Some runners can’t walk out of the door for a morning run without having something to settle their stomachs. Others cannot have a bit of food in their stomach without causing stomach discomfort. The overarching theme of sports nutrition is “every athlete is different”. That doesn’t specifically help you much, does it?
The idea of this article is to try and help make the question “to eat or not to eat” a little easier. Hopefully as a result you can set yourself up for a great session.
Eating for different types of runs
In a typical week for me, there are 3 types of runs to consider: easy/recovery runs, long runs, and workouts. Each type of run is associated with different fueling needs and different physical responses.
- Easy/recovery runs are at a comfortable, conversational pace and usually don’t last longer than 60 minutes.
- Long runs vary by pace and are longer than 60 minutes.
- Workouts – or sessions – are shorter in duration but higher in intensity than the other two types of runs.
Reasons to eat before a run
Liver glycogen, which maintains a normal level of blood sugar, gets depleted overnight. A small amount of food before exercise will increase your blood sugar and help prevent hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia could cause lightheadedness, blurred vision and fatigue.
Food also helps settle your stomach and absorb some of the stomach juices that can cause discomfort, especially if you haven’t eaten in awhile.
Finally, a pre-exercise snack is a last chance to fuel your muscles. Food eaten far in advance of a workout will be stored as muscle glycogen, but food eaten in the hour before exercise can be used as instant fuel if the exercise intensity is low enough to still allow for digestion.
Reasons not to eat before a run
It is a common belief that exercising on an empty stomach will enhance the body’s use of fat as a fuel source, allowing one to burn more body fat. While this is true, burning body fat to fuel exercise does not necessarily mean that one will lose body fat overall. To lose body fat, you still need to have an overall calorie deficit by the end of the day. If exercising on an empty stomach just sets you up to eat more later in the day than you would have if you ate before running, then there is no benefit. Also, a small snack before may allow you to exercise harder and run longer, resulting in burning more calories.
Fears of getting a dodgy stomach or feeling sluggish are other reasons why one might choose not to eat before exercise. Avoiding foods that are known to cause distress and eating the right kinds of foods can resolve these issues. Also, getting an adequate amount of food the day and night before a morning workout will decrease your need to eat much in the hours before. This is certainly the case for me!
What to eat before each type of run
The next questions to consider are the intensity of the run and the timing of the run.
The body’s ability to digest a recent meal depends on the intensity of the workout. If the pace is generally easy and is something you could easily keep up for 30 or more minutes, then your body should still be able to digest a recent meal or snack and use it for fuel. If you need some pre run snack ideas, we’ve written a great article on how to find the optimal time to eat and what to eat before a run.
The more intense a workout is, the more blood flow will be shifted away from the stomach and to the muscles, decreasing the body’s ability to digest. Therefore, more planning needs to go into pre-workout meals as compared to meals before easier runs.
Now let’s consider the timing of sessions.
As stated above, liver glycogen will be depleted overnight and you may wake with low blood sugar. Care should be taken in the day and night before a workout to make sure muscle glycogen stores are full. However, a small snack before a workout can help bring your blood sugar back up and maintain normal levels.
A general rule is to eat about 1 grams of carbohydrate per kilo of bodyweight up to one hour before a workout. For a 70kg runner that would be 70 grams, or 300 calories worth of carbohydrate. This carbohydrate load can be achieved through a combination of solid and liquid, such as a bowl of cereal or a bottle of sports drink/squash. The sooner you eat the better so that the body has time to digest before an intense effort.
Afternoon or evening workouts
Afternoon and evening workouts give you more time to fuel your body with good carbohydrates and adequate amounts of fluids. It is important on these days to start off with a good breakfast and continue on with a healthy lunch 3-4 hours before the workout.
Choose foods that are high in carbohydrate, moderate in protein, and low in fat. Fats and proteins delay gastric emptying. Focus on complex carbohydrates for a sustained source of energy, but avoid very high fiber foods.
Tolerances vary from person to person so you have to use trial and error to find out what foods work for you and if you exercise better with having something to eat.
My recommendation would be to have something to eat before long runs and efforts so that you can get the best training effect out of your run. Easy and recovery runs do not require pre-exercise foods most of the time, just be sure to fuel your body well throughout the day for your sessions later in the week.
Final tips for eating before a run
- Eat adequate, high-carbohydrate meals on a daily basis so that your body is always ready for a run or workout.
- For longer runs (more than 60 minutes), choose slowly digested carbohydrates like yogurt, apples, bananas, and oatmeal. Also consider similar foods for fueling during the long run.
- Avoid sugary foods like soft drinks, candy, and sugary gels that can quickly spike the blood sugar and actually lead to hypoglycemia.
- The more calories you eat, the more time you need to give your body to digest, especially before intense sessions.
