Are you starting off next year, like you start off every year, with resolutions that you already know are destined to burn out around mid February? Maybe you even have an idea in mind, maybe you want to wait until after the Christmas period is over?

There is a reason you make new years resolutions every year, it’s because we all to often set our goals too high, or make them too vague, and never actually think about what it might mean for making changes on a day to day basis. Perhaps you get sucked into the social media version of what healthy eating is, or you subscribe to the notions that your fitness ambitions need to be hardcore, or you get behind the idea that you need to cut out almost everything from your diet and survive off of a diet of meditation and lettuce?

I stand against all of the above, and I would confidently say that I could help you reach New Year’s ambitions (if they are related to health & fitness), and that it will be easier than you think it will be or should be. One word that is thrown out as a buzz word quite a lot is tailored nutrition, real tailored nutrition cannot be given to you day 1, it is like figuring out a puzzle, and can take some time, real tailored nutrition is when you actually enjoy your diet but still get all your goals with no compromise on your health.

Here’s a list of things that won’t happen if you book a consultation with me for January:

  1. You won’t be banned from drinking alcohol.
  2. You won’t have to avoid chocolate or whatever your favorite treat food is.
  3. You won’t be eating only lettuce.
  4. You won’t be eating foods you dislike.
  5. You won’t have huge expensive shopping lists.
  6. You won’t be spending your life in the kitchen.
  7. You won’t be disappointed.

Fill in the forms below to book a consultation or to inquire about the fitnut online coaching services, and I’ll get in touch with you ASAP. Book in advance for January and you’ll receive a 20% discount.

Book a consultation today and get your New Year’s Resolutions on track once and for all.

‘Tis the season to be jolly, but it doesn’t need to be the season to ruin all of your health & fitness ambitions.

If you are like me, and all of the clients I ever had, or, you are just a normal person, then this topic will probably concern you, year in, year out. So what can you do to make sure that you don’t have to sacrifice fitness goals for festive celebrations, or vice versa. I am not one for ruining Christmas, so I looked closely to figure out some surprisingly easy things we can do on a day to day basis to manage weight, health and social life. I think it’s possible to do it all, so that everybody wins, here’s how to do it.

#1

Don’t buy those boxes of Roses or Celebrations, these are diabolical for weight management and general health. If you don’t have them in your house, you don’t eat them, simple, the mantra “out of sight, out of mind” rings true here. Three Roses sweets contain 160 calories, need I say more?

#2

Don’t binge blindly, or inefficiently. Indulging has become part and parcel of Christmas, go for seasonal treats, not treats that are readily available all year round. If you selectively opt for treats, you will be less likely splash out.

#3

This one is simple but useful, if you drink spirits, go for clear ones and try mixing them with water, sparkling water or sugar free soda options. If you are a beer drinker, make every 2nd drink non-alcoholic, or make it a sparkling water. These small decisions add up, and gain compound interest over a month of heavily socializing.

#4

Under no circumstances should you get a takeaway after a night of drinking. For a myriad of health reasons, including the fact that alcohol acts as an organic solvent, enabling frying chemicals like acrylamides to get into your circulation (really not good), you are adding North of 1000 calories on to night of liquid calories. One night like this is enough to undo 5 days of “good behaviour”.

#5

Just because it’s Christmas time does not mean you have to be a slob. Whip out your smartphone and aim to hit 10000 steps per day, research shows that this is the amount of activity that can positively impact waistline and general health. Try get to the gym or pool before a night out, to help somewhat balance out the calorie intakes.

#6

Try actually chewing your food. This one gets a lot of people. You are supposed to chew your food 20-30 times per bite, nobody does that (certainly not me), aim for 10-15 chews per bite, cutlery down between bites and sip some water or sparkling water with your dinner. I guarantee you won”t finish what a normal portion is for you.

#7

Eat your veggies first, then your protein, then your carbs. Just try it, you are less likely to go for seconds, order of eating actually can alter appetite, consumption amounts and how your body reacts to your meal after eating it.

#8

Don’t go mad on the sauce – metaphorically and literally. Keeping gravies, white sauce, cranberry sauces and dips to a minimum will really drop your calorie and sugar intake.

#9

Stop using oil like an Irish person. If you are roasting something, use 1kal spray oil, you’ll get the effect you desire, olive oil and the likes are meant to be freshly added to a cooked meal, not used as a cooking medium.

#10

Head over to my social media pages to get some useful tips & tricks, you can find my Facebook by clicking here, Instagram here and Twitter here.

#11

Get some peace of mind and sign up for January online coaching by clicking here, or booking a 1-2-1 consultation, which are all on special offer for the month of January.

Merry Christmas, and looking forward to helping you smash your New Year’s goals!

