What do nutrition trends in competitions and training really bring?
The fastest race suit, the best bike, or the lightest shoes don’t mean anything if the body hasn’t got enough available energy. To be able to prepare optimally in training, to deliver the best performance in races and then be able to recover even quicker afterwards demands the correct nutrition. But what is the correct nutrition? Who today can find a path through the jungle of foods promising performance enhancement and which up-to-date trends are actually truly useful?
As part of the Triathlon Convention Europe, PowerBar tried to shed some light into the darkness with an interesting dialogue between science and practical application. Taking part were elite athletes, such as the current reigning IRONMAN World Champion Sebastian Kienle, the former runner Ingalena Heuck, and the ex-pro cyclist Marcel Wüst as well as the PowerBar Nutritionist Corinne Mäder.
In the following text we provide valuable tips about the trends surrounding beetroot, caffeine, training with or without carbohydrates, as well as recovery. We summarise the discussion by highlighting current scientific findings, as well as one or two insider stories from athletes.
Can beetroot improve my performance? The red beet is a type of vegetable very rich in nitrates. The body can produce nitric oxide from nitrate through metabolic processes, which, among other things, has a vasodilating effect. The effectiveness of beetroot supplementation, in addition to dosage and dosing regime, depends on individual factors such as fitness level, general nutrition, as well as type and intensity of exercise. Currently a nitrate intake contained in approx. 500ml beetroot juice consumed once, or for several days, consumed 2-3 hours before exercise, in each case, is discussed. Especially in less well-trained endurance athletes this can potentially lead to improvements during submaximal exercise through improved muscle function. However, more studies are necessary. As drinking 500ml of beetroot juice is impractical for many athletes, using concentrated beetroot juice shots (Beetshots) is a good alternative.
How does that translate to real life? Ingalena Heuck and Sebastian Kienle told of their own experiences on this topic, and agreed that athletes must try from themselves if this sports nutrition trend is of use for them. Both elite athletes reported that apart from a change of the colour of their urine they didn’t experience any real performance benefits.
Caffeine, depending on the amount, plays an important role for athletes, both in training as well as in racing. It’s been shown to increase the mental capacity, as well as endurance performance. However, abstaining from caffeine, for example one week before a race, has been shown to have no impact on the effect of caffeine on the race itself, according to the latest scientific findings. In some athletes it would perhaps make sense psychologically to abstain from coffee in the days leading up to a competition.
The athletes present spoke of their different experiences. Marcel Wüst, for example, was of the opinion that for him, as a sprinter, it was important to fully understand the issues surrounding caffeine. Actually, his method was to reduce the daily intake over several weeks before a competition, only then to increase it again significantly, and benefitting from a further enhanced performance increasing effect. In stark contrast to this is Sebastian Kienle, who doesn’t believe in reducing his daily coffee intake. The triathlete feels that this compromises his quality of life far too much, without really feeling any improvements. His experience is that if the body is already used to caffeine, then the potential increases in performance can be even higher.
Research indicates that it seems to be genetically determined which person reacts to caffeine (positively, negatively or not at all), and which dosage is optimal. A detailed insight into the topic caffeine will be available on the PowerBar nutrition blog in May.
“Train low compete high” has been debated for a while now when it comes to nutritional strategies for training and competition. It is, however, very important that each individual looks at this topic separately, so that they can orientate themselves according to their own needs. “train low”, i.e. training with low carbohydrate availability, optimises the fat metabolism, and enhances endurance-training specific adaptations. In contrast, the sufficient supply and availability of carbohydrates for intense exercise and during competition is very important for maximal performance. Therefore “train low” does not mean that a chronic carbohydrate restricting diet should be implemented over several weeks. Merely previously chosen, targeted sessions should be completed with low carbohydrate availability.
Sebastian Kienle believes that the integration of “train low” strategies at specific times during the season can be useful. However, it isn’t helpful, for example during a training camp, to reduce carbohydrate intake, then to simultaneously increase the volume of training, and finally also to try to lose 1 or 2 kilograms. This affects performance negatively. For him these nutrition and training methods are better suited to other training cycles. More information and details on this rather complex topic “train low compete high” will be available on our blog in April.
Effective recovery is as important as training itself. Correctly placed training stimuli lead to adaptive reactions in the body. The ‘selection” of food after training is crucial, as nutrients influence, among other things, the metabolic and hormonal milieu, and therefore also the training adaptations. This, in turn, leads to improvements in performance and progression. The correct sports nutrition strategy not only supports and promotes the training specific adaptations in the body, but also supports the athlete to be able to perform again sooner - which ultimately leads to an improvement in exercise performance.
Immediately after intense training and a short window of recovery, it is advantageous to supply the body with carbohydrates and protein, which replenishes depleted stores in the body, and supports muscle repair processes. For example, having plain low-fat Greek yoghurt with a banana, or by having a recovery shake.
Good recovery is absolutely essential for world-class athletes such as Sebastian Kienle and Ingalena Heuck. For Kienle it is the most important topic in sports nutrition. For him, especially the ratio of carbohydrates to protein is essential. Even before a rest day he is convinced that an increased protein intake aids optimal recovery. Especially in the current time of increased risk of illness, Ingalena Heuck encourages the intake of sufficient energy to give back to the body, which allows it to recover quickly, and therefore the immune system is also positively affected. In this blog the topic is covered in more detail: