to your workout, and finish the bottle within 30 minutes post-workout. This bottle would of course be in addition to your water bottle (or Gatorade, etc) – because we want to cover basic hydration as well.

If you aren’t already doing so, try incorporating workout nutrition as detailed in your training program and start recovering faster. Find which workout-window drink works best for you (chocolate milk is an easy starting point…) and follow the bullet points above to get your eating habits (and timing) in order. Improved recovery doesn’t have to be a complicated effort, just a consistent effort!

  • by John Coffman,