Tag Archives: diet

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,

Christina

How Muscle can help you burn fat!

This article is geared a little more towards female training but equally applies to men. Traditional weight training is linked with the development of bulky muscles, useful in contact sports where body mass and increased strength can be very beneficial. A muscular physique is usually associated with as being masculine and heavy. As a result many females avoid weight training like the plague. They favour cardio training as a means to stay fit and keep body fat down. In many cases female athletes have had great success reducing bodyfat as caloric expenditure did lead to fat loss.

Most people want to achieve a “toned” physique. They often believe weight loss to be the main mechanism in which to achieve this desired look. Instead they simply achieve a skinny flat appearance lacking in shape. This can be identified in the controversial zero size model physique. Recently people have realized that shape comes from muscle underlying the fat. Simply losing fat does not create the physique one may desire.

This physique is not quite what most people look for. It is the product of fat loss with little lean muscle!

This physique is not quite what most people look for. It is the product of fat loss with little lean muscle!

The good news is that building muscle helps to burn fat. Lean body mass is made up of muscles, bones and ligaments. Muscle is considered a metabolically active tissue. This means that it is a consumer of energy. The more muscle you have the more total energy expenditure you will create. In addition weight training, depending on intensity, can burn just as many calories in a given time period as cardio training. The bonus is that when recovering from weight training we consume extra calories as muscle cells repair and recover. Growth and repair of cells has an energetic cost. Thus our overall metabolism increases helping to keep bodyfat levels down

For those worried about the bulky physique, they must consider the amount of training required to build muscle. It is a relatively slow process to gain muscle. Most experts will agree that 1 lb increase per week of lean muscle mass is about as good as one can expect without chemical assistance. This increase is also not usually consistent; over a year one may not expect to gain 52 lbs. There is also an increased water content in the body which may account for extra “scale weight” which is not necessarily muscle. The point is that athletes spend years actively trying to gain muscle and in some cases bulk up. It requires a lot of hard work in the gym and in the kitchen. Genetics also play a major part in how easy it is to gain muscle. One will not simply become bulky because one lifts weights. It will require a very focused effort over a long period of time.

The main lesson here is that building muscle is a key component in achieving a lean aesthetic physique. Many may find their weight loss can stall when using only cardio methods to lose fat. This is because your body can adjust its metabolism to meet energy intake. Focusing on building lean muscle tissue and supplying the nutrients required to do so can influence a shift towards body fat utilization. While diet is a key component, anyone looking to lose weight or “Tone up” needs to put time into developing lean muscle. It has great benefits to overall lifestyle as well as appearance. It will help make daily tasks much easier as you will become stronger and more efficient. Body composition is often much more important than body weight when it comes to physique.

Many female and male athletes are subject to body mass restrictions and targets. Often they avoid weight training as it has been traditionally stereotyped as a weight gain strategy. This is not in fact the case. It can be the tool that allows an athlete to achieve their desired weight while actually having a positive influence on their performance. One should establish whether or not they need to lose weight or in fact change their body composition. In the case of physique, muscle provides the shape and fat loss allows the shape to be displayed. Never neglect the benefits of weight training and lean muscle mass.

HIIT, fat loss and muscle!

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is a very popular training method. When used correctly it effectively improves cardiovascular conditioning, burns fat and promotes new muscle growth. In addition a relatively short HIIT session is sufficient to elicit substantial performance gains. Like any training method, understanding the basic physiological principles will make a big help to using it effectively. This article will explain a bit about this type of training and some of the pitfalls to watch out for.

HIIT is popular because it is time effective. An individual can burn a lot of calories in a short space of time. As the name implies it is an intense form of exercise. Our energy systems function on a simple mechanism of energy charge. The rate of energy (Adenosine Triphosphate/ATP) utilization in the muscle cell must be matched by an energy supply system. Slow rate of energy expenditure during low intensity work is supported by oxidation. Oxidation supplies a lot of energy but at a slow rate. High intensity work is supplied by the glycolysis and phosphate systems which have a much faster supply. Supply must meet the demand. There is often a slight lag between utilization and supply. This means that even during rest intervals and post exercise energy consumption is still elevated. In simple terms our metabolism is increased and we continue to burn more calories than at normal rest conditions. For this reason even though a 20min session burns, for example 500kcals, energy expenditure is raised throughout the day. A low intensity session lasting one hour may burn 800kcal with minimal elevation in metabolisms for the rest of the day. For this reason HIIT may actually burn more calories on a daily basis. This is why it is so effective at fat burning.

HIIT can also be performed with a strength endurance element, supporting a leaner physique!

HIIT can also be performed with a strength endurance element, supporting a leaner physique!

In addition, the power output which is produced during the work period of HIIT is high. Higher power output during work periods are often effective in improving your conditioning. It also helps maintain strength and power simply by utilizing larger motor units. The main issue to consider with HIIT relates to energy supply. If we cannot supply the cells with adequate energy then they become damaged. This is known as metabolic stress. A certain degree of metabolic stress or damage can be reversed. This is what promotes new muscle growth. Moderate metabolic stress during training can, at times, be quite effective for promoting hypertrophy.

