macronutrient Myths

macronutrient Myths

As athletes, (athlete = everyone who exercises) we often think that we burn so many calories that we can eat whatever we want and as much as we want. In truth, athletes need to be more careful with their diet – as food is fuel.

80% of what we eat should contain properties that will boost performance and speed recovery. The other 20% we can reserve for enjoyment of life.

There are many myths and confusion around nutrition, specifically around carbohydrates (carbs) and fat, which have long been made into the enemies of most weight loss programs. This is wrong. Fat and Carbs do not make you fat.

Each of the macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrates, are essential for the performance, growth, and repair of the body. Although they may be required in different quantities during different stage of training (daily, weekly, and yearly), each is just as important as the other.

Many athletes have found success following a KETO, Paleo, or Vegan diet. There are also many medical reasons (cancer, colitis, ulcers, irritable bowl, chronic fatigue, Parkinsons, etc), when these types of diets might be appropriate for you – either in the long or short term. However, choosing a diet that eliminates certain food groups requires much research and planning. I suggest you develop eating habits that you can sustain for your entire life – not just for a short period of time to achieve a short term goal. This could mean that you still chose a vegan or Paleo diet – but you are making these choices because you enjoy the diet and/or you have made a conscious decision to eliminate meat for many reasons.

The following is a quick debunking of some of the most common myths around macronutrients and how you can start to create an eating plan that is sustainable for life.

PROTEIN

Eating protein does not result in bigger muscles, but muscles cannot grow without adequate protein. Protein is one of the building blocks that make humans who we are. Every cell in the human body is made up of protein. During exercise, we deliberately create micro-tears tears in the muscles. The long-chain amino acids help repair the cells and even create new ones, strengthening the muscles. Without enough protein, micro-tears in the muscles may take longer to recover, or not repair at all. So instead of getting stronger, muscle mass decreases, and the risk of injury or illness increases. 

Athletes require 1.2 – 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. So a 68kg (150lb) athlete will need between 80 to 136 grams per day. Since the body can only digest and use 30 grams in one meal, we require at least 3 to 5 small protein meals throughout the day. 

Vegetarians and vegans will need to combine foods to ensure their meals include complete proteins. Note: A complete protein contains the nine essential amino acids that our bodies do not produce.

FAT

Eating fat does not make a person fat. Eating more than what your body requires will make you fat. Fat is essential for providing long sustained energy, supporting cell growth, allowing the body to absorb certain nutrients, and controlling inflammation, which is crucial after a long hard ride or workout. Fat is also the primary fuel source for endurance athletes. After the first hour, when an athlete runs out of glycogen, the body turns to fat for energy. Fat is not the enemy but an endurance athlete’s best friend who never lets them down.

CARBS

The primary function of carbs is to provide quick, immediate energy, sparring fat, and protein so they can do all of their other vital jobs. However, we can only store so much glycogen at once. Once glycogen stores are full, sugar transforms and is stored as fat. So while fat can sustain us for a long time, converting fat into energy is slow and not as efficient as glycogen, so topping up our small glycogen reserves by eating simple carbs during a long workout will help the athlete access quick, readily available energy. Athletes can train their body to work and become more efficient using only fat, but this also requires a dedicated commitment to a specific diet and eliminating almost all carbohydrates both on and off the bike.

So the big question is: Without following a specific diet plan, which foods are best?

Variety is the key. 

Foods that are whole, unprocessed, and from various sources will help bring about the most significant gains to enhance training and decrease recovery time. Avoid fast convenience foods and alcohol as they lack the necessary nourishment and deplete the body of essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

To help simplify things, ensure that each meal contains a selection of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. The exception to this rule is immediately before training, exercising, or racing, when you want to avoid protein and fat as they take longer to digest.

Choose food from a wide variety, in every colour, and always fresh if possible. Change up your food choices every week to ensure that you are getting adequate micronutrients as well. By using many different cooking methods such as steaming, blanching, baking, or eating food raw will also allow different nutrients more bioavailable.

For athletes suffering from stomach issues, lack of energy, slow recovery, irritable bowel, or possible food allergies, take notes and record energy levels one to two hours after eating. Pay attention to how certain foods make you feel – not just in the moment – but throughout the day.

There is no one eating plan that will work for everyone, so although it may seem easier to follow a diet, you will be more successful long term if you can discover what works best for you. As you age, or circumstances change, you will need to adjust again. Hopefully, you will know your body well enough by then to make those changes, without resorting back to another diet plan.

make weight training your priority (in the off-season)

make weight training your priority (in the off-season)

Let’s first clarify that yes – every sport SHOULD have an off-season. If you aren’t training for anything specific but train for life, you should still have a few months where you slow down and focus on things that you may have neglected due to lack of time, interest, or just because it isn’t a part of your daily routine.

