Author Archives: Hamiltonsport

Exercise performance in the heat!

As it is coming closer to the summer months here in the Northern Hemisphere, now is a good time to discuss how heat influences performance. Paula Radcliffe is possibly the greatest example of heat stress and performance. Her race at the Athens 2004 Olympic games was a disaster. She blamed the extreme heat for her lack of performance at a period where she appeared to be in great racing form. Heat exhaustion also claimed several top athletes at the 2015 Crossfit Games. It is an often overlooked and significant concern for many athletes.

As we exercise, the by-product of metabolism is heat. This heat production raises our body temperature. Our body tries to maintain a range between approximately 36-37°C. It has several mechanisms to do this including sweating and directing blood flow to the surface of the skin. This helps dissipate heat through evaporation. If temperature rises above this range, safety mechanisms in the form of temperature sensors in the body will intervene. Your body will actively try to reduce its activity in an effort to slow you down to the point at which it can get temperature level back under control.

In terms of endurance, cardiac output is a major determinant of exercise performance. If we sweat, the water in our blood plasma is reduced. Cardiac output will reduce and endurance performance will be diminished. For this reason we try to maintain our hydration as best as possible. The hotter the ambient conditions the more we need to drink to replace lost fluid and maintain our performance capacity. If we drink large amounts of water and sweat a lot, we run the risk of excreting a lot of salts which are in sweat. If we do not maintain a salt/water balance we can start to experience cramping in the muscles. Often athletes drink until urine has a very light yellow colour. This is generally a pretty accepted method of monitoring your hydration. However, if we do not replace salts we can achieve light coloured urine relatively quickly but without properly reaching hydrated status. In the case of extreme heat and sweat adding a hydration tablet or isotonic fluid is beneficial. It not only replaces salts but can help rehydrate as fluid is absorbed more efficiently when it has isotonic concentrations of electrolytes.

An important factor to consider in the heat is the relative humidity. Humid conditions are much harder to cool down in as sweat and evaporation are not nearly as efficient. It is also good to consider the fact that in dry conditions sweat may not be as noticeable as evaporation is quite rapid. In both cases we can lose a lot more sweat than we think. As fluid loss is so detrimental to performance it is essential to maintain a strategy of drinking and staying hydrated and be aware of the conditions.

In terms of warming up, an increase in body temperature is extremely beneficial to muscular contractility. If our temperature is too high though it will have a very negative effect. In extreme heat remaining cool may be more important than increasing temperature before a race. It is even more important to manage heat during competition especially in longer events. Wearing light coloured, light material clothing can help reduce heat from the sun. Precooling using a cooling jacket, cold drinks or dampening your clothes can also help keep body temperatures down in hot conditionings. Overheating during a long race can have disastrous effects. In Paula Radcliffe’s case it was likely her extensive warm-up in the heat raised her temperature to a point where she could no longer manage optimal temperature when the race started-Something which would not have been an issue racing elsewhere.

 

Heat exhaustion can creep up on you and put an early end to your competition. It can also be extremely dangerous.

Heat exhaustion can creep up on you and put an early end to your competition. In can also be extremely dangerous.

It is rare that many athletes experience truly extreme heat as many event organizers take safety into consideration. However, sometimes we compete in foreign regions and some athletes are more accustomed to hot temperatures than others. The heat can have a very significant impact on performance. It is essential that athletes always consider the competition environment and have strategies that allow them to be at their best. It is always good to be prepared. Always bring a cap and light coloured shirt to competitions. Sunscreen and water are essential to a competition kitbag. Conditions can change fast and the simplest forms of preparation can make all the difference.

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Mistakes in Strength and Conditioning.

I like strength and conditioning because it is one of the few things in life that really rewards effort. When you train you can see your progress quite clearly in the changes in numbers and performance. The process of becoming stronger and fitter is relatively simple in comparison to other things in life. Whenever I hear someone who is struggling to reach a goal I immediately question their approach. In my experience most issues with people failing to hit targets are a result of a fairly simple mistake. Often people are so close to the right process that they actually move backwards when trying to fix their problems. Here are a few issues which I have seen quite commonly in the past years working with a fairly large number of athletes. Some might appear harmless but its astonishing how progress can be slowed by the following things.

Goal Setting

Competitive athletes are usually very driven people. They welcome challenges in most cases. This can result in them setting unrealistic goals which give them the idea of overcoming all odds. They create an underdog situation for themselves. It seems obvious that setting unrealistic goals unwise yet it is an easy thing to fall victim to. Media has exacerbated the issue also. Often progress and comeback stories are heavily exaggerated which leads many athletes into a false sense of what is achievable. Some belief is a good thing but many individuals set themselves up for inevitable failure. An experienced coach is an essential and useful tool to an athlete who may just be basing their goals off false information. If you have a goal, that’s great and it’s a starting point. The process in achieving it will more than likely be quite a measureable one. Discuss it with your coach, as it will become clear on paper how much time is required to realistically achieve targets. A good strength and conditioning coach will be able to formulate a strategy with clear numerical targets throughout the process. If the numbers don’t add up then you may need to reassess the goal to begin with.

Buying Snakeoil

Information is very readily available on the Internet and other media. The information you see is not always good information. Not everyone providing it is in a position to do so. There is a phrase “There is no profit in simplicity” which I heard a top coach say once. People don’t like buying simple programs they already know. They want something new and spectacular. Having worked with professional athletes I can honestly say sometimes I feel underwhelmed by how basic most of their training is. They are incredibly consistent and diligent and that is why they get so far ahead. They don’t look for complicated and advanced programs; they do exactly the opposite. They make life as basic and as simple as possible. This gives them the best chance of success. Inexperienced individuals always want something a bit special or different. These individuals make life difficult for themselves and waste a lot of time. In short don’t buy into outrageous training methods, products or claims. By all means try new things but realize we already know quite a bit about what works and what does not. Consistency is always number one and any program fails without it. There is no magic pill out there but plenty of folk trying to make a quick buck.

