Testing, protein recommendations for endurance athletes, nutrition tidbits, and update from Limerick

Hi all,

So we hit the ground running when we landed in Ireland from Hawaii on October 26th with a move into our new home, work, training, and all that jazz. It started as autumn and in one week winter bite hard with freezing temperatures.

seasons-change-7

I am racing East London (South Africa) 70.3 in January so I have been consistent, focused, and loving every minute of my training since I returned (apart from the temperature; its cold or what denial terms as ‘fresh’). My hours aren’t massive and there is a good mix of indoor biking, outdoor running when I can, swimming, and a sprinkling of basic plyometrics and strength work.

I sat down in Hawaii before we returned home and did a big audit on how last year went and built a plan around this based on my strengths and more importantly my weakness, the key races that I would like to enjoy, a commitment to getting to bed earlier, and I  made a point to write a detailed list of my own personal goals and how I would like to feel in mind and body along the journey. For me my bottom line is joy and learning; and the spin-off is the focus and structure that I gain in my life.

The training is ticking over nicely under the watchful eye of my coach Annchen Clarke.

Let me clarify for all the training talk below and seriousness it is slightly tongue in cheek when it relates to myself; I love training and I love the challenge but mostly I LOVE all that I am learning. I will continue to learn as much as I can to help me translate your training into nutrition as best I can. I cannot even begin to express how much more I have learnt adding practice to theory and I thought that I knew a lot before. 

andrea-bike

Me having a bike fit with John at the bike fit studio in Dublin. I don’t have the finance to buy a new bike so lets work with the bike and make the rider better with some training 🙂

Testing, testing, testing…

I place a big focus on being intuitive in my body and listening to how things feel; because it works for me. When I have deviated from this things have gone pear-shaped a little. This is all based on one big learning lesson however; and that was

THAT I HAD TO STOP PUSHING, DOING SILLY TRAINING AND BEING MORE SPECIFIC.
I HAD TO START BEING SMART AND NOT STUPID. The training focus had to move to quality over ANY NEGATIVE MENTAL HEAD-SPACE THAT I MAY HAVE BEEN IN CONCERNING MORE AND FASTER AND FARTHER. I cannot say how I specifically achieved this only that the desire was there to let go and start being a smart athlete that did things properly; the way I tell athlete clients to train.

We have collected more data, the bike will be more specific based on my FTP, in my running I am working a lot on the aerobic system and hills for now (I love running in the local rolling hills; they are challenging without being silly steep and all on good surfaces), and in swimming I am digging in to really feeling the water and technique as well as strength. I recently did a VO2 max test with Sean of Health Matters and this highly informative about improvements in the past 12 months as well as a ‘guide’ to my running in the coming weeks.

vo2-testing

Garron doing a VO2 test with Sean last season (the altitude was off!)

Data is a GREAT thing, but it is not the only thing. I believe that data is a tool to help you understand your body better. For me the goal is always to understand how what I am feeling translates, without over-riding my innate ability to tap into my own guiding powers of intuition; and I do the same for my athletes when interpreting the data. NOTHING can truly assess and know the body as well as the athlete. Not even the coach (which is why communication is important); they do their best and the coaches that care truly do operate from a place of science and experience and intuition.

Remember too that tests are only telling us what is happening on a specific day or small window in time.

Science is the same too; it only knows as much as it knows for now. Studies aren’t perfect, bias happens, interpretations can be swayed by opinion and nothing is an absolute. For example we truly cannot fully know someones calorie expenditure (allowance) for one day never mind every day in the month because it certainly isn’t the same on a daily basis. And as for your breakfast; well at best we are estimating the nutrition and the calorie count. When it comes to diet there are some very important issues to build a base on first these being food quality, the balance of the meal, cooking techniques and skills (and even implements for example some release compounds that arent very good for us when heated), timing of our meals and snacks in relation to training, how to adjust the ratios relative to specific sessions, how to progress from pre-season to racing season and into the off-season if you do take a break, and so on.

Don’t lose the bigger picture! Don’t become a food snob, or become overly obsessed, lose the capacity to read your body’s intuitive nudges towards what it needs (appetite and cravings) or lose balance.

Many things impact how we feel and respond to training and how well we recover from sessions and allowing the Training Peaks number or a heart rate number, your speed or pace or a Watt to be the god of decisions is never a good thing in my book. Data should be a tool; make it your friend but don’t form a dependency on it.