E

The answer may or may not surprise you, read on to uncover the answer.

No.

God no.

No way, José.

Not a trace, Grace.

Don’t believe me, read the law.

https://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2006:364:0005:0024:EN:PDF

Spoiler alert: You don’t need to drink bulletproof coffee, you don’t need to shovel carbs down your throat and you don’t need to “convert” to ketogenesis.

The key to maximizing endurance performance, or performance in general, is getting the required adaptations from ALL sessions, you could be shooting yourself in the foot, unwittingly, read on to find out more.

This is a topic that gets hotly debated by many, mostly people on polar opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of high fat and high carb advocates, with both side putting forward their centerpiece argument, be it mitochondrial biogenesis or mTOR pathway activation. Both sides are correct, but it is important to note that both sides are equally as dogmatic and pedantic as they are correct, in technical terms, and nobody wins. Once again, the answer lies in the murky grey area as to how to use carbs & fats in your sporting or fitness endeavors to get the absolute most out of it. In summary, the low carb approach can be looked at almost in the same light as ergogenic aid (a supplement), there are certain sessions where it is beneficial, it has drawbacks if over utilized and it is not magic in isolation, also the results are less likely to benefit increasingly elite athletes.

So why can’t we go low carb for all the time? You can, if your training regime consists solely of easy aerobic work, you don’t train everyday and your not really buzzed about your performance, as your recovery will be impeded, thus your progression will be. If you have no tough sessions, nothing with a hint of intensity, no actual performance goals, and you don’t mind feeling sluggish, then go bananas (or avocados, rather), do all the fasted cardio you can manage, but just consume your carbs after training, don’t hold out on glycogen repletion. If you have an actual race season, some performance goals and you work all elements of your aerobic and anaerobic system (any reps, hill sprints, intervals, weights, threshold work etc.) then you cannot* do those workouts off of no or low carbs. *Technically you can, BUT your rate of perceived exertion will be much higher, your oxygen cost for a given intensity will be much higher and you won’t be able to actually go near the high end of your aerobic capacity, your exercise tolerance will also drop a bit. With increasing intensity, less blood flow gets to your adipose tissue, meaning less fats are metabolized (lipolysis rates go down when intensity rises), when the PH of your muscle drops as a by product of acid formation, transporters involved in getting long chain fatty acids into mitochondria are inhibited, also in part due to a depletion in free carnitine, which acts to buffer excess Acetyl Co-A produced, to allow for maintained intensity (Acetyl Co-A accumulation down regulates how your body makes more fuel available for work). These things all result in you feeling like your parents stuck a limiter after 4th gear in your car. If you want to get the most out of the tough work your doing, if you need to power up a hill or indeed you have a race (which has short bursts of sprints, climbs etc. which often dictate race placings), that isn’t the time for low carb. I hope that makes sense, in essence, if your workout is hard, or intense, only carbohydrates can match the rate of feul burning needed, and won’t be inhibited by the by-products of high intense exercise.

Also bear in mind, for those of you reading this, who are shaking their heads, tutting and repeating over & over that “I am an endurance athlete, I ONLY use fats, because the intensity is LOW”, to you guys/gals, I say, you couldn’t be more incorrect. Fat oxidation is optimized between 45-65% of your VO2max, easy running or jogging would be just about over that range, so unless you plan on strolling race day, or your Sunday long runs are actually strolls, you are using carbs also. Now, it is a sliding scale, and it is still possible to train low carb, I’m just making a point, that carbohydrate metabolism is ALWAYS involved, from low to high end of range. Elite marathon runners will belt around 26.2 miles at 85-90% VO2max, non-elites wont get quite that high, but not from it, you guys are simply slower at running, the intensity may not differ though, triathlon would be similar, there is a case for Iron-man being an exception (which I disagree with, but that’s another blog entirely). So even for longer “slower” events, this still applies.

So when CAN we use the low carb approach, and how do we do it? Great question, let’s take a look. If you are in off season, which is winter for cyclists and most runners, then this is the time to do it, reason being is that you have no races upcoming (no important ones), and the majority of your training is easier in terms of intensity, so recovery has a little more wiggle room at this time of year. Carb fasted sessions take a bit longer to recover from in terms of glycogen depletion and repletion, which in turn can suppress your immune function, and can make subsequent bouts of exercise feel more difficult or be poorly executed. For these reasons, it is silly do it in race season, or in a block of high intensity, where recovery and session performance are PARAMOUNT to adaptations and athlete confidence. So keep it for easy weeks, off season & cross-training. Pick which sessions to try fasted or low carb based off of the following criteria:

1) How long is the session, if its <100 mins, go for it. You have enough body glycogen at low intensity exercise to last approx 100 mins, I wouldn’t push it past that. If your run is longer, take a gel at THIS point and complete the rest of your session.