If we place too much stress on the muscle cells the damage can be irreparable. The cells will begin to die. When this happens on a regular basis muscle wastage can occur. It also places the body under larger amounts of general stress which will begin to impact on our immune system. There is a large list of potential health implications that this can eventually lead to.

Preventing this scenario is relatively easy but not always something we think about. One of the determinants to energy supply is our energy store. In the case of HIIT we need adequate stores of glycogen for an adequate supply of energy. If we do HIIT in a fasted state we are putting ourselves under severe metabolic stress, as there is little energy supply to fuel it. In addition the lack of energy will dramatically reduce performance so conditioning benefits may also be lost.

The take home message is this. Fuel up for intense exercise! Low intensity exercise can be done in a fasted state as the oxidative system works effectively to provide fuel. With intense exercise such as HIIT style training, you must have some glycogen stores or glucose in the bloodstream. If you are in a totally fasted, glycogen depleted state then consume some simple sugars close to training. By doing so you can maintain high intensity and reduce cell stress. You will still achieve an elevated metabolism that promotes fat burning. You also place the cells under just enough stress to help promote hypertrophy

It is important to understand training methods as the smallest oversight can cause more harm than good. HIIT is an effective tool but if it is not adequately fuelled it loses a lot of its benefits. It is a popular successful way to train and should be used in any program. Like any training method the process is the important part. It needs to be considered and managed properly in order to see the full benefit.

Carbs and competition.

First off, I am not a dietician, nutritionist or even self proclaimed food guru. There are plenty of folk out there willing to preach about what you should and should not eat but that’s not my area. I am purely going to focus on the role of carbohydrate in sporting performance. Quite recently there has been large debate over carbohydrate in our diets. The “Health and Fitness revolution” has given rise to an enormous amount of conflicting information. People very easily fall for the latest fitness trends in search of the magic pill! The role of carbohydrate in human performance is pretty simple, it is fuel! Lately we have seen a large amount of athletes at the performance lab attempting to eat paleo. While I don’t have an issue with the paleo concept we have noticed that their diet, while rich in fruit and vegetables, is still generally quite low in carbohydrate as a nutrient. Paleo foods tend not to be very carb dense in comparison to other sources which they have now eliminated from their diet. As a result their performance tends to suffer somewhat. Dr. Loren Cordain one of the founders of the paleo diet concept also states this concern quite clearly in his work. We go to great lengths, explaining to athletes why carbohydrates are so important in their diet. That will be the focus of this post.

The Science

As most of you are aware the body uses three main energy systems. Glycolysis is the system which deals with carbohydrate as it uses glucose to generate ATP. At low intensity exercise the oxidative (Aerobic) system is most active. At increasing intensity larger motor units become active. These motor units tend to be glycolytic in nature (Anaerobic). These consume glucose which is sourced either from the bloodstream or stores known as glycogen. Once glucose and glycogen stores are depleted higher intensity cannot be maintained. This translates to a reduction in power output and speed. It is therefore important that an athlete has an adequate amount of glycogen stored prior to competition to maintain performance. Athletes will try to develop their oxidative system in an attempt to preserve glycolytic fuel stores. Fat stores contain more energy. The longer they can run on fat for energy the less glycogen they will use. The mistake people make is in thinking there is a distinct switch between fuels and energy systems. This is not the case. At all times all three systems are active but one will be more dominant. For this reason all systems must be considered in terms of diet and training. The nature of their sport will influence the nature of an athletes metabolism.

Game sports

rugby world cup 2011 NEW ZEALAND ARGENTINA

Image: rugby world cup 2011 NEW ZEALAND ARGENTINA by Jeanfrancois Beausejour

The level of intensity varies greatly in team sports. Depending on position there can be an extremely varied utilisation of one energy system or another. Glycolysis is however generally very active throughout game scenarios in team sports. Numerous studies have examined carbohydrate supplementation during a games. The supplementation groups showed a better maintenance of speeds and a greater distance covered in the later stages of a game than the non supplementation groups. In addition to this other studies have shown in soccer that better performing teams cover larger distances per game than poorer performing teams of the same league. It is pretty clear that carbohydrate is quite an important factor in performance.

Endurance sports

Photo Chris McCormack https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Photo Chris McCormack
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Endurance sports are a little more interesting as the success of an endurance athlete is heavily related to fuel management and efficiency. A successful endurance athlete will dedicate a large amount of training time aimed at increasing oxidative capacity. This allows them to stay aerobic for longer essentially preserving glycogen. They aim to be as effective as possible at utilising fat metabolism. This will allow them to save glycogen for periods where they need to call on larger motor units. In short they try to use glycolysis only when they need to maintain a higher pace. The length of their event will determine the pace they wish to maintain and therefore the reliance on glycolysis and carbohydrate as a fuel source.

I will not mention individual foods or diets as I think that is mostly down to individual preference. The point I want to stress is that carbohydrate plays a very important role in performance for nearly all sports. It is important for an athlete to understand that role and not neglect it. They must choose a nutritional strategy that best suits the requirements of their given sport. At the end of the day their performance will reflect wether their diet is good for them or not!