Jun 10, 2013

Nutrient Timing for Athletes – how the right types of sugar can help you

This will be the first of several posts from the same blog article. Offers great advice for those open water swimmers and athletes looking for alternate and healthful food energy sources beyond Gu's, maltodextrins and energy drinks.

First things first, a carbohydrate is a sugar is a carbohydrate. The term carbohydrate refers to organic compounds with only carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms and sugar, or sucrose, is just one of many. Each has their own distinct structure, hormonal response and health impact, but for the point of this discussion it is important to remember that:
  1. Refined sugar and excess fructose are highly inflammatory, which from an athletic point of view is the enemy to recovery and subsequent performance.
  2. Excess carbohydrate consumption can inhibit our body’s ability to burn fat, which is the limiting factor in endurance events.
And because I know you’re now curious, to increase your fat burning ability and therefore your endurance capacity:
  1. Make refined sugar free eating a priority.
  2. Reduce your fructose intake.
  3. Rely less on starchy processed carbohydrates. Fact. You definitely don’t need to be following our traditional (and now almost obsolete) food pyramid, or guidelines of up to ten times your body weight in grams per day (i.e. 10g/kg BW/day). I promise.
  4. Train on an empty stomach a couple of times a week. More on this to come.
Carbohydrates: friend or foe?
A day-to-day intake heavily reliant on starchy carbohydrates (e.g. breads, rice, cereals, potatoes, sugary sports drinks and lollies) will not only limit your fat burning ability, but may also result in an inadequate protein intake and a diet lacking in many essential trace nutrients, vitamins and minerals. This most certainly will have a negative effect on your recovery and performance.
To increase performance and recovery however, the right types of carbohydrates can be extremely beneficial. Here’s why:
Firstly, carbohydrates are more oxygen-efficient than fat. Put simply, more energy is produced from the same amount of oxygen when carbohydrates are broken down. Why is this important? Oxygen availability is limited and determined by your own individual maximum oxygen uptake (VO2max). The consumption of carbohydrates during exercise of extended duration therefore, tops up your individual supply and acts to extend performance. Without this, your body will simply run of fuel and eventually come to a complete stop, otherwise known as “hitting the wall”.
Secondly, carbohydrates are the only macronutrient that can also be broken down rapidly without oxygen, to provide large amounts of extra energy during intense exercise. This anaerobic metabolism is vital to maximal performance for bouts between fifteen seconds and three minutes in duration. It is for this reason that athletes such as sprinters and weight lifters should consume carbohydrates prior to exercise, in order to supply adequate fuel for the following exercise effort.
Lastly, carbohydrates act to optimise muscle and liver glycogen stores (basically the carbohydrate you eat stored in your body) and enhance recovery from longer training sessions and endurance events. So the key to carbohydrate intkae is nutrient timing – when you eat them and why.
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