As always, I encourage your comments, experiences, and questions about eating before run training in the comments section. See what’s up next week for our #RunFormFriday tip! For more in depth understanding on how to put this into practise, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help!
Keeping a control on those Christmas excesses can be a challenge!
The festive season is upon us, and that can only mean diet debauchery, abandoned training regimes, Christmas parties and six-hour TV marathons. But it doesn’t have to be this way. With a little forward planning and a smidgeon of self-discipline, it is perfectly possible to enjoy a happy Christmas and enter the New Year feeling fit and strong, not fatter.
Many people fall off the training bandwagon at Christmas, or rule out the idea of getting fitter during the festive period, assuming there is no point in starting until the New Year. But given that one of the biggest barriers to exercise is lack of time, a break from the usual routine can provide the ideal opportunity to train consistently. Staying active over Christmas not only reduces your chances of gaining weight, it also helps energise you, reduces stress and gives you a break.
Forgoing that Christmas lie in can help you beat the worst of the festive excess
Exercising first thing may entail not getting much of a holiday lie in but it does ensure that you get your sessions done before other commitments and crises get in the way – and it will kickstart your metabolism for the rest of the day.
Workouts don’t need to be long to be beneficial. “If you’re prepared to work hard, you can fit a high intensity workout into just a 30-minute window. It’s a trade-off between duration and intensity. And if time is of the essence, you can even break down your daily exercise into short bouts rather than opt for one single prolonged session.
If an influx of family and visitors make it difficult to do your usual workout (say, a gym visit or a solitary run or bike ride), try to get everyone involved in something seasonal, like ice skating (click here for a link to the UK’s top ten seasonal ice rinks) or a winter walk. The Ramblers’ Association Festival of Winter Walks has a programme of more than 300 walks nationwide between Boxing Day and 3 January, open to all and ranging in length and difficulty. You can do various kinds of activity to be “training” without really forcing the issue.
As far as timing is concerned, it’s better to schedule activity in after eating, rather than before. Research from Old Dominion University shows that post-prandial exercise attenuates the glycaemic effect of food, minimising blood sugar spikes and dips and reducing the likelihood of further snacking later on. Gentle after-dinner activity also helps to support digestion a lot more than nodding off in an armchair does …
While it would be rather Scrooge-like to suggest that you forgo all treats and extras at Christmas, you can limit the damage by selecting your festive foods more carefully. Try choosing healthier nibbles like pretzels, roasted chestnuts, unsalted nuts, dried fruits or satsumas instead of crisps and chocolate. And think twice before you open your mouth. Do you really want it, or are you just eating it because it’s there?
If you’re going to go for the Christmas nibbles, go for the healthier ones…
Starting Christmas day with breakfast is a wise idea. You might be tempted to skip breakfast, but this is just likely to make you overindulge later on. Add festive fruits such as cranberries, dates and figs to your breakfast, to contribute towards your recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
One way of limiting the likelihood of over-indulging is to choose your outfit carefully. Steer clear of elasticated or loose waistbands – a fitted waistband will give you a benchmark of tightness. If the waistband fits in the morning, it should still fit by the evening. It’s a harsh wake-up call when you need to undo your top button to cram in another helping of roast potatoes or mince pies …
Don’t feel obliged to eat more than you normally would, just because it’s Christmas. Turning down seconds doesn’t mean you didn’t enjoy your meal – it’s just that you have had enough.
Similarly, there is nothing wrong with politely putting your hand over your glass when it still has wine left in it, so that you can keep track of how much you’ve had. When the whole season is an excuse for celebration, those alcohol units can really mount up. Mulled wine on Christmas Eve, buck’s fizz with breakfast, wine with dinner, Baileys, brandy … Keep tabs on how much you are drinking, and intersperse alcoholic drinks with soft ones and plenty of water.
If you’re simply not prepared to raise your glass to a healthier festive season and intend to enjoy every over-indulgent, slothful moment, take comfort from research from the University of Oklahoma, which found that the average festive weight gain was little over 1lb (surveys show that most of us feel that we gain a lot more than that). “It’s worth bearing in mind that it’s not the amount you exercise and eat between Christmas and New Year that is the problem – it’s what you do between New Year and Christmas that makes the real difference,” says Hodgkin.
‘I’m going to start in the new year …’
For those of us who fully intend to shelve health and fitness resolutions until the New Year, here’s some advice:
Be realistic. If you wake up on 1 January with a hangover and a strong urge for a double espresso and a bacon sandwich, is this really the day to begin the first day of the rest of your year? Start on the 2nd, instead, and use the 1st to finish up the stilton and the Quality Street and to clear the cupboards of any other tempting food that is not in keeping with your new regime!”