"The missing piece of the puzzle"

“Maybe this can get you to the next level”

Staying true to your discipline

This is a “Grass is Greener situation”. Athletes training for a sport become trained for the tasks associated with that sport. We are getting better with our programming and more professional with our approach to sport. This lets us improve and set new records. Many times I have seen athletes chasing goals that are unrealistic in their sport. The reason they do it is because they see a friend or other athlete capable of achieving something which is not relevant to them. They spend time training toward a goal which will not translate into their own discipline this can be witnessed when strength athletes train like bodybuilders for example. They want single digit body fat or massive muscles which the process in achieving may actually hurt performance in their own sport. Another example might be when disciplines begin to overlap for training purposes and the overlap goes to far. Some athletes may incorporate some Olympic lifting into their training and suddenly find themselves entering competitions and training specifically for weightlifting. Distractions creep into a program like this in many ways. While it might be fun for a change of routine it can lead to an offseason being wasted.

Patience

Often very small issues can put the handbrake on progress. When an athlete is diligent to a program it is quite easy to assess the program, isolate the issue and correct. When an athlete loses patience there is a large temptation to immediately try to change things. This can lead to quite dramatic shifts towards other techniques or even coaches. Often this puts them even farther away from the goal and digs them into a deeper hole. Training programs are often an evolving thing which needs tweaks along the way. It is much easier to tweak a program when you know what you are dealing with. When an athlete starts adding his own things to a program or starts to do his own thing without informing the coach it makes it very hard to make adjustments. I personally like when an athlete gives me feedback and have no issues changing my own approach. We learn from experience and sometimes situations are challenging and need some experimentation to get right. When an athlete is patient and diligent, a coach can serve him a lot better. It is common for an athlete to miss a goal only to tell the coach he changed things that weren’t working. A coach can’t help anymore as it is not possible for them to isolate an issue in the unknown.

In summary the key issue that catches most athletes off is simplicity. A successful athlete makes life simple. Simple things are easier to achieve. The “Marginal gains” theory was popularized at the London Olympics when team GBR structured their approach around one or two percent improvement here and there. Nothing outrageous, just add up the little things. This led to them winning a lot of events and setting a lot of world records. Keep things simple and you will be a lot more effective in making the progress you want.

The Ultimate conditioning tool: Threshold intervals.

There are many conditioning methods and tools out there. One of our favorites is threshold sessions. The goal of these sessions is get some volume of training in and around lactate threshold. Training the vicinity of lactate threshold has proven to be very effective at improving ones conditioning. Traditionally it was considered an endurance athletes concern but team sports have shown great success with this type of training.

Implementing this type of training is relatively simple but does require a little bit of preparation. The most efficient thing to do is go to the nearest performance lab and perform a lactate test. This basically establishes your work load and heart rate at lactate threshold. The DIY option is a little less accurate but can still be quite effective. One simple way to establish a decent estimate is the method described below.

DIY LACTATE TEST

After a comprehensive warm-up conduct the following.

  • Run, Row or Cycle a 10min time trial on an even surface. Try and maintain as steady a pace as possible for the entire 10mins. Make note of heart rate and or watts/pace every 30secs for the final three minutes. The average of these will be a pretty close estimate of your lactate threshold. It will be accurate enough to use effectively but not 100% as you would get with a lab test.

Once you do this you can construct the sessions. The intervals should reflect the nature of your competition. Longer distance races deserve longer intervals. The work:rest periods should be 1:1 or 2:1 for longer intervals. 3-4 reps performed twice a week will be enough to start seeing improvements.

Here are some suggestions for some popular sports that have shown to help improve overall conditioning in a short space of time.

Rugby/Soccer/Hockey

4X 4mins with 4mins rest @90% of Lactate threshold (Pace or Heart rate) twice per week

Rowing/Sprint Triathlon

3-4 X 5-10min with 5mins rest @85% of lactate threshold (Pace, Watts or Heart rate) twice per week

5k, 10k or Half/Full Marathon

3-4 X 5-10min with 5mins rest @85% of lactate threshold (Pace, Watts or Heart Rate) twice per week

If using Heart Rate, with each successive repetition heart rate will creep up about 2-3% to maintain pace or wattage. This is normal. If using Wattage or pace there should be a similar decrease with each progressive rep. As fatigue develops across the session less work will be possible at the lactate threshold point. The 2-3% shift accounts for this fatigue. Do not panic if you see this relatively small drop off. The session will still be effective.

In summary these sessions are a great method for improving aerobic conditioning. Not everyone has access to a lab so the DIY test is a very useful and cost effective alternative. It is accurate enough to still use the sessions effectively. Which sessions you choose will depend on what sort of sport you partake in. Add a few of these into your sessions and you should notice a solid improvement in your conditioning within a matter of weeks.

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Fats and sports performance

The last category within the macronutrient group is that of ‘fats’, a broad term used to describe a wide range of foods including meats, dairy, nuts, seeds, soybeans, peanuts and avocados. This particular food group is an essential component of our diet and a major source of energy in everyday life. However, it can also be publicized as a problematic nutrient with excessive intakes linked to cardiovascular disease, obesity and some forms of cancer.

As an athlete, it can be easy to forgo of the importance of fats –we are constantly bombarded with information about carbohydrates and protein and as a result fats are left in the dark. However, fats are a crucial source of energy and insulation for the human body. Whereby carbohydrates account for the majority of energy during short duration or low intensity exercise, fats make up the most part of energy during longer or more intense exercise sessions (marathons). Secondly, when we are not receiving enough energy from our diets, stored fat in the form of adipose tissue is broken down to supply the necessary energy. It can be considered a ‘survival’ nutrient for mankind. Fats are also important in the transport of essential vitamins (vitamins A, D, E and K) around the body and can protect our internal organs from damage and trauma sustained during sports injury or collision.

