Monthly Archives: November 2015

Bang for your buck: Girls new to the gym

This article was a request from a close friend who wanted simple advice for a girl starting out in the gym. No fashion or beauty advice just straight up practical advice. Normally we focus on team and sports training but the principles that ensure progress are still the same. This article will put you on track or even back on track if you’ve become lost in the vast sea of female training advice that we see in the media.

1) Lift heavy

Your number one goal in the gym should be to become stronger. In order to do so you must challenge yourself enough so the body must adapt. The weights must be heavy enough to tax your body enough that it promotes it to adapt to be capable of lifting heavier weight. In order to prevent injury you must first learn proper technique and how to lift safely. At the beginning it is a very good idea to get a few sessions with a trainer so you can learn proper and safe technique from the beginning. Choose a reputable trainer and exercise common sense. Have confidence and know that everyone gets stronger if they give it time. Don’t be put off by lack of experience; you must start somewhere.

2) Eat

There is an exceptional amount of dietary and nutritional advice out there. You must eat for fuel. You must also ensure you eat protein in order to recover from weight training. This helps grow and maintain healthy muscle. Many females believe that eating is the enemy when achieving a beach body. Eating less can often stall fat loss and muscle gain. Often eating a little more and ensuring adequate protein can kickstart the progress you want to see. Check our nutrition articles to help you learn the basics about eating for exercise.

3) Have a plan

This may sound obvious but it is essential. There are days when the gym is the last place you want to be. Having a plan keeps you on track and making progress. It cuts out having to decide what to do, often you may not want to ask as it shows inexperience. Never hesitate to ask for help, we are always learning. It is hard to know where to start but there’s no point wasting time being lost in the gym. Ask a trainer at your local gym for a beginner plan; you can always contact us for advice on training if you need to.

4) Log your training

This may seem like it’s for the hardcore trainers but it is a great tool. We are motivated by progress. Progress is often hard to see on a daily basis. By keeping a log of what you do in the gym not only does it motivate you to keep training but it also helps with your plan. You know what weight you can lift and what a reasonable increase is for you each week. This can be a very powerful tool in achieving your goals.

5) Enjoy it

There are few places in the world where your efforts and dedication will be so visible. Results in the gym are very consistent and more obvious than other aspects of life. Enjoy your time in the gym and see it as a productive and healthy way to spend time. It’s easy for a beginner to be nervous and a little standoffish when it comes to lifting weights but this passes with time. The more you enjoy it the easier it will be to commit. Don’t let the fear of the unknown stand in the way of your goals.

Getting started with gym training can be daunting. Advice in the media can also make the gym very confusing. Know that we all start somewhere, follow these basic tips and things will be a lot easier. Find a trainer who you respect and trust but more importantly gives you the time and effort required to get you to your goals. Don’t be afraid to shop around with gyms and trainers so that you find one that suits you. Once again, enjoy it and good luck.

The Importance of Carbohydrate Consumption

One of the main questions I get asked from friends, family and sports enthusiasts is how much should an individual be eating before training and does this differ from your meal base in the hours running up to a match. Firstly, it is important to acknowledge that different sports and exercise routines demand a range of energy and nutrient requirements. As a result, the quantity and quality of foods consumed should be adapted according to the type and intensity of sport.

In general, energy expenditure during exercise increases because of the energy needed to assist in the contraction of skeletal muscle, allowing the athlete to move faster. In most cases, the exercise rate is dependent on the availability of these energy reserves supplied by nutrient intake. For example, with many forms of endurance sports, energy or carbohydrate depletion is the most common cause of premature fatigue. The amount of carbohydrate consumed is, therefore, essential in preventing the early onset of tiredness during match play.

