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.

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.

Hydration and athletic performance

Hydration and athletic performance

Research shows that a loss of sweat equal to ONLY 2% of body weight greatly affects your performance through a decrease in power, an increase in muscle fatigue, and the inability to recover and build muscle. There is an excellent article on the Sports Cardiology BC Website which I highly encourage you to read as it will forever change the importance you place on your hydration plan. If you are short on time, here is my bullet-point summary.

So what happens to performance when you are dehydrated?

  1. A reduction of blood volume =  lower Maximal Aerobic Power (V02 Max)
  2. Increased core temperature  = increased rate of glycogen breakdown in the muscles. This, in turn, leads to a greater amount of lactic acid which = muscle fatigue.
  3. Increased levels of cortisol = lower levels of testosterone aka the muscle-building hormone which is required for recovery and growth.

5 hydration tips that will help improve your performance

1. Create a habit of drinking 300 to 500ml of water every morning when you first wake up. If you had a few alcoholic drinks the night before, add lemon and a pinch of salt and an additional 500ml.

2. Consume at least 300 to 500ml of water 1 to 2 hours before your ride/endurance workout. This is particularly important on hotter days.

3. Replace fluid loss with both water and electrolytes. Evidence shows that hydrating with just water doesn’t replace lost electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and chloride resulting in a dramatic drop in performance. Use a richer mix during the winter (because you are drinking less) and a weaker solution during summer (because you’ll be drinking more). 

4. During the ride, drink before you get thirsty. Take small sips every 10 to 15mins whether you want to or not. Ideally, you should aim to drink 1.25 to 1.5 litres of fluid every hour, depending on your body size and how much you sweat. NOTE: For some, this still might not be enough on really hot days.  

5. Experiment and find what works for you.

EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULES

1. During short, intense workouts, such as the weekly Kits Energy workouts, limit your water intake immediately before and during the workout to avoid gastric upset. 

2. On cold days avoid consuming large amounts of fluids in the morning as your body will want to reduce the supply of blood going around your body. It will do this by making you want to pee it out as soon as you get your cycling bibs tucked in nicely under all those layers. 

WARNING
If you feel faint, dizzy, or start to get a headache please stop, seek shade and medical assistance ASAP. Dehydration is a serious issue for athletes and can lead to death.

Nutrition on the bike

Nutrition on the bike

When exercising your body converts both glycogen (aka sugar) and fat into energy. Converting glycogen is quick and easy so these sources are used for high-intensity efforts such as short sprints and hill climbs. Converting fat takes longer so it is used more for lower intensity efforts like steady long training rides.

But this doesn’t mean that you can fuel up on nuts and fat for your long rides. Unless you have trained your body, by strictly following a Keto Diet, your brain only survives on sugar/glycogen of which we have a limited supply. So when you suddenly feel tired, dizzy, lightheaded, short-tempered, or sick during a ride, this is usually because you don’t have enough sugar going to your brain.

We call this lack of glycogen, “bonking”.  You may have already experienced this so you will know that it is an extremely difficult state to reverse. 

To avoid BONKING, always stay one step ahead of what your body needs. 

Whether you feel like eating or not, following a predetermined schedule will ensure that you avoid “the bonk”.  Set a timer on your watch to remind you.

Normally we count calories so that we don’t overeat. Now I’m teaching you to count calories so that you eat enough.  The time to diet is not on the bike.

The timing of when you eat and the number of calories you eat at each interval are the keys to having a great ride.

If you eat too much at one time, you will upset your stomach. As you are working hard, your blood is in your muscles trying to do work – not in your stomach digesting food.

Everyone is unique in regards to how much they can digest comfortably. But 200-300 calories/hour is what is usually recommended. If you can eat while still pedaling, it is best to eat little bites of food every 10-15mins instead of the whole 200/300 calories at once.

It is your job to find out which types of foods and combinations of carb, protein, and fat percentages work best for you and your type of riding

The following is a guideline to get you started. Add or subtract calories as your stomach insists or your energy demands require

Always start a ride well hydrated and with enough fuel (inside of you) to last 60-90 minutes. You should NOT need to eat for a ride less than 90minutes.

Your pre-ride meal should be eaten within 1-3 hours before the ride, and consist of mainly carbohydrates. Fat and protein take 2-3hrs to digest so don’t eat them right before a hard workout. Avoid foods with high fiber as they also slow down digestion and may break up your ride with too many bathroom stops. As fat and protein digest slower, you can eat more of them before longer rides as you will use this stored energy later in the ride.
Examples: toast with peanut/almond butter and banana, yogurt and granola and fruit, fruit smoothie, oatmeal with honey, eggs and toast, bagel and cream cheese, muffin

During the ride eat small bites but eat often.
Eat your first snack 45-60minutes into the ride. Your snack should contain 200-300 calories of mainly simple carbs with very little fat and protein. Generally speaking the smaller you are, the less you need to eat, however, there are exceptions to every rule.  

Examples: fruit bars, gels, boiled potatoes, bananas, fig newtons, sesame snaps, shot bloks, cliff bars, dates, homemade granola bars or cookies, sharkies, or a drink with calories in it like pure maltodextrin, Scratch, Vega Sport, Eload, etc. 

It is best to have a variety of food with you so you can change the balance of carbs, protein, and fat throughout the ride. DO NOT BRING ONLY SUGAR and AVOID CAFFEINE until closer to the end of the ride. 

Don’t put your body into a state of extreme highs and lows by overloading the body with pure sugar and caffeine. Consuming ONLY pure sugar will place you on an insulin roller coaster and will quickly make your stomach rebel. The exception to this rule would be an intense race where you are pushing a hard effort for the whole ride or the event is less than 2.5 hours.

Foods to avoid before or during a ride:
– apples, berries, prunes (too much fibre)
– nuts or high fat foods (a few are ok at the start of the ride)
– large amounts of meat or protein including high protein bars (too long to digest)
– salad or only veggies (you need calories not vitamins right now)

Hydration
Use the rule of a minimum of one full water bottle of water (with added electrolytes or salt and lemon depending on how much you sweat) for every hour on the bike.

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