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Fats are composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen elements. They are insoluble in water and dissolve only in fat solvents. They are made up of building blocks called fatty acids, which are classified as saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated depending on their chemical structure. Some of these fatty acids are essential to an individual’s diet whereas others can be detrimental to health if too much is consumed. All types of fat provides about 9kcal/g which means that too much of any type of fat can lead to weight gain. The Department of Health states that fat intake should not exceed 35% of our total energy intake and saturated fat should not exceed 11% of total energy intake from food. Unfortunately, the Irish population is consuming foods high in saturated fats such as fried foods as well as cakes, biscuits and pastries and this is contributing to the widespread dilemma of heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

Types of Fats

Saturated Fats

Saturated fats are found in animal sources such as meat, egg yolk, yogurt, cheese and butter. They are also found in some vegetable oils including coconut and palm kernel oil. This type of fat is normally solid at room temperature and is the biggest cause of high LDL levels (bad cholesterol) leading to problems such as heart disease and stroke. It is, therefore, suggested to limit the amount of saturated fats to no more than 10% of your total daily calorie intake.

Trans Fats

Trans fat is another type of fat that is found naturally in small amounts in meat and dairy products but much larger amounts are being produced in the production of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Trans fats have been shown to have a bigger adversarial effect on blood cholesterol levels than saturated fats. It is therefore important to always read the back of pack labels and determine the proportion of trans fats in products before purchase.

 

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What are healthier fat choices?

 

Unsaturated fats

Unsaturated fats on the other hand are normally liquid at room temperature. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats help to reduce cholesterol levels and are found in vegetable oils such as olive, rapeseed and sunflower oil.

An essential component of polyunsaturated fats are ‘fatty acids’, which are needed biochemically by our bodies and can only be made available to us through diet. They are, therefore, described as ‘essential’ fatty acids as they can only derived from external sources. These fatty acids are used to build specialized fats ‘omega 3 fatty acid’ and ‘omega 6 fatty acid’, which are important in the normal functioning of all body tissues. Omega 6 fatty acids are very common in the modern diet and can be found in most vegetable and nut oils as well as meat and dairy. Omega 3’s, on the other hand are more difficult to attain and can be found in foods such as oily fish (salmon), flaxseed, soybeans and walnuts. In 2009, the EFSA published its recommendations for essential fatty acids intake;

 

  • Omega 3 fatty acids – an intake of 2g/day of alpha linoleic acid (ALA) and 250mg/day of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
  • Omega 6 fatty acids – an intake of 10g/day of linoleic acid (LA)

 

On the flip side, fat intake can also be correlated with weight gain. High consumption of dietary fat is associated with increased levels of body fat and obesity. Fats are the densest source of energy, supplying about 9 kcal per gram. This is more than double the number of calories provided by protein and carbohydrates per gram. Therefore, the key to successful weight loss is low dietary fat consumption whilst maintaining adequate protein and carbohydrate intake.

As a general rule of thumb, we should try and cut down on the amount of saturated fats that we consume and opt for healthier foods containing unsaturated fatty acids like avocados, nuts and fish. These foods comprise a typical Mediterranean diet, which is vastly linked with a lower rate of heart disease. Also try to incorporate vegetable oils such as olive, sunflower and rapeseed oils over those rich in saturated fats (butter, palm, coconut oil) into your diet.

Fat and Sports Performance.

As already stated fat provides the highest amount of energy out of all the nutrients – 1g of fat equals nine calories. This calorie density makes fat one of our largest energy reserves. When oxidative metabolism is possible we use fat for energy quite well. However, as soon as lactic acidosis begins to occur our ability to utilize fat as an energy substrate diminishes significantly. This occurs much earlier than many of us realize. Building oxidative capacity is, therefore, essential for endurance athletes or where competition lasts more than 40 mins. They simply need to be good fat burners in order to maintain work output for longer durations. Our fat stores will last much longer than our glycogen stores making it essential for performance in certain endurance sports.

 

Endurance athletes rely on the energy yield of fats and the greater stores within the body.

Endurance athletes rely on the energy yield of fats and the greater stores within the body.

 

However the power of fat as a source of energy for exercise takes time and is dependent on a number of factors; it is slow to digest and can take nearly 6 hours to be converted into a usable energy. The body also needs to break down the fat and transport it to muscles before it can be used as the body’s primary energy source. In order to truly benefit form fat consumption, athletes should consider carefully planning when they are going to eat fat, how much they will eat and the types of fats they’ll consume in the lead up to a game or event.

 

By Christina Higgins & Ross Hamilton

 

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The warm-up and performance!

A winning team or athlete will undoubtedly want to achieve two things every session. One, perform at their best for that given day and two, prevent any injury occurring. With this in mind athletes are paying more attention to their warm-up procedure as the impact of an effective warm-up has shown to play a significant role in achieving those goals. Competition tends to encourage us to find an edge or advantage over our competitors. In some cases this allows us to be innovative and improve, in others it creates distractions. The warm-up has become a monster in some cases. It is not uncommon for some teams and individuals performing excessive warm-up protocols which show more harm than benefit.

Quite recently I attended a rugby tournament and witnessed the warm-up routines of other teams. One such team’s warm-up lasted from the time we left our team bus to the kick off of our first match. A period of about 90mins. They had a wide arsenal of stretches, mobility drills and activation exercises. They also had 21 points scored against them in the first ten minutes of the game by the tournament’s wildcard entry. In my opinion they missed the point of the warm-up, which was to prepare them for the game.

An effective warm-up will prepare you for the task ahead. In order to be effective an individual or team coach must identify what they are preparing themselves for. The following will discuss the main components of a warm-up. By understanding what is needed one can structure a warm-up that is fit for their purpose.

Body temperature

This is the main priority of the warm-up. By increasing core and muscle temperature we elicit a wide range of responses which have been proven to improve performance. 1° C increase in muscle temperature from resting is associated with approximately a 4% increase in power output. The ideal temperature being approximately 37.5°C. Excess of this will likely have detrimental effects. The most effective way to increase warm-up is to perform moderate full body exercise (Approx 80% of lactate threshold) for 5-10mins depending on environmental factors. This increase should level off after approximately 15mins in normothermic conditions. Optimal muscle temperature allows for faster nerve transmission and muscle contraction.

