Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Getting the edge

I don't think of myself as a competitive person but this morning when I found myself in a bit of a race with another running commuter I definitely picked up the pace and pushed myself, getting to work quicker and alot hotter than usual!

Olympians are obviously the most extreme example of individuals motivated by competition, not just to beat each other but also beat outstanding records.  However even for us non-Olympians, tapping into your competitive streak can be a great tool in motivating yourself to be more physically active. 

For some people this is as simple as entering a 5k race to get them motivated to start running. For others this is as extreme as completing the Etap tour de France hill stage, which is open for all to enter ahead of the tour itself (a friend of mine just did it - insane and ridiculously impressive!). Still having a goal to work towards or people to beat can be a powerful motivator to get off the sofa and put in some work at the gym!

Getting the competitive edge isn't just about training - nutrition is so important in sports performance, as evidenced by the fact all Olympic sports people have specifically designed diets.
Even if you're not trying to set any world records, anyone regularly exercising should factor this into their diet to reduce the stress and ageing effects of exercise on the body and minimize the chance injury.

Sports nutrition can get very complex but it doesn't need to be, here are the basics:

- Make sure you always have protein within 30-60 minutes after training, you need amino acids to repair your muscles and these are most needed and most efficiently used after your muscles have been worked. Easily absorbable proteins such as whey protein powder are best, but any lean protein is good such as fish, skinless chicken, soy beans, tofu etc. The consensus is the body can't use more than 30-40g of protein in any three hour period, so there's no athletic benefit in eating a huge quantity.  Instead it's better to have a moderate amount of protein with every meal.
- You also need carbs after training to replenish your muscles glycogen levels. Again this is most efficiently done straight after exercise and also helps the uptake of protein into the muscles post-training. For one hour of tough training this is 1g per kilo of body weight, so for me this is 50 grams of carbs for a one hour spinning class - you should have these within 30 minutes of finishing your training.  This is the one time you can have more refined carbs such as sugar or refined white bread and white rice as these will be taken up more quickly into the muscles and carry the protein with them.  I choose not to have sugar in my diet due to it's health downsides so use rice, potatoes, gluten free bread or fruit for my post training carbs, but this is not going to give me the fastest post-exercise recovery.
- For optimum training you should have some carbs an hour before your training session. I don't always do this as I also train to burn fat rather than for sports performance, but unless you train as soon as you wake up you shouldn't do any exercise til you've eaten some carbohydrates to minimize the stress load on your adrenal glands.
- Stay hydrated. Everyone says this all the time and we all know it, but rarely do enough. Don't just drink before and after training, you should be drinking all day. If training is intensive you may need up to 3 litres a day.
- Get your good fats - essential omega 3 fats are anti-inflammatory so help muscle recovery.  I take Eskimo 3 fish oil
 after training and also add flax seed to my post-training shakes to help reduce muscle soreness and risk of injury.  If you're serious about reducing inflammation and recovering quickly for your next training session you should have an ice bath or a cold shower to cool the muscles you've used quickly. It sounds unpleasant but even a 20 second blast under a cold shower can make a big difference to how your legs feel the next day!
- Antioxidants are extremely important for helping muscle cell recovery and repairing muscle cells damage.  Therefore you should eat plenty of foods high in antioxidants, so make sure you have two portions of fruit or veg in every meal and add a load of berries to your post training smoothie, a favourite of mine is:
200ml water
1 scoop of protein powder (natural whey or rice)
1 handful of ice cubes
1 handful fresh or frozen blueberries
A small banana
One handful of spinach
1 tsp ground flax seeds (essential fats)
Blend together and drink
I also have a shot of CherryActive
 after training, which is super antioxidant rich and means I can train the next day without muscle stiffness.
- Help your red blood cells. Energy is produced in the mitochondria in your cells using sugar, water and oxygen so it's important that your blood can efficiently transport oxygen to your muscles. Beetroot has been shown to increase blood oxygen levels so if you enjoy it start eating it or juicing it! You should also eat plenty of iron rich foods to boost haemoglobin levels, such as wholegrains, pulses, seeds. Meat is a rich source of iron so if you're meat free then you might need a supplement. I use Spatone
 as it's easily absorbable and gentle on my digestion.

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