In Vancouver where we can ride almost year round, the off-season can be short – only a few months sometimes. Some cyclists are more fair weather riders and take a full 5 months before getting back on the road. But, either way, relying on spin classes alone should not be your only off-season training. If you hope to continue moving well for the remainder of your life, your training program needs to support this.

The number one thing that everyone should be incorporating in their off-season is weight training.

Starting from the age of 30, we lose 3-8% of muscle mass per decade. This number increases dramatically after the age of 65. Cycling is great to build muscles for the legs, but does nothing for the upper body. In addition, cycling is a non-impact sport, so it won’t help build strong bones. If you don’t want to become frail as you age, you MUST maintain a weight training program year round. The off-season is a good time to start. Everyone should aim for three 45min strength workouts per week, unless you have an active job that requires a lot of lifting. Throughout the cycling season, you can drop back to once a week to maintain the fitness you have gained.

But not everyone is ready to jump into the gym to start picking up weights. Some may need to take a step back and deal with prior injuries or poor mobility before undertaking a weight training program.

Injury Rehab

Before you can start to weight train, you first need to be injury free. Trying to build muscle on a torn tendon or tissue will create a larger problem. Find a physio. Do your exercises, and don’t start to add weights until you are pain free. If you have a chronic problem that won’t get better with physio (torn knees or blown out hips), make sure that you are doing exercises that support your injury and aren’t making it worse.

Mobility Training

Having poor mobility is a precursor to injury. If a joint can’t move like it should, your body will compensate. This works for awhile, but the added and repeated stress will eventually take a toll on your body and you will be back to the physio again. Having adequate mobility in every joint should be the FIRST goal for every lifelong athlete.

If you want to cycle when you are 80, now is the time to prepare your body, slowing down the natural decline that happens with age.

Importance of recovery

Importance of recovery

Starting a workout without adequate recovery, could be doing more damage than good.

Do this too many times in a row, and performance will quickly decline. 

For many of us, when we see ourselves getting slower, we think we need to train more. This is the last thing we should do!!!!! In many cases, more training will cause an injury or result in some sort of illness as the immune system can’t keep up. If you find yourself chronically fatigued, the fastest way to get back on track, is to first let your body heal.

One way to avoid over-training is to follow a pre-planned program which includes both recovery days and a full week of recovery once a month. Even if you are feeling strong, DON’T SKIP THE RECOVERY WEEK(S).

But recovery isn’t about doing nothing. It can include easy workouts, stretching, yoga, and “fun days”. These are added to the training program for a reason; they all help your muscles recover faster and mentally reduce stress.

So how do you make the most of your recovery time?


RULE #1

The more intense the workout, the more recovery time you need. 

48hrs should be enough rest, but you may need to extend this time if you made a big jump in your training volume/intensity or after a hard race or event. If you still don’t feel rested before your next strenuous workout, it is best to skip it and take more time to recover. 

When you first start any sport there is going to a period of adaptation. For cycling, this feeling lasts a bit longer as you are building an endurance base. Once you have established a solid base (of 2-3 hours comfortably), you should no longer be bagged and need a nap after your long rides.


OTHER TIPS (specifically to cycling but can be adapted to other sports)

1.  Add in a short (30-60min) recovery ride the day after an intense workout. Keep your recovery rides light and easy, spinning the legs quickly (over 85 RPM) with very little to no intensity.

2. Stretch hip flexors (top of legs into the abs), glutes (buttocks), quads (front of legs), low back, and hamstrings (back of legs) religiously. Ideally, do a movement stretching program instead of static holds.

3. Enjoy time off the bike to cross-train. Doing something new is a great stress reliever but will also help strengthen muscles you are not using on the bike. The most complimentary sports are swimming, yoga, tai chi, or weight training (Your focus should be on core and upper body during the summer. Hard leg and weight training are best done in the off-season during the fall and winter).

4. Your body is trying to heal from the moment you get off the bike until you get back on again. Plan meals ahead of time to ensure you are well-fuelled (both food and water) before and after each workout.  

5. Muscles repair during sleep, so don’t skimp on your zzz’s.

6. If you are suffering from fatigue, frequent colds/flu, injuries, general fatigue, depression, or more frequent irritation, it may mean that you are overtraining. Take a few days off until you feel better. When you come back to training, ease back into it slowly. Training when you are sick will likely only prolong your illness.

7.  If you follow the Kits Energy Training Program, you will see a recovery week every 4th week.  During a recovery week, your volume/distance is reduced, BUT your intensity is NOT.  By maintaining intensity, you will not lose any fitness. After the week is over, your body should have adapted to the previous month’s stress, and you will be ready to add more stress/training again.