 

Even endurance sports benefit from an effective warm-up

Even endurance sports benefit from an effective warm-up

Cardiovascular

When we begin to exercise our cardiovascular system reacts. Blood vessels dilate and constrict to direct more blood to working muscle and away from inactive muscle and organs. Increases in heart rate also allow for increased cardiac output and blood supply.

Joint mobility and flexibility

Activity and movement reduces viscosity of synovial fluid in the joints which act as a form of lubricant. In addition, stretching may be utilized to promote elasticity of muscle fibres. Some theorize that this can prepare the muscles for rapid loading and increase ranges of motion (ROM), reducing the possibility of injury. Some have argued that increased range of motion may be problematic for joint related injury depending on the nature of activity to follow. It is wise to exercise caution with the use of stretching prior to exercise. Foam rolling has also become a popular method to promote muscle elasticity and ROM. It has shown little evidence for increasing performance where ROM is not a limiting factor. Mobility drills may also be used to promote ROM but have again shown little evidence for promoting performance where issues with ROM are not present. In short unless there is tightness or an issue with mobility it is not essential.

Dynamic stretching may offer a more beneficial alternative. Basic drills can be used which closely replicate movements required during competition. Increased specificity will prepare the athlete more appropriately for their sport.

 

Stretching should be used appropriately in a warm-up routine.

Stretching should be used appropriately during a warm-up routine.

 

Post activation potentiation (PAP)

Leading on from the previous point, an effective warm-up will also provide some PAP response. This can be read about more in a previous article here https://hamiltonsport.com/2015/01/post-activation-potentiation/. Some basic ballistic style movements and dynamic stretching can provide this. It is wise to do this following the temperature increase portion of the warm-up. Some progressive bounding or jump type movements are appropriate in most cases. This may increase nervous system activity which can allow for better contractile function of the muscle. This can improve force output and reaction times.

Competition specific

Technical drills should be used to prepare the athlete mentally for the tasks they must perform. Including some technical, skill focused drills will allow for further warm-up physically which will be specific to the tasks they must perform.

 

Warm-up drills should also prepare the athlete for contact.

Warm-up drills should also prepare the athlete for contact.

 

The recommended order of warm-up should look like this.

  • Temperature ramp (Also covers cardiovascular preparation)
  • Mobility and dynamic stretching (Covers PAP response)
  • Competition specific

A full warm-up should last between 15 and 30 mins depending on the sport. It is important that the athlete’s warm-up is as efficient as possible and wastes little time. The warm-up is not the time to address mobility or flexibility issues. These should have dedicated time given to it. A warm-up is preparation for the task. I feel that far too much time is given to mobility drills and foam rolling and these have become the core of many warm-up routines. The popularity of movement as a performance variable has allowed some to go overboard and neglect other aspects of their preparation. The main priority is getting the desired increase in body temperature, especially in colder environments. It must also be noted that warm-ups should be performed as close to the event as possible and great care should be taken to maintain body temperature if there are periods between the cessation of the warm-up and the start of competition.

These are the core components of an efficient warm-up. The exact drills and procedure will depend largely on the sport itself. If your warm-up is lacking any of these components then it would be very beneficial to look at ways of adding them in. In summary a warm-up should be time efficient and fit for purpose. It should have both a general and specific portion and should always look to establish optimum body temperature. Too many mobility drills may distract the athlete from purpose and would be better placed in a training session dedicated to addressing mobility issues. It takes a little experimenting to find a balance between effort, time and effectiveness. If exercises are too intense fatigue can become an issue. It is always best to establish protocols outside competition first to avoid any issues on the day.

If you have any questions or concerns about your warm-up then do not hesitate to contact us.

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The Science of Hiking

Photo credit: Robert Deaves

Photo credit: Robert Deaves

Hiking is perhaps one of the most miserable sensations in sailing. It is absolutely necessary to hike in order to maintain good boat speed. The trade off is that to achieve decent boat speed you must endure a lot of pain. Over the years I have heard many explanations for this excruciating burning sensation in the legs. I have also heard many training methods to improve hiking endurance. Scattered throughout all this, there have been many inaccurate explanations and absurd suggestions on how to deal with hiking. Hopefully this article will clear up some confusion and give an insight into how our body deals with hiking.

Hiking involves several major muscle groups. Quadriceps, glutes, spinae erectors and abdominal muscles are all heavily involved. We often refer to hiking as an isometric contraction. This is a little inaccurate. Isometric contraction involves an application of force through the contraction of a muscle which is at a fixed length. In actual fact there are gradual and slight changes to the length of the muscles during hiking making it more quasi-isometric in nature. The process of fatigue however, remains the same.

When we contract our muscles the blood vessels are squeezed and blood flow is restricted. During dynamic contractions there is a relaxation phase during which the blood vessels are released again. This contraction relaxation process actually promotes bloodflow. This is absent in the case of hiking as we rarely have a full relaxation phase. The restriction of bloodflow forces our muscles to generate energy for contraction through anaerobic means as oxygen is in short supply. The primary anaerobic energy system is called glycolysis. The major by-product of this is lactate. Normally muscle is activated from its low fatigue, low power type to high fatigue, high power types. These are known as type one and type two muscle fibres. Each fibre type is reliant on a different energy system; type one Oxidative and type two glycolytic. In the absence of oxygen, type two fibres must become active. Normally as type one muscle fibres fatigue, type two begin to activate and take over some of the work. During hiking we don’t really have that option as most type 2 fibres activate very early. Fatigue of this type can be witnessed by assessing surface electrical signals in the muscles by Electromyograpic (EMG) analysis. The image below shows EMG during a hiking endurance test. EMG activity increase as more muscle fibres are activated to maintain power output.

EMG trace of fatiguing leg extensor musculature. Activity increases as fatigue develops

EMG trace of fatiguing leg extensor musculature. Activity increases as fatigue develops

 

There are several reasons why these muscle fibres fatigue. Firstly the production and accumulation of lactate can interfere with muscle contractions. Secondly, there must be an adequate supply of energy substrate ie. glucose or glycogen. Thirdly repeated high intensity contractions damage muscle cells causing a leakage and reduced chemical gradients essential for efficient contraction. These combine to cause a reduction in sustainable force output.