Set goals. Spend some time formulating and writing down your health and training and race goals, ensuring they are challenging but realistic. Be positive and confident about your ability to achieve them.
Be patient. Fitness, speed and power don’t happen overnight. That’s why it is important to have a time frame for your goal. Set mini goals to work towards along the way – these give you something more immediate to aim for, and help you build confidence and faith in yourself.
Keep track. Keep a food and/or exercise diary to monitor your progress and help motivate you to stay focused on your goals.
Is Christmas a great time to exercise, or is it the one time of the year when it’s OK to stay on the sofa?
I have previously written about the importance of taking rest days and adaptation weeks. But what about the little things that you can do in between each training session to enhance your recovery and in turn improve your performance?
When you are an athlete looking to perform, every decision you make should reflect that, from what you eat, to how much you sleep, to what you do on a Saturday night. Even if you are not an athlete, there is no reason you can’t apply the same principles to your training for optimal results.
If someone’s goal is power, speed or endurance increase, their priorities should be (not necessarily in this order!):
1. Sleep (7-9 hours per night)
2. Nutrition (an appropriate amount of calories coming from a consistent diet of mostly healthy foods)
3. Weight/strength training
4. Muscle recovery (active recovery, foam rolling, massage, etc)
5. Sport specific training (i.e. swimming, cycling, running – for most readers!)
When someone brags about waking up at 4.30am after only five hours sleep to go smash out a double run or swim session, I am not impressed. If fitting in a workout means cutting into your sleep time, you are always better off choosing sleep over the gym.
That said, obviously some people will have no choice but to wake up early to go and train. If that is the case, make sure you are getting to bed as early as possible the night before and aim for at least seven hours sleep. If someone genuinely does not have time to get sessions in unless they sacrifice sleep, I typically recommend training on both weekend days – when people tend to have more time – and only once or twice during the week.
Sleep is one of the biggest parts of recovery
Everyone should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night. The quality of your sleep counts too. Try to sleep in complete darkness and make sure you unwind before bed. I’ve started making sure that I turn off all technology 30 minutes before bed. The light from screens will disturb your sleep, not to mention the constant vibrations of texts, emails and social media notifications will make it difficult to fall asleep. During this “unwind” time, you can read, write, have a cup of tea, have sex, star gaze – anything avoiding technology will drastically improve your quality of sleep.
When you don’t have enough sleep, it has a particularly negative effect on your diet. Your body will naturally crave high-carb/sugar foods when it is sleep-deprived, not to mention that more time spent awake during a day means more time for eating.
Prior to your sessions you should fuel your body with healthy, energising foods. After your workout, you should aim to eat a high protein and high carbohydrate meal as soon as possible. Do not be afraid to eat big – your body needs it!
Many people struggle with eating on rest days, as they don’t believe they have “earned” their calories. I feel that is complete BS. I tend to eat more on rest days, as I feel hungrier.
If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. I do a lot of my sessions in the evenings, so my body has no idea what’s coming. Once I finish my workout, it wises up and I feel quite hungry. But it isn’t until the next day that I feel particularly famished.
I eat a bit of everything too! While there is a time and a place for those “junky” types of foods, I know that constantly eating like that will not allow me to perform my best. I don’t feel great after eating too much of those kinds of foods.
That said, I also don’t think adhering to a strict chicken, broccoli and pasta diet 100 per cent of the time is good for either your mind or your body. I am still convinced that eating ice cream before competitions gives me magic powers!
Muscle recovery techniques
In between training sessions, you should be doing everything you can to speed up recovery as you do not want your next session to be jeopardised by muscle soreness from your previous session. While straight-up rest and proper nutrition are essential during this period, so is light foam rolling and mobility work. I foam roll after every training session, but also try to sneak in some gentle stretching on rest/recovery days too.
Active recovery techniques can be utilised to enhance recovery. This can be anything from walking to hot yoga, but do make sure you take at least one full rest day per week to allow adequate recovery.
I know this will sound counterproductive, but one of my best secrets to speed up leg recovery is sprinting in your cool down! The idea is to increase blood flow into the muscles to improve recovery. That’s not to say that you need to kill yourself, but if you are running swimming or cycling, 5-10s bursts in your cool down can be of real assistance.
I also think it’s really important to get regular massages. I used to get one half hour massage every two weeks, but recently I switched to having a 60-90 minute massage once a month. Consistently training hard is tough on the muscles, and there’s only so much that foam rolling can help. I know I perform better about 3-4 days after having a nice deep tissue massage.
Sports massage can greatly increase recovery rates
Do you have any additional tips for recovery?
There are many foods that are staples in a runners diet. Most of them are also the foundation of a well-rounded, healthy nutritional plan: Whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and low-fat milk and dairy products.