In order to comprehend carbohydrate metabolism, it is important to have a small understanding of energy expenditure. Energy can be simply described as the potential to do work or produce force. This ability to do work, especially using skeletal muscle, requires a compound called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), where three phosphate groups are joined to one adenosine group. During the breakdown of ATP, this energy is released (mainly from the phosphate bonds) and is used to power all types of work, exercise and movement. Of particular interest, the energy from ATP breakdown supports muscle contraction during sports. This breakdown of ATP to its smaller unit ADP (adenosine di-phosphate) releases about 31 kilojoules (kJ) of free energy. However, these stores of ATP are very small and only adequate for about 2 seconds of maximal exercise. In order to regenerate these energy units (ATP), several processes must occur;

  • Phosphocreatine Degradation – This is a fast process where the amount of energy derived from phosphocreatine breakdown is rapid.
  • Glycolysis – This is slower than phosphocreatine degradation and involves the metabolism of glucose-6-phosphate derived from glycogen in muscle or glucose in blood.
  • Carbohydrate, Fat and Protein metabolism – these units enter into the TCA cycle and are broken down to form carbon dioxide and water (aerobic metabolism). This produces the products necessary for the re-synthesis of ATP. This is one of the slowest forms of energy production.

Simply put, when energy levels (ATP) begin to fall during exercise or training, the phosphocreatine is first broken down releasing the energy needed to restore these ATP levels. This is sufficient as a short-term solution for shorter exercise programs or training. However, during longer exercise sessions, carbohydrate and fats are your more important fuels. These tend to be stored in the body and used when demand is necessary. Both of these energy supplies are broken down to form Acetyl Co-enzyme A, which then enters a series of reactions in the TCA cycle. However, if we relied solely on carbohydrate as a substrate, we could probably only run between 20 and 30 km, whereas using fat as an additional fuel source could increase our distance to about 1000-2000km. During lower intensity exercises, fat is considered the substrate of choice. However as the intensity of exercise increases, it is recommended to enhance your consumption of carbohydrates. It is always important to bear in mind the two sides of energy expenditure;

  • Exercise Intensity – It is found that exercises of higher intensity require more carbohydrates and less fat. Carbohydrate supplies are used at rates of up to 4g/min and can be broken down at a rate of 7g/min.
  • Exercise Length – As the duration of exercise increases, fat oxidation increases and carbohydrate oxidation decreases. This increased fat oxidation may be due to a reduction in muscle glycogen stores during the end of exercise sessions.


Avocado on Two Slices of Brown Bread Topped with Tomatoes, Spinach and a Side Portion of Tuna.

Avocado on Two Slices of Brown Bread Topped with Tomatoes, Spinach and a Side Portion of Tuna.

The Importance of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are generally the best source of fuel for high impact sports like rugby. They are initially stored in the body (as glycogen) and are the most effective food source for prolonged activity carried out at a high intensity. A player’s diet needs to be high in carbohydrates in order to ensure that the glycogen stores are full and replenished after exercise. Approximately 60% of total calories consumed should come from carbohydrates alone. However, many forms of carbohydrates (jams, sweets, Jaffa cakes, wine gums) are also low in nutritional value and should only be consumed post training and in small quantities. In general, the players diet should consist of complex carbohydrates like fruit, vegetables, rice and wholegrain cereals.

Carbohydrate consumption is especially important during longer exercise intervals (>90 min) with the depletion of carbohydrate stores being a major cause of premature fatigue. This can be observed in both the muscle (peripheral fatigue) and the brain and nervous system (central fatigue). It is, therefore, imperative to consume carbohydrates before, during and after prolonged exercise periods. A lot of research suggests that consuming carbohydrates before and during high intensity workouts of 1 hour will assure maximum performance benefits. However, the individual’s carbohydrate stores must be sufficiently filled beforehand to help fuel the event. It has also become evident that carbohydrate intake has a beneficial effect on both the brain and central nervous system in helping the player to ‘feel better’ during training. Some studies even suggest that doing as little as rinsing your mouth out with a carbohydrate drink will produce the same performance benefits. This is said to trigger sensors in the mouth, which then transfers the message to the brain saying that food is en route.

Carbohydrate Intake before Exercise (Carb-Loading)

If an athlete wants to perform at their best in the lead-up to a match, it is best practice to ensure that carbohydrate stores in the muscle and liver are adequately filled. Carbohydrate loading aims to maximize muscle glycogen stores up to twice the normal resting period (500-900mmol/kg dry weight). Early studies show that carbohydrate loading in longer running events (like marathons) enhances overall sports performance. What is interesting to note is that carb loading does not allow the athlete to run at a faster pace but instead sustains the length of time they can run at maximal speed (endurance). In essence, carbohydrate loading helps to postpone fatigue and extends the duration of exercise by nearly 20% while improving overall performance by 2-3%.