The question now is how to manage this. Generally speaking larger cross-sectional muscle areas generate larger isometric force. So bigger stronger muscles will cope with loads much more efficiently. Adequate strength training is essential in order to cope with the forces required for hiking. In addition to this we must improve our ability to deliver oxygen and promote bloodflow to the working muscle. Capillarization of the muscle occurs when it is subjected to long durations under mildly ischemic conditions. For most of us we achieve this through cycling. The problem is that this process occurs over a long period of time and is quite gradual. That is why there is a need to complete many long duration cycling sessions in the offseason. It cannot be accomplished during a short training camp.

Improving the aerobic system also helps us to remove lactate and reduce the effects it has on muscle contraction. The main issue with large volumes of aerobic type training is that it induces an adaptation which is not favorable to muscle growth or strength improvement. It is essential to find a balance between the two. If we rely too heavily on aerobic conditioning we inhibit strength. The stronger we are, the relatively easier hiking becomes. If we do not have a good strength base then we will struggle even if we are well conditioned.

In addition to land based training we can have a big influence by actually going sailing. While the physiological adaptations to sailing are probably a little more modest we can gain a huge amount of technical advantages. Learning to shift tension on and off the muscle can help prolong endurance. Holding more efficient energy saving postures can also buy us time in relation to fatigue. Our tolerance for hiking is also improved. The more we train and become accustomed to certain processes the better we cope. Inhibitory sensors within the muscle can be somewhat overridden with training. In short, hiking more allows us to manage the fatigue more effectively.

 

Photo credit: Robert Deaves

Photo credit: Robert Deaves

Hiking is a pretty complex process. The biggest mistake is to assume that it is purely a reflection of aerobic conditioning. While aerobic conditioning will help endurance, strength and experience also have an enormous influence. The stronger the knee extensors, the easier hiking becomes and the less reliant we are on conditioning. Do not neglect strength work and likewise do not neglect aerobic training. They are both essential to hiking endurance. Travelling and lack of facilities can be detrimental to progress and maintenance of endurance. One should make sure that organized and consistent training is maintained throughout the season.

 

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Meal timing and frequency

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We were asked by a reader to discuss meal timing and frequency, the pros cons of different strategies. There is no one definitive answer to what is better, three square meals, six spaced evenly through the day or intermittent fasting etc. It all depends. The best diet is the one which best suits your goals given your circumstances. I’ll discuss a few scenarios which may shed some light on what works best and when.

Scenario 1: Traditional Three square meals.

In this case the daily caloric and nutrient needs must be achieved through three meals. For most athletes this would mean meals would need to be quite large. Larger meals need more time to digest. If an athlete is undertaking multiple training sessions in a day the timing of these three meals may cause issues. The athlete must leave adequate time for digestion while also ensuring they are fueled for the next session. In some cases this may be possible but there would be many athletes for whom this would be impractical.

Scenario 2: Six meals spaced evenly.

In this scenario the athlete is pretty much eating before and between all sessions. This is probably more beneficial as they are fueled for activity as well as eating to recover. The smaller meals would allow faster digestion and can potentially avoid issues through choosing foods which are low in bulk or digest quickly. For high level athletes this may be difficult, as finding time to prepare and actually eat the meal could be difficult, especially in the case where an event may last several hours during a single day

 

Turkish weightlifter and Olympic hopeful Mete Binay, 27, poses in front of his daily meal intake in Ankara May 29, 2012. Binay is a world champion weightlifter and his daily diet is 3500 kcal. He drinks at last two glasses of milk every night. His diet is largely composed of red meat. He consumes plenty of sweet desserts everyday and takes care never to miss a full breakfast. Binay is also keen on organic food. Shortly before competitions he begins to supplement his diet with ergogenic aids and vitamin pills. Picture taken May 29, 2012. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Turkish weightlifter and Olympic hopeful Mete Binay, 27, poses in front of his daily meal intake in Ankara May 29, 2012. Binay is a world champion weightlifter and his daily diet is 3500 kcal. He drinks at last two glasses of milk every night. His diet is largely composed of red meat. He consumes plenty of sweet desserts everyday and takes care never to miss a full breakfast. Binay is also keen on organic food. Shortly before competitions he begins to supplement his diet with ergogenic aids and vitamin pills. Picture taken May 29, 2012. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

In both scenarios there are issues and benefits. Eating regularly can become a chore but leaving long periods between meals will promote hunger and cravings. From a physiological perspective foods have functions which must be considered in relation to the timing of their consumption. Carbohydrate is an essential fuel for exercise. For that reason glycogen stores must be at optimal levels when competing. In training however, exercising in a glycogen depleted state can promote fat utilization, an extremely beneficial process for an endurance athlete. Such athletes may consider low carbohydrate meals prior to some training sessions.

Protein plays a major role in recovery, so a fast digesting protein source, post training, is important to start this process. Fatty meats tend to digest slower and may want to be avoided in this case. Other micronutrients should be in good supply throughout the day.

There is no doubt that long periods without eating are problematic. They cause nutrients to be depleted and promote hunger, irritability and cravings, issues which can be major distractions for athletes. There is some debate over insulin levels and blood sugar spiking through manipulation of diet. Generally insulin promotes absorption in cells so post training these spikes are not necessarily bad as they promote recovery through rapid absorption of sugars into the cells. During rest, glycogen stores are replenished, sugar is not being burned as fuel and cannot be stored as glycogen. In this case it is stored as fat. This is not good for athletes. For this reason fast digesting carbohydrate should be limited to periods during or post training. Outside of this time slower digesting carbohydrate should be eaten.