However, a handful of foods that fit into these categories are what you might classify on closer inspection as imposter health foods. In other words they are foods that we may think are innately healthy or that would make us healthier if we ate them.
Don’t get me wrong, I think that all of the foods mentioned below can be and often should be a part of a sports nutrition diet. We just need to change our perception about what components these foods actually contain and how to appropriately use them to fit our dietary needs. If you (or someone you know) are not hitting particular goals that you are after, you might want to look at your runners diet.
The Good: An energy bar is a quick and convenient source of energy, carbohydrates, protein, and a variety of vitamins and minerals.
The Bad: Energy bars are sometimes seen as a “must-have” in a runners diet. The perception is that all runners eat energy bars or that energy bars have something runners need and can’t get from other foods.
Although energy bars can have a place in the training diet, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Some bars can be very high in calories and fat — sometimes equaling what is normally consumed in a full meal yet is only being used as a snack. This is obviously the point of an ENERGY BAR as calories are that measure of energy. But do you really need all that as a snack.
Review the label because some have a nutrition profile more similar to a chocolate bar than a health food.
Some bars are heavily fortified with vitamins and minerals which may run the risk of consuming too high of doses when added to other foods and supplements in your diet.
Energy bars are also quite financially costly when compared to other food sources with equivalent calories and carbohydrates.
Bottom line is that most energy bars are nutritious, concentrated sources of energy. However, they should be reserved for your heaviest training days when you require a significant amount of extra energy and carbohydrates. They should not be used to replace meals when you could otherwise be eating a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
The Good: Granola is a concentrated source of carbohydrates that can add flavor and texture to a variety of foods.
The Bad: Overindulging is easy because granola can pack a lot of calories into a small volume.
Consider the following:
Many granolas are high in fat, sugar and calories and usually those marketed as low-fat compensate with additional sugar.
Recommended serving sizes for granola are quite small (1/4 to 1/2 cup) yet we usually eat portions closer to 1 cup or more.
Unlike other breakfast cereals, granola is often unfortified, so you may be missing out on vitamins and minerals if you suddenly replace your breakfast or snack with only granola.
The bottom line is that you should keep portion sizes of granola small; use it as a topping for fruit or yogurt or you could combine it with other cereals that are lower in fat and calories.
The Good: Sticking with the theme, bagels are a convenient, concentrated source of energy and carbohydrates that can fuel a workout or be used for recovery.
The Bad: Bagels options vary greatly in portion size and nutritional content. What we’ve accepted as “normal” may be packing a lot more calories than we think.
Bagels are very energy dense with a typical size bagel containing ~300 calories and ~60 g of carbohydrate. They are typically not eaten plain — we add a lot more calories with peanut butter, jams, or cream cheese on top. Many bagels are made with refined, white flour that is lacking in fiber and nutrients that would be obtained from whole grains.
You should look to choose smaller portion sizes (half of a normal bagel?), choose bagels made with whole grains, and add a fruit or protein source to make it a complete meal.
The Good: Yogurt is an excellent source of calcium and protein and is very versatile in its uses. The composition of yogurt includes beneficial bacteria that aids digestion.
The Bad: You have to look closely at the nutrition label to know what you are really getting.
Some yogurt, as with other dairy products, have a high level of fat (particularly yogurts made with whole or 2% milk), which can be good and bad. “Fruit” flavored yogurts can be high in sugar since the fruit is often just sugary jam packed into the bottom.
Frozen yogurt is sometimes put in the same category as yogurt even though frozen yogurt doesn’t contain nearly as much calcium or protein and is very high in added sugars.
Yogurt is a great addition to the sports nutrition diet. Buy natural or plain yogurt and maximize its nutritional profile by adding your own flavorings like honey, vanilla, cinnamon, berries, etc.
The Good: Smoothies can be convenient, portable sources of fruits, vegetables, dairy and more, helping you meet your daily needs for these food groups.
The Bad: Smoothies can hide a lot of calories and added sugars in an otherwise healthy sounding beverage. Keep these things in mind:
Beverages or liquid forms of food are less filling that solid foods so the same amount of calories won’t be as satisfying (consider the feeling of fullness after eating an apple vs. drinking a cup of apple juice). Many smoothies purchased outside of the home also have a lot of added sugars that make the nutritional content similar to soft drinks.
Bottom line: I like smoothies as an alternative to a snack with a lot of added sugars. It helps me meet my daily requirements for fruits and dairy and quenches my thirst after a hard workout. It is best to make your own smoothies using whole fruit, low-fat milk or yogurt, and no added sugars.
Below is my standard recipe.
1 cup rolled oats
2 big spoonfuls of natural or greek yoghurt
1 handful of frozen berries
300ml of semi skimmed milk.