SIDE NOTE: If you are new to cycling or a more “seasoned” rider, you may need a recovery week every 3rd week instead of four. Listen to your body as it always knows best.

think your way to better performance

think your way to better performance

“I suck at climbing.”

“This is my bad/weak side.”

“I’m hate … (fill in the blank) exercise or drill.”

And sure enough, you have proven yourself correct. You suck at climbing, your weak leg can’t do as many reps as your “good” side, and the exercise you hate is as terrible as always.

What if you changed how you spoke to yourself? Why not try boosting yourself up with a positive thought or encouragement instead of negative? How do you think that would change the outcome?

By choosing to look at a situation (that you usually dislike) with positivity and a sense of play, you not only improve your experience, but your thoughts can and will change your reality. Look at every mountain as an opportunity to grow stronger and soon you will become a monster on hills. Imagine your “weak side” as being made of steel, impossible to break, and soon it will become just as strong as the other side. Use those “awful” exercises as a way to build mental strength and resilience so nothing can break you.

Deena Kastor, Olympic medalist in the marathon and an elite runner in almost every distance wrote an excellent memoir titled, Let Your Mind Run, which I highly recommend for any and every athlete. Deena believes that changing her mindset to become more encouraging, kind, and resilient was the key to her success. I have read many self help books on positive thinking, and I will tell you – this one is unique and interesting to read about the path of an olympian. Her journey is not only inspiring, it is full of ups and downs that, at many times, threatened her career as a runner. In many ways, each of us can relate to her experiences as they include depression, insecurity, losing focus, broken bones, and having children. Even if you do not consider yourself to be competitive, Deena’s practice of having a positive mindset works for all aspects of life.

If you want to learn more about how to change your mindset, specifically for sports and performance, the next book I recommend reading is, In Pursuit of Excellence, by Terry Orlick. The first time I read this book was in 2009 when I was training for Ironman Canada, but I believe it is timeless. This book has practical tips and tools to help you stay focused during training and performance.

Next time you catch yourself thinking, I don’t like …, see if you can reframe it into an opportunity, challenge, or even a game.

Take an Epson salt bath for recovery

Take an Epson salt bath for recovery

The more you train, the more you need to recover.

Many athletes get so caught up closing activity rings, counting steps, competing in Strava challenges, or reaching a distance goal, that they forget to make recovery a priority. 

One form of recovery, that often gets overlooked is an Epson Salt Bath.

Especially in the cold winter months, a hot sudsy bath does sound pretty inviting. But, besides being relaxing, how else does it help you recover?

We don’t have many concrete scientific studies that support how an Epson Salt Bath helps recovery, but we do know that it works. On the most basic level, taking a warm bath helps calm the nervous system which has a ripple affect, allowing your body to direct it’s energy into repair mode.

If you want to take it a step further, if the athlete also uses this time to focus on breathing, or follows another form of relaxation technique such as listening to music or reading a novel, your brain has time to shut off and recharge. Think of your body like your iphone; it has a long battery life, but the more you use it, the longer you need to stop to recharge.

So what is it about the Epson Salts?

Dissolving epson salts in water releases magnesium and sulfate ions, which can be absorbed through the skin. Magnesium plays many crucial roles in the body and is required in more than 300 essential metabolic reactions in the body. Some of the most important roles for an athlete are:

regulates energy production aka improves performance

regulates muscle and nerve function

regulates blood sugar levels

regulates blood pressure

reduces inflammation

strengthens bones

reduces depression

improves digestion

helps release melatonin which helps you sleep

So, instead of thinking of your bath as a guilty pleasure, you can add it to your arsenal of recovery tools to make you faster, stronger, fitter, and healthier overall.

In the summer, we will talk about ice baths and contrast baths, which also have amazing benefits in aiding recovery, but much harder to convince when it is already cold outside.

10 tips to break sugar addiction

10 tips to break sugar addiction

scroll to bottom for cookie recipe

After several weeks of indulging over Christmas, it can be challenging to return to our usual, healthy way of eating. This is not just due to a lack of willpower. Physiologically, your body and brain are now programmed to want more sugar, making the cravings almost impossible to ignore. 

The brain demands sugar

Sugar fuels every cell in the brain. Your brain also sees sugar as a reward, making you want more of it. You reinforce that reward system every time you eat sugar, making it a tough habit to break.

And the body wants it’s share as well

As if that wasn’t enough, now your body also demands that you give it another hit. As insulin moves glucose out of the bloodstream and into your cells for energy, this rapid drop in blood sugar leaves you feeling wiped out and shaky, searching for more sweets to regain that sugar “high.”