In the case of athletes needing to lose weight there is quite a lot of debate. Does an athlete need to lose fat or general mass? In the case of fat then they could utilize some fasted low intensity training. Bear in mind training in this state will hinder performance so if an athlete is undertaking a tough session then it should not be in a fasted state. If the athlete needs to reduce overall mass then a general caloric deficit is required. Again this should impact training as little as possible and so the bulk of calories should be consumed around the training session to allow for both performance and recovery. These strategies are discussed in a previous article. https://hamiltonsport.com/2015/02/fat-loss-for-athletes/

In summary, how an athlete approaches their diet depends on their goals and individual circumstances. Ideally they must arrange their diet so that they adequately meet performance and recovery needs. They must do so in a way which is both practical and sustainable. This will keep them healthy. If they must manipulate body weight and/or composition then there are added considerations. In general timing the bulk of daily carbohydrate intake around training works best. Most athletes tend to find themselves having 2-3 larger meals interspaced with several large or small snacks. Schedule will greatly dictate how you approach meal timing and frequency. Experience will show you what works best for you.

 

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Will bulking up slow me down? Not if you do it right!

Manu Tuilagi

This is a dilemma faced by many athletes in many sports. The debate relates to an increase in body mass and its impact on the speed of the athlete. Traditionally heavy athletes are considered slow but strong. Light athletes are considered quicker and more nimble but lack mass which is beneficial in contact. In the modern era of sport, athletes are statistically bigger and faster. It seems our traditional thinking is being proven wrong.

When we think of speed we usually are thinking of a mixture between the ability to change direction quickly and top speed. They are closely linked but not the same. Change in direction involves both deceleration and acceleration. Top speed is more a case of overcoming braking or decelerative forces. In both examples the rate of force development is key. The more force one can produce the more they displace their mass, the more they move. Strength is required to produce force but also to control deceleration. Stride rate has been shown to have little impact on top end speed. Stride length however, has a great impact.

Athlete’s strength levels tend to have a narrower range than their bodyweight. This means that lighter athletes will tend to have a better relative strength to weight ratio. This generally translates into them being quicker. In recent years, bigger athletes have begun to demonstrate similar levels of speed and agility. They also show greater strength levels. One important factor in strength to weight ratio is lean body mass. Bodyfat contributes little to the generation of force yet will contribute significantly to decelerative forces. Therefore excess body mass in the form of fat will have a negative impact on speed.

Gaining mass is traditionally accomplished using high volume weight training to induce muscle hypertrophy. Programs which aim purely at achieving hypertrophy tend to promote modest strength improvements. Athletes may put on extra mass over the course of a short offseason. They then feel sluggish when they return to competition. This is often because their relative strength to weight ratios have become less favorable.

In some very rare cases there is structural influence in the muscle mass which can inhibit the rate of muscle contraction. Muscle fibres contract through the sliding filament theory. This sliding of fibres creates friction. The more muscle filaments the more friction. Friction reduces rate of contraction. Rate of contraction is very important when we need to produce power. This has only been witnessed in a handful of circumstances where specific muscle groups may be overdeveloped. Track cycling is one such sport where this can occur from time to time.

Robert Forstemann, some of the biggest legs in sport

Robert Forstemann, some of the biggest legs in sport. Despite his enormous quadriceps he is still one of the fastest track sprinters in the world.

So the question is, how is it possible to increase mass and maintain functional speed on the field of play. Simply put the key factor is time. An athlete who gains mass over a longer period will be able to spend time keeping other capabilities at a relatively similar level. Speed strength and neural training can be implemented ensuring these also develop. These are key components in the rate of force production. A program which cycles between short blocks of training, gradually developing each capability will achieve the goal. This is known as periodization. An athlete could also train all three capabilities in the same training block, but would witness more modest improvements.

Most of the time losing speed when bulking up is a result of doing things too quickly. Athletes may gain 3-5kg in a three month period with little emphasis on pure strength or speed. They have the new mass but have not yet trained to carry it on the field. Often they panic and attempt to lose the weight again. This means they never have a chance to train to their new potential. This usually promotes a reluctance to attempt to increase mass in the future.

In summary gaining weight will only slow an athlete down if the weight gained is in the form of fat. Initially they may lose speed only if their rate of mass increase exceeded their rate of strength improvements. Some top sprint coaches suggest that a sprint athlete would need to be able to back squat twice bodyweight before they will reach full potential. Hypertrophy style rep schemes are also not typically associated with neural improvements. Neural training in the form of speed strength style training is essential to maintain fast rates of muscle contraction.

Obviously speed is a skill and technique in sprinting and change of direction is important. The issue is that athletes tend to want things quickly. They focus on one thing while neglecting another. Genetically we are predisposed to be big or small, fast or slow. We rarely give a whole lot of time to our weaknesses as it distracts from our strengths. If athletes are a little more patient and approach things with a patient and diligent attitude then they tend to be more successful in the long run. Many athletes do not have the technical skill mastery to reach their potential to begin with. In this case they cannot blame their body mass.

 

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Ma’a Nonu at 100kg+ has little issues outrunning defenders significantly smaller than him.

The conclusion is that there are many aspects of increasing body mass which can have a negative influence on speed. Despite this, increased muscle mass can improve power output through increasing force production capabilities. If they support these changes with a period of speed strength and neural focus training then they should see no major loss in speed. It is difficult to achieve dramatic changes in body mass without it having an impact.

Athletes must weigh up the benefits, versus the time in which they have to make changes. At some point size will have a detrimental influence but most athletes never get close to this point. Athletes who fear that they will get slower should be assured that this is rarely the case when their training is appropriate and gradual.

 

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Protein and training

Introduction

In the past couple of years, there has been a complete shift in Irish people’s attitudes towards sports supplements along with a noticeable surge in the popularity of bodybuilding and powerlifting. According to Bord Bia Periscope 2013, Irish people think of themselves as one of the healthiest nations in Europe – pretty ironic considering our rising levels of obesity. There has also been an explosion in the Health and Wellness Trend in Ireland in recent years. According to one EuroMonitor report titled ‘Sports Nutrition in Ireland’, there has been a 7% increase in Ireland’s sports nutrition industry with expectant continued growth over the next couple of years. With this upswing in the popularity of gym-going and strength training has brought a reciprocal increase in protein supplement use in the form of protein powders, bars and Ready-To-Drink (RTD).