Pre-Event meal –meals and fluids should be consumed in the 4hrs before a major event to ensure that muscle glycogen stores are restored and filled since the last exercise session. It is recommended to eat 200-300g of carbohydrate in the 2-4 hour window before exercise or training. It is normally not advised to eat any carbohydrates one hour before an event as it can lead to a rise in plasma insulin concentrations, which can prevent fat oxidation as an energy fuel. This results in increased dependence on carbohydrate oxidation and faster depletion in muscle glycogen stores and glucose concentration.

So what should you do?

  1. Consume a substantial amount of carbohydrate (>75g) so that any additional intake will more than compensate for the increased rate of carbohydrate breakdown during exercise.
  2. Choose a carbohydrate rich meal that has a low-glycemic index. Low GI foods will provide a more sustained release of energy throughout the exercise session.
  3. Try to consume carbohydrates throughout the exercise session or event.

Many athletes in the lead up to a match prefer foods with a low fat, low fibre and low-to-moderate protein content as they are less likely to cause stomach upset especially if you suffer from nerves or anxiety before a match. If this is the case, liquid meal supplements or carbohydrate containing drinks are a viable option.

Pre-exercise meals – 3 to 4 hours before training

  • Pasta with tomato-based sauce with meat, fish or lentils
  • Baked potato with cottage cheese, tuna, baked beans or chilli con carne
  • Sandwich or roll (wholegrain) filled with chicken, egg, tuna, peanut butter, honey, jam or banana
  • Baked Beans on Toast
  • Rice or noodles with chicken or lentils
  • Meat, vegetables and potatoes
Pre-Exercise Meal: Scrambled Eggs on Brown Bread with Coriander

Pre-Exercise Meal: Scrambled Eggs on Brown Bread with Coriander

Pre-exercise snacks – 1 to 2 hours before training

  • Yogurt and fresh fruit
  • Peanut Butter and Jam sandwich
  • Cereal bar
  • Breakfast cereal with milk or yoghurt and banana
  • Fruit and a glass of milk
  • Vegetable Soup with bread
Bowl of Pineapple with Cinnamon topping alongside Fage Yogurt

Bowl of Pineapple with Cinnamon topping alongside Fage Yogurt

Carbohydrate Intake During Exercise

Eating carbohydrates during exercise intervals can also extend sessions of moderate to intermittent intensity exercise and improve overall performance. The main role of carbohydrate uptake during exercise is to maintain plasma glucose concentrations and allow muscle to sustain high rates of carbohydrate oxidation.

Research into the different types of carbohydrates show that there is no major discrepancy in the consumption of moderate to high GI carbohydrate on rates of oxidation during extensive exercise. It is found that the carbohydrate consumed during exercise is oxidized in small amounts during the first hour of exercise and then sustained at a rate of 1g/min. This is mainly the case when one type of carbohydrate is consumed (i.e. glucose). However when more than one carbohydrate is eaten (glucose and fructose), it can lead to higher rates of carbohydrate use by muscle. It is found that a starting intake of 30-60g/h of carbohydrate will enhance performance.

During exercise, there are many methods of carbohydrate consumption using sports drinks and energy bars. Sports drinks are the most popular as they both hydrate and replace carbohydrate loss simultaneously.

Post-Exercise Meal

It is always important for athletes to replenish low muscle glycogen stores after exercise with carbohydrates. It is essential that athletes consume about 7-12g/kg per day depending on the intensity and propensity of exercise. The main reason to encourage athletes to consume a carb-rich meal promptly after exercise is due to the fact that effective refueling does not begin until an adequate amount of carbohydrate is consumed (about 1g/kg body weight). It is, therefore, beneficial for the athlete to consume a mixture of medium to high GI carbohydrate, as high GI foods are able to boost overall plasma glucose concentrations. This leads to a higher rate of glycogen re-synthesis, which brings the athletes muscle back to pre-exercise mode and promotes recovery. For a post exercise meal, it is recommended to eat carbohydrate rich foods like rice, pasta and potato over sweeter substitutes like sweets and chocolate.