Emotions, the weather, stress, poor sleep, the menstrual cycle, the adrenal hormone system, your thyroid hormone balance, the immune system, your diet, your blood pressure and hydration levels, how many coffees you have drunk, what training you did yesterday, and even your psychology and focus / mind state in the moment can all influence the raw data…. learn to observe the data, use it to guide you but ALWAYS LISTEN TO YOUR BODY AND WATCH ITS RESPONSE, PAY ATTENTION TO ANOMALIES, NIGGLES AND HOW YOUR TRAINING IS ACTUALLY TRANSLATING.

And remember that training is a process that translates into a performance. Don’t judge your training like it is the race; it is the journey to the race. Train smartly and be the hero on race day; and let trust patience, and persistence get you there.

Data crunching do we need it?

data

Let me expand a little about what I mean about numbers, tests and tools, as for sure they are an invaluable tool; but context, interpretation, practicality and relevance is everything also.

We have a vast array of gadgets and tools available to us such as training heart rate monitors, GPS training watches (e.g Polar and Garmin but I would almost call these data collection devices), Heart rate variability apps, pulse/ heart rate measurement apps on our phones (e.g. for first thing in the morning), power meters for bike, power meters for running. I cannot keep up; Kona is always an eye opener when it comes to gadgets. I spent time quizzing a few people on the data crunching and just how much did they know and how does this translates into the real world.

In fact we can collect such an amount of data these days that the real problem is knowing what to do with it. One MUST ask the following questions: Is the data collection reliable (specific, sensitive, consistent etc)? Do we know how to interpret the data? Is the company selling the gadget in a position to give practical advice from the data or are you merely acting as a data collector for them to chew on? Does the data give us practical tools to work with and end of day better performances?

And then when you walk into my world I can have a needle stuck into you for blood biochemistry assessment (e.g. iron, B12, Vitamin D, liver function, kidney function, inflammation markers, hormones, infection markers, immune system etc.); take your saliva for hormone analysis, get you to send your poo to a lab for parasite and microbe analysis (the good, the bad and the ugly); we can assess your body composition and hydration status and hydration compartmentalization and even cellular health using bioelectrical impedence; we can assess your mineral levels in the hair, white or red blood cells or even the nails. I can have you chew on gum and send the sample to Germany for mercury analysis.

There are many many tests available to me from the world of medical and functional diagnostics but it doesn’t mean that I just order what I fancy. I have to make sure that what I order is needed, is accurate, is specific and will guide the treatment and practical recommendations more than I could have done in the absence of said test. I don’t like wasting athletes time or money and I certainly am ethical in my decisions when it comes to running a business. I won’t point at fingers at anyone when it comes to people making a lot of money because athletes, and triathletes especially, will spend ridiculous sums of money on questionable promises.

Then we have functional tests such as lactate, metabolic and physiological such as oxygen dynamics and VO2 max testing.

Dig farther and we have genetic tests.

I know my thoughts on all of the above; some are helpful, others ‘depend’, and some just aren’t there yet and I certainly don’t have all the answers and I ask far too many questions and I have to remind myself that as the brain wheels spin it is crucial to stay listening.

observe-quotes-3

I recommend that you always seek expert advice from your coach, doctor, nutritional/ functional medicine therapist, and physiologist before investing your money or blindly believing the marketing spiel. And remember often the most basic steps reap the most rewards.

Training – quality, quantity, specificity

Sleep – athletes need MORE

Nutrition – your food & drink choices

Lifestyle – the choices you make every day

Your Mind – beliefs, perceptions & reactions

Consistency

You must also check where you ego is in all of this; what beliefs are you clinging on to? Listening is a great skill 🙂

Protein – why its important for endurance athletes

Protein

Many athletes that come into the clinic are eating too small an intake of protein or are timing the intake that they do have inappropriately in relation to their training, a time when they need it most. Then I do on occasion see athletes completely overdoing their recommended protein portion in a sort of all or nothing approach. It is not that protein is bad for you in a greater intake than the recommended portion size; more so that it may be taking over your plate when there should be some vegetables, healthy fats and depending on your training carbohydrates.

Protein is important to the endurance athlete and is “not just a food that we associate with strength athletes”.

Why?

Well first off think about the structural functions of protein such as building and maintaining our body and its organs, tissues, glands, muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons, and the enzymes within our muscles as well as those enzymes busy throughout the whole body catalysing ‘things happening’. All these structures are constructed from amino acids (and more but that’s another topic); amino acids are the breakdown products of the protein that we eat and to mind boggle you more the digestive enzymes that break down protein are made from amino acids!

Then we have the immune system; this is reliant on adequate protein for the building of many of its components. Hormones too. And then there is our DNA; DNA is built on a protein backbone and all the coding machinery and codes are amino acid containing too.