Based on this premise, Irish companies are constantly searching for ways to tap into this lucrative protein sector with Avonmore having recently launched a popular protein milk and Glanbia having acquired the US protein bar company ‘ThinkThin’ for a humble $217 million only last month. These changes and developments in the Irish supplemental market typify the growth and success of this protein category which in my opinion will only increase with time as the consumer becomes more aware of the importance of protein in not only sports performance but also as research backing its effects on muscle synthesis and immune function grows.

What is Protein?

Protein is generally considered one of the most important food groups for human survival. Every day our body changes as cells grow, divide and die – these processes depend entirely on protein to supply the vital building blocks to our cells. These building blocks are scientifically known as ‘amino acids’ and when joined together form a ‘protein’. There are two types of amino acids in the body; ‘essential’ amino acids, which cannot be formed by the body and must be obtained from dietary food sources; and ‘non-essential’ amino acids which can be produced by the body itself. Protein coming from animal sources provides the majority of ‘essential’ amino acids. However, plant based proteins (seeds, lentils, vegetables and grains) may not offer all of these essential amino acids. It is, therefore, highly recommended for all vegetarians and vegans to eat a wide range of plant based foods to ensure that they receive all the essential amino acids needed to generate proteins in the body.

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Turkish eggs on granary bread with spiced chick peas and spinach.

How much Protein do we need?

The recommended daily amount (RDA) of protein for healthy adults is 0.8g/kg of body weight per day but this is viewed as the minimum amount for the average sedentary adult. Many factors need to be considered when calculating the optimal amount of dietary protein for individuals that exercise daily such as the protein quality, energy intake, carbohydrate intake, type and intensity of exercise and timing of protein intake. Protein recommendations are generally calculated based on a nitrogen balance assessment and amino acid tracer studies. Nitrogen balance technique involves assessing the total amount of protein that enters the body through food consumption and the total amount of nitrogen expended.

It is recommended that if you exercise regularly or participate in more than 1 hour of moderate to high intensity exercise several times a week you should be consuming more protein than what is advised for a sedentary adult. The International Society of Sports Nutrition states that an active person should eat between 1.2 – 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight on the days that you exercise.

  • Those that participate in endurance activities (swimming, biking, running) should try to consume 1.2 -1.4g/kg of protein.
  • Whereas those involved in strength activities (weight lifting) should aim for 1.4 -2.0 g/kg of protein.

We are constantly being bombarded these days with articles in the Daily Mail and online on how a high protein diet is touted as unhealthy and can even lead to medical issues such as chronic kidney failure. Some have even cited that high protein diets can enhance the leaching of calcium and heighten an individual’s risk for osteoporosis. However, both of these theories are still unclear as there is no substantial evidence to suggest that protein intakes within the 1.2-2.0g/kg of body weight range will harm or even have an adverse effect in healthy, active individuals.

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Post-gym protein smoothie- packed with berries, banana and a scoop of whey protein.

How to Up Your Protein Intake from Food Sources?

Although there are multiple protein supplements available in the Irish market, many athletes would rather eat whole foods to meet their protein needs. For instance a sedentary woman weighing 127 pounds will need about 46 g of protein per day – this can easily be achieved by eating a 3 oz chicken breast, 1 egg, a handful of almonds and a slice of cheddar cheese.

 Here is a list of common protein foods that can easily be consumed on a daily basis;

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Protein Supplements

When it comes to protein, most of us don’t need supplemental help and can easily meet our needs from a well-balanced diet. However, those that have above average protein needs and find they are not achieving the desired effects from exercise should consider protein supplementation.

The most important issue to consider when purchasing a protein supplement is its quality. This is the main reason why scientists came up with the ‘protein digestibility corrected amino acid score’ (PDCAAS) which tells you exactly how complete the protein is and how easily digestible it will be in order to attain the necessary amino acids. This scoring system rates protein from 0 to 1. For example egg whites actually have a score of 1 meaning they are fully complete in the 9 essential amino acids and are easily digested and absorbed. It is important that your protein powder supplement should score as close to 1 as possible.

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  1. Whey protein exhibits the highest PDCAA out of all the protein powders because of its high levels of essential and branched chain amino acids to encourage muscle building during strength training. If you are looking for a protein that will help increase muscle and size then whey is the best powder. It is inexpensive and a high quality product that will reach your muscles faster leading to desirable results.
  2. Casein and soy protein isolate are also considered high quality sources and score with a value of 1.00 on the PDCAAS scale. Soy protein is an excellent alternative for vegans who can’t take whey or casein.
  3. Plant based proteins such as pea (0.69), rice (0.47) and hemp (0.46) score lower on the PDCAA scale as they don’t consist of all 9 essential amino acids. For this reason they are normally mixed together in a plant based protein supplement.

What about Protein Bars?

The main difference between protein powder and bars is that bars generally contain more calories, carbs, fat and salt for any given amount of protein. However, bars also provide a quick and easy way of getting that post workout protein snack into you. I would generally advise to always read the back of protein bars and see what exactly is in each product – you may be surprised by the hidden fibers, sugars and artificial sweeteners. I, personally, love protein bars until I realized a few years ago that I was gaining weight fast and read the back of one bar and saw that one bar was nearly the equivalent of an entire meal! However, bear in mind that these bars are manufactured for different types of exercise – choose higher carb bars (20g per serving) when you participate in higher intensity aerobic activities (running, swimming and cycling) and opt for lower carb bars (< 20 grams) for non-aerobic exercises.

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Author: Christina Higgins

Supplementation and sports

The supplement industry is massive. It has also become a major component of the fitness industry. It can also be a very misleading source of information. Much like the food industry it is a business and sometimes the information available is either biased or inaccurate. This article is going to approach the subject of supplements from a physiological perspective. It will discuss the role of supplements in physiological processes and mechanisms which can influence our performance in sport. I will approach things from a mechanistic point of view and not from a dietary perspective. It will cover some of the more popular and well established supplements on the market. There are literally thousands of pills and formulas on the market. If they are not on this list then in our opinion they probably are not worth the money.