If I want something more filling, or if this is post training, I might add a scoop or two of USN Whey Premium. The added protein promotes production of ghrelin which helps you to feel more full, and will also work with your muscles to help repair and rebuild post training.
A good smoothie can be a useful part of a runners diet
Having spent some of the weekend gardening and tidying up the greenhouse I had a few thoughts about food. What is the best food for endurance sports athletes?
My greenhouse of veg!
Secondly, there is only a limited amount of food you can eat in a single day.
In order to maximize the amount of nutrients you take in, it makes sense to spend your time cooking, eating and digesting wisely.
The best way to do that is to simply eat the foods that carry the greatest amount and variety of nutrients.
These are the 11 most nutrient dense foods on the planet.
Not all fish is created equal.
Salmon, and other fatty types of fish, contain the greatest amount of Omega-3s.
Omega-3 fatty acids are extremely important for the optimal function of your body. They’re linked to improved wellbeing and a lower risk of many serious diseases.
Although salmon is mainly prized for its beneficial composition of fatty acids, it also packs a massive amount of other nutrients.
A 100 gram piece of wild salmon contains 2.8 grams of Omega-3s, along with lots of high quality animal protein and a ton of vitamins and minerals… including large amounts of Magnesium, Potassium, Selenium and all the B-vitamins (2).
It is a good idea to eat fatty fish at least once or twice a week, to get all the Omega-3s that your body (and brain) desperately need.
Studies show that the people who eat fatty fish regularly have a lower risk of heart disease, dementia, depression and a plethora of common diseases (3, 4, 5, 6).
Also, let’s not forget the fact that salmon tastes awesome and is fairly simple to prepare. It also tends to make you feel more full!
If you can, choose wild salmon instead of farmed. It is more nutritious, has a better Omega-6:Omega-3 ratio and is less likely to contain harmful compounds (7, 8).
Bottom Line: Fatty fish like salmon is loaded with beneficial fatty acids, protein, vitamins and minerals. It is a good idea to eat fatty fish every week.
Kale – easy to grow at home!
Of all the super healthy leafy greens, kale is the king.
It is loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and various bioactive compounds.
A 100 gram portion of kale contains (9):
- 200% of the RDA for Vitamin C.
- 300% of the RDA for Vitamin A (from beta-carotene).
- 1000% of the RDA for Vitamin K1.
- Large amounts of Vitamin B6, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Copper and Manganese.
This is coming with 2 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein and only 50 calories.
Kale may be even healthier than spinach. Both are super nutritious, but kale is lower in oxalates, which are substances that can bind minerals like calcium in the intestine, preventing them from being absorbed (10).
Kale (and other greens) are also loaded with various bioactive compounds, including Isothiocyanates and Indole-3-Carbinol, which have been shown to fight cancer in test tubes and animal studies (11, 12).
Bottom Line: Kale is one of the most nutrient dense vegetables you can eat, with large amounts of vitamins, minerals and cancer-fighting compounds.
The sea has more than just fish… it also contains massive amounts of vegetation.
Sushi isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – but it can be really help your health
Usually referred to as “seaweed,” there are thousands of different plant species in the ocean, some of which are incredibly nutritious (13).
In many cases, seaweed is even more nutritious than vegetables from the land. It is particularly high in minerals like Calcium, Iron, Magnesium and Manganese (14).
It is also loaded with various bioactive compounds, including phycocyanins and carotenoids. Some of these substances are antioxidants with powerful anti-inflammatory activity (15).
But where seaweed really shines is in its high content of iodine, a mineral that is used to make thyroid hormones.
Just eating a high-iodine seaweed like kelp a few times per month can give your body all the iodine that it needs.
If you don’t like the thought of eating seaweed, then you can also get it as a supplement. Dried kelp tablets are very cheap and loaded with iodine.
Many sushi dishes also include seaweed in them, along with other goodies.
Bottom Line: The vegetables from the sea are highly nutritious, but very rarely consumed in Western parts of the world. They are particularly high in iodine, which is essential for optimal thyroid function.
Garlic does more than just make your breath smell and food taste nice!
Garlic really is an amazing ingredient.
Not only can it turn all sorts of bland dishes into delicious treats, it is also incredibly nutritious.
It is high in vitamins C, B1 and B6, Calcium, Potassium, Copper, Manganese and Selenium (16).
But garlic is also loaded with another incredibly important nutrient called Allicin, which is the active ingredient in garlic.
There are many studies on the health benefits of allicin and garlic. It has been shown to lower blood pressure and total and LDL cholesterol, while raising HDL… which should lead to a reduced risk of heart disease down the line (17, 18, 19, 20).
It also has various cancer-fighting properties. Studies show that the people who eat a lot of garlic have a much lower risk of several common cancers, especially cancers of the colon and stomach (21, 22).