Recovery Snacks (Immediately Post Match or Half Time)

  • Fresh fruit – bananas, apples, grapes, orange
  • Fruit yogurt or yogurt drink
  • Chicken or Cheese Bread Roll
  • Biscuits – Digestives, Jaffa cakes, Fig rolls
  • Wine Gums
  • Cereal bars

Recovery meals (1-2 hours post match)

  • Baked beans on toast
  • Baked potatoes with meat or cheese
  • Pasta or rice with meat or cheese and tomato-based sauce
  • Meat or fish, vegetables and potatoes
  • Pancakes
Recovery Meal: Pancakes Topped with Banana, Blueberries and Peanut Butter

Recovery Meal: Pancakes Topped with Banana, Blueberries and Peanut Butter

Overall, try to eat a balanced diet with nutrient-rich carbohydrate foods so that they will also supply the essential nutrients for performance. This includes; wholegrain breads, brown rice, cereals (oatmeal or porridge), pasta and noodles. Always think brown over white. It is also important to eat plenty of fruits, starchy vegetables (potatoes and corn) as well as dairy products (whole milk, skimmed milk and yogurt).

Always have on hand during games sugar-rich foods, which will act as a convenient source of carbohydrate refueling, especially when energy demands are high. You can also try to combine carbohydrate-protein meals to aid other means of recovery. This includes; cereal with milk, sandwiches with meat or dairy filling, sweetened dairy products such as flavored milk or milkshakes, rice or pasta based meals.

Lastly, throughout the day the player should drink about 200 mls of water at regular intervals (every 15-20 minutes) if possible.

Hydration is crucial in lead up to match or exercise. Try adding fruit to encourage more fluid intake.

Hydration is crucial in lead up to match or exercise. Try adding fruit to encourage more fluid intake.

Nutritionist Christina Higgins

If you’d like to know more contact us on Facebook or email

Joining the Hamilton Sport team, Nutritionist Christina Higgins!

Hi my name is Christina Higgins and I am a recently qualified Nutritionist after studying Human Nutrition in University College Dublin. I first studied BESS in Trinity College Dublin but realized after graduating that I had to pursue my lifelong interest in food, which has brought me to where I am today.

I am now working as a consumer nutritionist in the fresh produce industry where I have the opportunity to reach out to both school children and students and demonstrate to them the necessity of a healthy diet and really how simple and budget-friendly it can be. I am a complete advocate of healthy eating with no fuss attached. I don’t believe in diets of any form unless a certain disease or medical condition warrants it. Instead, I believe in good, clean and healthy dishes that are easy to whip up and hassle free. In recent months, I have also set up an Instagram account called ‘Miss Nutricious’ which has allowed me to showcase how easy and delicious eating healthily can be, be it cooking in the comfort of your own kitchen or dining out with friends. That being said, I also believe that balance is really everything and that it is in fact healthy and normal to break out and enjoy a chocolate bar or dessert every once in a while.

In terms of my background in sports, I was never the ‘sporty’ kid or student. Having poor eyesight and refusing to wear glasses obviously didn’t help matters. Instead, I dabbled in tennis, hockey, sailing, cycling and even dance. Even though, I never excelled in any of them, I always enjoyed that feeling of being outdoors and that adrenalin rush after sailing a race or playing a tennis match. It is only in recent months that I have started training at my own pace. I’ve never been a huge fan of the gym so I’ve taken my exercise to the outdoors where I’m slowly beginning to see a transformation in both my endurance and overall physique. I now understand how important it is to exercise and the ‘feel good’ factor you benefit from afterwards. Needless to say, if I can manage to get to some sort of adequate fitness level, really anyone can.

Overall, I hope that my background in nutrition and passion for good food will encourage others to adopt a healthier lifestyle. As that cringe saying goes ‘life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon’. In summary, take everything slowly, any changes you make to your diet or exercise is not going to happen overnight but if you make an honest attempt at doing something, I promise you’ll reap the rewards.

All the best,


The importance of weight training in-season!