Carbohydrate supplements.

Without a doubt these work. They are very simple. They are usually made up of fast acting sugars which enter the bloodstream very rapidly. They are particularly useful in scenarios where there are prolonged bouts of high intensity exercise. They slow the rate of glycogen depletion and can provide energy substrate for glycolysis when glycogen stores are running low. They are very well supported in scientific literature and can be very convenient during exercise to prolong time to exhaustion. Not something that’s required for rest days but can be helpful in recovery.

Protein supplements.

Another well established supplement. We should all be aware of how essential protein is in the diet of any athlete. While not essesntial, protein supplements are a very convenient way to ensure adequate protein intake without taking in too much fat. Many athletes can get enough from regular foods but strength and power athletes may struggle with the volume of food required. The relatively low volume of protein shakes and bars allow athletes to avoid gastrointestinal distress while achieving desired intakes. It is also a cost effective method. We recommend a high quality whey powder from a reputable brand. There are many blends and types of protein powders but a good whey protein will cover most needs.

Creatine

Creatine has had a lot of bad press in recent years. It is our opinion that lack of education is to blame. Creatine is naturally stored intramuscularly. It provides rapid energy supply along with intramuscular ATP for sprint type activity and rapid muscle contraction. It is naturally found in many meat products. We consume approximately 3 grams of creatine per day. For many athletes supplementing with creatine allows stores to stay full. This will simply ensure that their capacity for high intensity movements is kept at optimal levels. This requires no more than 3-5grams to be taken per day. It is not uncommon to see young athletes consuming 20g and upwards daily. When used properly there is no evidence of serious side effects. Overconsumption can however, result in gastrointestinal issues and discomfort. As with most substrates in the body it is soluble in water. Like glycogen it will result in modest water retention and slight increases in bodyweight. This is not nearly as drastic as some would suggest but should be considered where body weight is important.

Caffeine

Caffeine is a well established ergogenic aid. It helps muscle contraction, mental alertness and fat utilization. Most athletes would benefit from caffeine supplementation. The major issue is that some individuals are more sensitive to it than others. In some cases people can react badly to caffeine. We recommend that it should be used in training before competition to establish tolerances. Dosage is dependent on individual tolerance. We can build a tolerance to caffeine so generally it is better to use it sparingly and only when needed. In cases of heart conditions or known caffeine allergies it should be avoided, and medical advice obtained.

Nitrates

Nitrates are found in many foods. The most common is Beetroot but they are also found in most vegetables and some commercial supplements are available. Nitrates can help reduce the oxygen cost of exercise and lower blood pressure. They can be beneficial in aerobic type exercise and can improve overall endurance performance. There is no evidence of side effects and there is no established recommendation for required intakes.

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Tart cherry juice (Montmorency Cherry juice)

This is a relatively novel supplement. There is relatively little research conducted on its use, but findings so far have been extremely positive. It is claimed that supplementing with this juice has potent anti-inflammatory benefits. It is claimed to have quite a significant reduction of muscle soreness. Some studies also suggest that it acts as an effective pain relief through reduction of inflammation.

Beta Alanine

Beta Alanine is a relatively new supplement and research is still a little incomplete. It is a limiting amino acid in the resynthesis of Carnosine. Carnosine acts as a lactate buffer in the muscle and helps keep intramuscular pH levels low. It can be beneficial during high intensity exercise where it may improve time to exhaustion. There is no evidence of any major side effects. Overconsumption may however, lead to tingling sensations in extremities. Recommended dosages range from 3-6 grams daily but there is little research completed on the optimal amount.

Iron supplements

These are perhaps a more overlooked supplement. They can be extremely beneficial to endurance and female athletes. Oxygen is carried by red blood cells, one of the main building blocks of which is Iron. Iron deficiencies can be common in both sexes and may have a major impact on performance. Tolerances for supplementation vary between individuals. The best natural source for iron is liver and red meat. It is recommended for endurance athletes and female athletes in particular as it can help keep performance levels optimal.

Omega 3 fatty acids (Fish oils)

These are an extremely popular supplement. There are many claims as to their benefits which include mental function, Anti inflammatory properties, joint function and sports performance. Unfortunately there is very little peer reviewed scientific research showing any benefits to their supplementation. While we know fatty acids are essential for cell function, there is little evidence to show that supplementation is beneficial or necessary. A healthy diet would more than likely supply adequate amounts of these fatty acids. However, these fatty acids are predominantly found in fish, which many people dislike. In this case there may be some argument for their use but again they are unlikely to be the miracle drug they are claimed to be.

Zinc and Magnesium

ZMA is the commercial name for Zinc and Magnesium supplements. There is great debate over its effectiveness. There have been many conflicting studies conducted. The general trend is for there to be no performance benefits whatsoever. However, anecdotal evidence suggest it may help with sleep patterns which may help with recovery.

Fat Burners

We do not recommend the use of commercial fat burners. They are usually a cocktail of stimulants and substances which have shown a modest increase in metabolism or fat utilization. They will not magically burn away fat. They simply help keep metabolism slightly elevated if at all. They are a risky supplement as some ingredients can potentially be harmful.

Conclusion

Supplements can often be touted as miracle drugs. The reality is that only in some cases do they play a role in natural physiological mechanisms. Most of the time they do not directly improve performance but instead aid the mechanisms which lead to performance. For example Creatine is often associated with hypertrophy. It has no direct influence on muscle growth. It does however, allow muscle contractions to have adequate energy substrate which allows for better muscle function and endurance. This results in better strength and strength endurance. The resulting improvement in training quality can then result in improved rates of hypertrophy.

There are thousands of supplements on the market. Many have solid scientific support and evidence. Others are marketed based on weak or incomplete evidence. Unfortunately athletes and individuals under pressure or desperate to reach their potential may feel that they need every little possibility for progress. As a coach or athlete you must realize that patience is important and one must concentrate on the process rather than the goals. It is also important to note that there are many supplements and substances that are banned and harmful to health. It is essential that athletes choose reputable “drug screened” brands. Often paying a little more for quality can prevent issues later.