Garlic is also very potent at killing pathogens like bacteria and fungi (23, 24).
Bottom Line: Garlic is both tasty and extremely healthy. It is highly nutritious and the bioactive compounds in it have known disease fighting properties.
Out of all the wonderfully nutritious organisms found in the sea, shellfish may be the most nutritious of all.
Commonly consumed types of shellfish include clams, oysters and various others.
Clams are among the best sources of vitamin B12 in existence, with a 100 grams of clams supplying over 16 times the RDA! It is also loaded with other nutrients, including Vitamin C, B-Vitamins, Potassium, Selenium and Iron (25).
Oysters are also incredibly nutritious… with a 100 grams supplying 6 times the RDA for Zinc, 2 times the RDA for Copper, along with large amounts of B12 and Vitamin D – along with a plethora of other nutrients (26).
Really, shellfish are among the most nutritious foods in existence. Unfortunately, people rarely consume them.
They may also be considered a great food for people who want to be as close to vegetarian/vegan as possible, while also getting most of the benefits of consuming animal foods. Shellfish is non-sentient.
Bottom Line: Shellfish are among the most nutritious organisms found in the sea. They are very high in important nutrients like Vitamin B12 and Zinc.
A single large potato contains lots of Potassium, Magnesium, Iron, Copper and Manganese… with plenty of vitamin C and most of the B vitamins (27).
Potatoes really are one of the world’s most perfect foods.
They contain a little bit of almost every nutrient we need and there have been accounts of people living on nothing but potatoes for a long time.
They are also one of the most fulfilling foods in existence. When researchers compared the “satiety value” of different foods, boiled potatoes scored higher than any other food they measured (28).
If you cook the potatoes and then allow them to cool afterwards, they also form large amounts of resistant starch, a fiber-like substance with many powerful health benefits (29).
Bottom Line: Potatoes contain a little bit of almost every nutrient we need. They are incredibly fulfilling and can contain large amounts of resistant starch.
Humans and pre-humans have been eating animals for millions of years.
However… back in the day, we didn’t just eat the muscles like we do today. Compared to the organs, muscle meat is nutritionally poor.
There are even accounts of modern hunter-gatherers selectively eating the organs, then feeding lean muscle meat to the dogs.
Out of all the organs, liver is by far the most nutritious.
The liver is a remarkable organ with hundreds of functions related to metabolism. One of its functions is to store important nutrients for the rest of the body.
A 100 gram portion of beef liver contains (30):
- 1176% of the RDA for Vitamin B12.
- Over 50% of the RDA for Vitamins B6, B5, Niacin and Folate.
- 201% of the RDA for Vitamin B2.
- 634% of the RDA for Vitamin A.
- 714% of the RDA for Copper.
- Over 30% of the RDA for Iron, Phosphorus, Zinc and Selenium.
- 29 grams of high quality animal protein.
Eating liver once per week is a good way to ensure that you get optimal amounts of these very important nutrients.
Bottom Line: Hunter-gatherers who eat meat usually prize organs like liver, because they are the most nutritious parts of the animal.
Sardines are small, oily fish that can be eaten whole.
This includes bones, skin, organs, brains and everything.
Given that the organs are usually the most nutritious parts of an animal, it is not surprising to see that whole sardines are incredibly nutritious.
They contain a little bit of almost every nutrient that the body needs and are pretty close to being perfect from a nutritional standpoint (31).
Like other fatty fish, they’re also very high in heart-healthy Omega-3s.
Bottom Line: Small, oily fish like sardines are usually eaten whole, which includes the organs, bones, brains and other nutritious parts. They contain a little bit of almost every nutrient we need.
When it comes to the nutritional value of fruits, blueberries are in a league of their own.
Although they’re not as high in vitamins and minerals as vegetables (calorie for calorie), the antioxidant content is where they really shine.
They are loaded with powerful antioxidant substances, including anthocyanins and various phytochemicals, some of which can cross the blood-brain barrier and exert protective effects on the brain (32).
Several studies have examined the health effects of blueberries in humans.
One study found that blueberries improved memory in older adults (33).
Another study found that obese men and women with metabolic syndrome had a lowered blood pressure and reduced markers of oxidized LDL cholesterol, when they added blueberries to their diet (34).
This finding makes sense, given that eating blueberries has been shown to increase the antioxidant value of the blood (35).
Then multiple studies in test tubes and experimental animals suggest that blueberries can help fight cancer (36, 37, 38).
Bottom Line: Blueberries are very nutritious compared to most fruits and are loaded with powerful antioxidants, some of which can increase the antioxidant value of the blood and have protective effects on the brain.
10. Egg Yolks
Egg yolks have been unfairly demonized because of their cholesterol content.