In the professional era of sport the competitive season has become longer and athletes get very little rest. The modern athlete is not comparable physically to athletes ten years ago. Modern sport science and recovery techniques continue to drive the physical capabilities of athletes forward. The modern athlete is heavier, leaner, stronger, fitter and faster than ever. Most of this comes from the continuous development of training techniques but also because of the expectations on the athlete. A professional athlete works full time. When they are not on the pitch doing skill work they are in the gym. When they are not in the gym they are in the kitchen or in the treatment rooms of physiotherapists recovering for the next session. This is the way sport is in the modern era. Those who don’t keep up will be left behind.

Youth athletes nowadays train almost as hard as the professionals. The training age and physical maturity of most youth athletes is way ahead of where it was in the past. Schools players are more driven and better coached and their physical development is much more advanced. The level of competition in schools has developed these young athletes from quite an early age. With the result that younger athletes are coping with higher training volumes and demands than ever before. See

When we look at a competitive season in most sports there is quite a short off-season. Traditionally most athletes would look to further their physical development in the off-season. In the past this may have been as long as four months. Now many athletes have no off-season or maybe only a number of weeks. This means that for many to continue to develop they must do so in-season. Recovery is the main concern with this. Tired athletes become slow physically and mentally and performance suffers. Modern technology and sport science has allowed us to monitor athletes much more closely so we can be more accurate with training. Athletes can now train just enough to elicit adaptations without hindering performance.

Good coaches monitor their athletes efficiently and in a manner which allows them to adjust training very easily. By analyzing the athlete’s performance on a number of indicator tests they can see how fatigued the athlete is. There are many techniques, from RPE rating and verbal feedback to countermovement jumps and barspeed analysis. Most coaches understand how important it is to be flexible with training and know when and what to change. Often an athlete will come into the gym expecting to lift weights but instead be given a simple mobility routine. It all depends on the monitoring and fatigue management protocols adopted by the training staff. Professional sport utilises monitoring to ensure athletes are always in the phase of training that is planned in accordance with the season goals and performance priorities.

Many believe weight training to be something which cannot be completed during the season as it fatigues athletes and slows them down. This is not always the case. When used appropriately weight training can actually be used to excite the nervous system leading to an improvement of contractile function. This means it can actually make an athlete faster for a short period of time after the session. This is known as a PAP response which you can read more about here.

Because of the length of some seasons and competitions in relation to the off-season or rest periods, it may be necessary for an athlete to train to maintain abilities. Athletes typically begin to lose some motor capabilities after about 10 days. If they do not continue to train, the ability slowly fades away. However, it takes approximately 40% of original training load to maintain their conditioning. Continuing to train albeit at a reduced level will allow them to stay at their potential throughout a season which may last up to 10 months in some cases without a break. Waiting this long to get back in the gym would literally put a player back a full season in terms of their physical development. For younger players this would have massive implications on their career.

In addition to physical development, in-season training plays a major role in injury prevention and game preparation. Often during long seasons athletes build up imbalances which, if not corrected, can develop into chronic and acute injuries. Maintaining some strength work focused at developing a balance of strength and movement can be a very effective preventative measure.

Maintaining and S&C program is essential for most modern teams especially when some players may be called up for international duties. Leinster Rugby Imagery. Picture credit: Dáire Brennan /

Maintaining an S&C program is essential for most modern teams especially when some players may be called up for international duties. Leinster Rugby Imagery. Picture credit: Dáire Brennan

In modern sport a squad extends wider than a starting team. Subs and reserves play a much more active role as game intensity increases. At a moments notice a player may be expected to start when they may not have had game time in several weeks. The only way to prepare them may be to simulate some of the physical demands of the game in a gym setting. It is essential for all squad members to be ready to play at match intensity despite not getting adequate match time. The strength and conditioning program is extremely important to these players.

In conclusion, modern sport is rapidly developing. The physical capabilities of most athletes are also developing. There are larger demands on the athletes in terms of the amount of training required to be competitive. Fortunately modern science has allowed us to support this development. We understand the body much better nowadays. We need to embrace change and learn what we are capable of achieving. This won’t happen if we sit, wait and just rest all the time. Athletes are more motivated than ever and understand that professional sport is a full time job. Progress is essential and they and their coaches will be doing everything possible to ensure it continues. In-season strength and conditioning is now an essential component in the success of a team or athlete.