Think also about the instructions (training stress) that we give our body when we train – we are asking it to make changes; to adapt with changes to the muscle as well as within the muscle via a process called mitochondrial biogenesis. We are also asking the body to upregulate in many functions such as fat oxidation, carbohydrate oxidation, antioxidant systems, inflammation systems, the immune system, hormone synthesis, protein transcription and so on. The messengers in these processes are constructed from amino acids.

Amino acids derived from the protein we eat are furthermore used in the ‘manufacture’ of our neurotransmitters. Protein intake is important for our moods, motivation, memory, focus, etc.

Protein is also a fuel; a small percentage of our fuel as an endurance athlete comes from amino acids. Although in an ideal world this is limited by strategies we use such as fuelling appropriately before a session and eating during longer training sessions and racing (I like my athletes to consume a small percentage of their race fuel as protein when racing 70.3 and ironman distance; most tolerate it well).

Then we have parts of protein such as leucine which act as a signal to the body to curb muscle protein breakdown and stimulate muscle protein synthesis; something that is desired in the endurance athlete as well as the strength athlete. Protein is incredibly important for athletes practicing low carbohydrate availability for specific training sessions as it limits muscle catabolism while supporting the desired improved aerobic fat oxidation improvements.

We WANT to stimulate protein repair and growth as well as support optimal health and to do this we need an adequate amount of protein. Not simply enough to prevent muscle catabolism (breakdown) but sufficient to create an environment of optimal health and an efficiently functioning body.

In the clinic we explore your current diet patterns, protein intake and balance across and day and appropriateness relative to your training and health demands. I also educate you about the vast choices of protein foods that are available and how to best balance them. We can also myth bust protein supplements (whey, casein, and various vegan protein blends), amino acid, branched chain amino acids, glutamine, and leucine and whether they will benefit you.  It’s not just about steak!

Protein can also serve the dual function of helping us regulate our blood sugar levels in response to a meal containing carbohydrates. The addition of protein (or fat) to a meal containing carbohydrate reduces it glycaemic load and thus helps to stabilise blood sugar levels. This may prevent exercise induced hypoglycaemia in prone athletes and may also help athletes to remain in a more fat oxidation dominant state when training aerobically enabling them to eat something rather than train fasted.

Although there are many factors involved in determining what exact recovery food choices are made following a training session and what is eaten before a training session it can be simplified into the recommendation to more often than not eat something containing protein soon after your session and to eat something containing protein before your session. There are a lot of ‘it depends’ and to keep this blog short I am not going into all the details but let the emphasis be on WHY protein is so important for you the athlete. If you would like for me to analyse your diet and its appropriateness in relation to your training and racing phase please fill in the contact form. There are always improvements to be made.

knowbetter

 

Helpful tidbits

Science Driven nutrition are a GREAT nutrition resource

I love this cheeky article: Your Diet Does Not Make You Morally Superior

moral-highground

And from Performance Nutrition The surprising problem with calorie counting.
Part 1: ‘Calories In’.

Most people who count calories for weight loss or weight management assume it’s an exact science. It’s not. Here we outline 5 reasons calorie counting (i.e. logging your food to calculate intake) is fundamentally flawed. Click here to read more

The surprising problem with calorie counting Part 2 calories out.

Think meticulous calorie counting means knowing exactly how much breakfast you’re burning during exercise? Unfortunately, it’s more complicated than that. Here, 4 reasons why daily activity tracking and exercise counts can be problematic. Click here to read more

Recipe suggestions and gems of advice

Eat more turmeric; google it, add it to curries, pasta dishes, home-made dressings, use to top steamed fish or chicken like I have done here, heck you can even make hot coconut-turmeric tea!

Dinner tonight was constructed around perch fillets topped with coconut oil, turmeric, sea salt and pepper. {We added lentils and vegetables to this}.

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I have a heap of simple recipes on my achealthsolutions blog; nothing fancy.

Here is a recipe for Brussels sprouts; little nutrient bombs. We like them roasted in our house (olive oil and some salt; nothing fancy) but here is a nice tweak on them.

When eating veggies try to make sure that you have some fat in the meal to aid fat soluble vitamin and plant antioxidant absorption. e.g. add some oils such as a healthy oil based dressing or have some nuts, seeds, avo, cheese, or a protein containing fat like salmon or steak on the plate.

Aim to include beans and lentils on the menu on occasion as they contain nutritional strengths that other food choices may lack in and so bring balance to the diet.

Explore offal and organ meats; why? read here .

Women have different nutritional needs and fuel oxidation ratios depending on what phase they are in their cycle (but you knew this so why didn’t you listen to your body?); click here for a science study and here for a great interview.

That’s it from me,

Love,
Andrea

Lava fields by Kalapana
I miss Kona!

PS join me on Zwift this weekend making miles count

 

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