But the studies actually show that dietary cholesterol isn’t something you need to worry about, because cholesterol in the diet doesn’t raise the “bad” cholesterol in the blood (39).
What we’re left with is one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. Whole eggs are so nutritious that they’re often referred to as “nature’s multivitamin.”
Egg yolks are loaded with vitamins, minerals and various powerful nutrients (40).
They’re high in Lutein and Zeaxanthine, antioxidants that can protect the eyes and reduce your risk of eye diseases like cataracts and macular degeneration (41).
Eggs are also loaded with choline, a brain nutrient that about 90% of people aren’t getting enough of (42).
Eggs also contain high quality protein and healthy fats. Several studies suggest that they can even help lose weight (43, 44).
Really… whole eggs are an amazing food. The yolk is where almost all the nutrients are found, throwing it away is the absolute worst thing you can do.
Also let’s not forget that eggs are cheap, taste amazing and are super easy to prepare.
If you can, get pastured and/or Omega-3 enriched eggs. They’re healthier and more nutritious than most “conventional” supermarket eggs (45, 46).
Bottom Line: Whole eggs are so nutritious that they’re often called “nature’s multivitamin.” The yolk is where almost all of the nutrients are found, just eating the whites is a terrible idea.
11. Dark Chocolate (Cocoa)
Dark chocolate with a high cocoa content is one of the most nutritious foods you can eat.
It is loaded with fiber, iron, magnesium, copper and manganese (47).
But the biggest factor is its amazing range of antioxidants.
In fact, a study showed that cocoa and dark chocolate scored higher than any other food they tested, which included blueberries and acai berries (48).
There are multiple studies in humans showing that dark chocolate has powerful health benefits… including improved blood flow, a lower blood pressure, reduced oxidized LDL and improved brain function (49, 50, 51, 52).
One study found that people who consumed chocolate 5+ times per week had a 57% lower risk of heart disease (53).
Given that heart disease is the most common cause of death in the world, this finding could have implications for millions of people.
Make sure to get dark chocolate with a 70% cocoa content, at least. The best ones contain 85% cocoa or higher.
Eating a small square of quality dark chocolate every day may be one of the best ways to “supplement” your diet with additional antioxidants.
Hopefully this gives you some thoughts as to some different food you could add into your diet on a daily and weekly basis! Our berries and veg garden will hopefully make life cheaper as well as easy to get hold of various bits that are both tasty and nutritious!
Its Taper Time
What is a taper?
In the context of sports, tapering is the practice of reducing exercise in the days just before an important competition. Tapering is common in many sports and for many athletes, a significant period of tapering is essential for optimal performance. The tapering period frequently lasts as much as a week or more.
In simplest terms, what you are trying to do when you taper is recover from all of your hard training, so that you are well rested and ready to put the training to the test. When you have trained and “peaked” properly, you should experience increased power, reduced lactic acid buildup and fatigue, increased blood volume, enhanced work capacity, increased fuel storage, and renewed interest in participating in your event (if at any point you were verging on overtraining). You should feel like you have plenty of “pop” or “spring” in your muscles, and you should also feel a bit antsy, as though you cannot wait to get going again. The most common mistake people make leading up to their event is to think that “more is better” and to train hard right up until the day before the day of the race or climb. As difficult as it is to remember, fitness actually improves with rest, and you want to be well rested to perform optimally. Equally, for fitness gains to take place, the body adapts over 3-6 weeks, so hard sessions 2 weeks before will have no performance benefits! My old swim coach used the analogy of training (and your body) being like money being put in the bank. By the time you come to your event – and your taper – it’s time to take out the interest.
How It Can Feel! Be Strong!
Although there is now considerable agreement on the value of a taper, there is not a tremendous amount of information on what is actually happening to the body during this time. Investigations have focused on two broad categories, physiological and psychological. It is understandable that many initial scientific studies focused on physiological variables. After all it is inherently easier to measure glycogen in a muscle biopsy than it is to understand the inner workings of the human brain. Recently, more investigations into psychological processes have been done with interesting results and the promise of more for the future. In any event it is important to keep in mind that both physiological and psychological adaptations are important since neither alone can fully account for what is observed when athletes race. As explanations continue to develop, one need not wait to reap the benefits of a good taper. Enjoy!
Although a complete discussion is beyond the scope of this article, here are a few interesting highlights of scientific investigations into adaptations that occur during a taper. Although some changes are small the summation can have a strong effect on performance.
1) VO2 max, the best measure of aerobic performance, can increase during a taper. Some studies reported up to 5 – 6 % improvement.
2) Muscle glycogen has been shown to increase during a taper – provided the athlete is consuming a carbohydrate rich diet (~75% of caloric intake)
3) Improved economy of movement (the oxygen cost of exercise at a given submaximal exercise intensity) can also improve during a taper.