Starch equals sugar

Think you don’t have a sweet tooth, but crave bagels, chips, crackers, or french fries? Highly refined starches are complex carbs that the body breaks down into simple sugars. When eaten without protein, fat, or fibre, starches can make blood sugar levels surge and crash, similar to a simple sugar bonk. 

So how do we break this cycle?

  1. Start Slow

January is notorious for making massive commitments to change our lives and diet, only to fail by February and give up.

Instead of going cold turkey on quitting sugar, do it gradually. Try cutting out one sweet food from your diet each week. For example, pass on dessert after dinner or eat one cookie instead of two.

2. Retrain your taste buds

Over time, you can train your taste buds to enjoy things that aren’t as sweet. Start by putting less sugar in your coffee, oatmeal, and baked goods. Over time your taste buds will change, and you will experience the same pleasure or “high” with less.

3. Change up your sugar choices 

Include more fruits and vegetables containing natural sugars, fibre, antioxidants, and essential vitamins. 

4. Educate yourself 

Check food labels. Watch out for items that list any form of sugar in the first few ingredients, or have more than 4 total grams of sugar per serving.

The word “sugar” sometimes goes by another name, like these:

  • Agave nectar
  • Brown rice syrup
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Dextrose
  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Glucose
  • Lactose
  • Malt syrup
  • Molasses
  • Sucrose
  • Honey

5. Add more protein and fibre

High-protein and fibre foods digest more slowly, keeping you feeling full for longer. They also don’t make your blood sugar spike the way refined carbs and sugars do. Good protein sources are chicken, yogurt, eggs, nuts, or beans. Good fibre sources are soaked chia seeds, oats, beans, lentils, berries.

Food combining (eating a high protein or fibre along with a high sugar food) will slow the release of insulin and help prevent a sugar crash. But the brain will remain in the same “sugar = reward” feedback loop.

6. Do NOT substitute with artificial sweeteners

Some studies suggest artificial sweeteners may leave you craving more sugar, which doesn’t help break your taste for sweets. Pay attention to your body. Are sweeteners making you crave even more sugar? 

7. Get enough sleep and rest

Many times we crave sugar because we are tired and looking for energy. In addition, if we are well rested, we can make better decisions and, therefore, better food choices.

8. Snack on exercise

It is usually around 2 or 3pm when our blood sugar drops and we start to crave something sweet. Instead of reaching for a cookie, get up and complete a short but vigorous form of exercise. Run up and down the stairs or whip off 10 fast push-ups or do burpees in your office. The quick adrenaline rush will boost your energy levels and curb the craving.

9. When baking, cut the sugar by half

Unless the recipe was designed for weight loss or a low-sugar diet, EVERY recipe I have found uses way too much sugar. As a general rule, I cut the sugar by half. If it is just for myself and my husband, I will continue to cut the sugar until I find how low I can go before he notices. 

10. Make it easy

Have tasty snacks and food available and easy to access, for when your next sugar craving hits. Some snack ideas are: celery sticks with peanut butter, yogurt and blueberries, hummus and any vegetable, apple and almond butter, raisins and almonds. Eat foods that you enjoy so you don’t feel deprived.

Here is my favourite healthy cookie recipe courtesy of Dr. Leslie Wicholas. Leslie is a psychiatrist and an avid cyclist who rides with Kits Energy. She also designed the food as Medicine program to treat depressive mood disorders and fibromyalgia at the Mood Disorders Association of BC.  I love these cookies so much that I double the recipe, so I always have a few in my freezer.

Chocolate Spice Cookies (gluten and dairy free)

by Leslie Wicholas, MD

2/3 cup baked cooked garnet yam. Remove the skin from the yam before using. (You can bake yams ahead of time and freeze them to use later)

1 egg

4 Tbsp mild flavoured olive oil

3 Tbsp dark maple syrup

1/3 cup coconut flour

1/4 cup oat flour

3 Tbsp cocoa powder

1.5 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/8 tsp salt

3 Tbsp dark chocolate chips

Bake yam at 400 degrees for 1 hour or until really soft. Fully cool in refrigerator before using.

  1. Pre heat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Mix the wet ingredients well.
  3. Combine dry ingredients and add to wet ingredients. Mix well. Batter will be sticky with a cake like batter consistency. It will firm up after baking.
  4. Grease cookie sheet with coconut oil. Scoop a spoon full of batter onto the sheet. Gently shape into cookies
  5. Bake for 20 minutes. Cookies should be firm, with a little “spring” when you touch it.

Makes 15 cookies

Keeps well in fridge for 3-4 days. Freezes well.

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