4) Improved mood and better sleep quality have been documented during a taper.
5) Rating of perceived exertion may decline during a taper. In other words athletes’ self-rated perception of effort indicated they felt less effort at a given workload (note: this is always a nice feeling).
How do I taper for an event?
For endurance athletes, “tapering” refers to a decrease in training volume (amount) leading up to competitions. In the past, most coaches had athletes reduce both the volume and intensity (effort) of training prior to competition, but all that changed when a group of researchers at McMaster University in Canada conducted a ground-breaking study on the affects of various tapering strategies. The results of this work, and more that followed, showed dramatic endurance benefits in runners who drastically cut their training volume but added high intensity interval training sessions in the week prior to competition.
Tapering can lead to odd thoughts about your fitness or potential niggles.
Most tapering strategies today use this research as a foundation, but there are a variety of methods and schedules available for every athlete and every competition.
The length of your taper depends upon your current level of fitness and experience, but a good rule of thumb is the one-hour rule. This means that if your event will last an hour or less, use a one-week taper. If you event is going to last more than an hour, your taper may extend to a full two weeks prior to the event.
It’s important to pay attention to your body during the week before a competition. If you are fatigued, or feel any aches or twinges of pain, it’s best to stop your training and recover. It’s always better to stop your workouts for a week than to push through pain and suffer on race-day.
It seems that no matter which tapering strategy the coach and athlete decide on, there will almost certainly come a time close to the race when the athlete doubts the strategy. This is perfectly normal. The weird physical sensations that accompany the change in training that the taper brings, coupled with the stress of the situation make for some fertile ground for doubts to spring up. Without a smart strategy and a firm resolve, these doubts often breed silly decisions.
So, what constitutes a smart taper?
A smart taper is optimally timed to coincide with that very brief sweet spot where the athlete has the the best combination of the freshness that comes from “freshening” while still not losing too much of the fitness that comes from training. Timing this peak is a very delicate dance made even more fragile by the fact that the optimal combination will be different for every athlete.
The elements that combine to create the perfect taper recipe for a given athlete are:
Fitness – The greater the aerobic base of the athlete, the shorter the taper generally needs to be
Race type – Paradoxically, the shorter the event, the longer the taper
Gender/Body type – The bigger and more muscular the athlete, the longer the taper
Surprisingly, perhaps, the most common silly decision that I see in super-fit, highly competitive triathletes is ignoring the first rule above and tapering too often – there is no point in tapering for every event that you do throughout the season – assuming that you will race upwards of 4 events in a year. If you taper for every single event that you plan to race, then you never end up building on your fitness throughout the season. Pick your 2/3 A races for the year and taper properly for them. Your B races may have a slight drop off, but not the same as your A races. C category races are training events. Go and race them, but don’t expect PB’s or fantastic times, look for something more internal – technical, emotional or strategy based.
On the flipside of the coin, under-tapering occurs when athletes fail to taper long enough to exploit the full performance benefit of freshening. This is especially common in new athletes who are nervous about dropping fitness leading into the event. This attitude is especially damaging during late race week when it becomes important to drop training load below the athlete’s chronic training load to allow supercompensation of glycogen stores to occur. Put more simply, in the last 72 hours pre-race, you want to be making deposits into your body’s glycogen account, not withdrawals.
As you peak, decrease your overall volume. If you have been doing 3 hr rides and 4x 400 meters running on the track do 90 minutes in the saddle, and 2 or 3x300m intervals. You want to stay fresh and sharp but not worn down. Workouts should be short and sweet. They might burn but you should recover fast. By maintaining or even increasing your intensity, your body thinks that training is still on full blast and your body will continue to adapt full blast. But… you have decreased the volume and by the time it realizes that you have actually done less your body has over compensated and your flying. Further hone this adaptation with race specific workouts in a race specific environment and you will be more ready on race day than you ever imagined.
While this decreased training time will be nice you should still treat yourself well. Treat yourself like your still training hard. Get that recovery drink even if you feel you don’t need it. Get plenty of sleep and keep up on stretching, etc…
The other item you will need to keep busy is your brain. Don’t think too much. Go over the race plan, make sure the tires on the bike are in good shape and just go. You have done this in training so you can do it in the race. Remember there is not much you can do to get faster in the week or three before the big race but you can do everything to blow it. So stay the course. Take care. Eat the extra pasta. Skip the morning swim if your feeling tired. And don’t be afraid to light it up a few times. Show your stuff, whether in a race or a short hard work out with the training partners. You have been looking at your heart rate and power meter all season staying in “your zone”. Time to see how far you can push yourself!
Peaking for an event optimally remains an art form, trying out the suggestions above might afford you a significant leg up on your competition. It’s not always the fittest athlete who wins.