2) If it’s ONLY easy cardio, go for it. If your questioning this, read the article again.

3) Can it be done first thing in the morning, or after breakfast, if so, do it. It’s okay to train fasted, or to have one meal as a low carb meal (or low GI – you more so don’t want any insulin response for “low carb” training). I don’t think it’s a good idea to opt for low carb protocols for a whole day, as it tends to be restrictive and you cut out many staple foods, risking the overall health composition of your daily diet (remember, I’m a dietitian… health first!!)

If you satisfy all the above criteria, go mad, and enjoy it. Low fat sessions can improve your ability to efficiently oxidize fats, and it can cause elevations in circulating PGC-1a, an enzyme that leads to mitochondrial biogenesis, basically the powerhouse units of your cells get bigger and more in number, meaning you can tack on points to your aerobic capacity.

For more information, or advice regarding how you can optimize your training around your life, goals and needs, get in touch. I specialize in endurance athletes and am confident that if you haven’t already addressed this topic, that nutrition can add dividends to your sporting performance. Get in touch via the website or email me at: fitnutspectrumfitness@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading,

E

The gap between knowledge & success is application

It has become inherently evident to me that there are many things that do not work when it comes to giving out nutrition advice, and having people interact accordingly with it. One such factor was giving people overwhelming amounts of information, which I was privy to doing, with the intent of helping and informing, but in reality what happens is that people become confused, distressed, they don’t understand what figures apply where, and why. This became very apparent with a recent client, with whom suggestions such as low fat yogurts, microwave grains and ready made salads seemed like made up products, and the idea of reading a food label was out of this world.

So today, I am doing my first session of what I hope to become a main pillar in the services I offer, practical shopping guides, and my only regret is that I hadn’t thought of it sooner! What does this entail?

  • 30-45 minute shopping trip to your local supermarket (Aldi/Lild/Tesco)
  • A software analyzed report of your typical diet
  • Suggested meal plans
  • Suggested shopping lists
  • Meal prep guidelines & recipes

The session is basically a walking tour of a supermarket, discussing aisle by aisle, pointing out your habitually consumed foods that are contributing most to your calories/fats/salts/sugars and some suggested alternatives. Being shown first hand where to find the foods you need to plug the holes in your diet, and compiling a shopping list that meets your weekly needs, which will fit into both easy cooking and practicality time wise, followed up by a round up in my where we discuss budget/food storage/prepping and some finer points of label reading.

I really think this has the potential to actually reach into practical elements of healthy eating & living by ensuring you have:

1) A good food environment

2) Constant food availability

3) All your nutritional needs met

4) A plan

I will be properly rolling this out in the coming weeks, but will be taking bookings. If you are interested, and think this could benefit you, get in touch and let’s organize your groceries!

Get in touch via Facebook/Instagram platforms or email: fitnutspectrumfitness@gmail.com

Stay healthy,

Evan

Practical application series

INTRODUCTION

            Supplements and ergogenic aids are all the rage at present, and represent a multi-billion-dollar industry that sits on a house of cards and is fuelled by one thing; hope. When we reach for a supplement, what we are looking for is a better outcome, an improvement, a shortcut to a desired endpoint, for some, they believe it is the only answer to a problem. This paradigm partly arises due to the fact that the supplement industry is not heavily regulated, in terms of amounts of active ingredients, and in terms of the strength of the evidence used to support a “scientific claim”, and how misleading that term can actually be. However, there are a list of evidence based and supported supplements, that do have merit in certain circumstances, let’s discuss!

A QUICK CAVEAT, OR TWO

            First, to clear up, there is a difference between a medically contextual application, and a general health/sporting application, sometimes there isn’t a distinction drawn between those two lines, and as someone who works on both sides of this fence, it bothers me. Let’s take for example BCAA’s, branched chain amino acids, and how they are widely promoted for their anabolic potential and supporting muscle growth. BCAA’s are metabolized in muscle, but muscle protein synthesis doesn’t occur unless ALL 20 amino acids, adequate calorie intake and anabolic signalling are in place, BCAA’s only consist of approximately 3 of 20 amino acids. BCAA’s are also found in higher concentrations in actual foods, such as meat/poultry, than in actual serving dosages of BCAA’s themselves! IN the sporting context, it doesn’t make sense to take them in the first place during exercise, as muscle protein is the last thing you will metabolize during a workout, as long as you have adequate calorie intake, overall protein intake and fuel appropriately, they are irrelevant in the equation. Now, in medical contexts, BCAA’s can be used very effectively in patients with liver failure, or cirrhosis, who have compromised ability to metabolize protein, thus supplementing intakes, they can also be used as an adjunct to aid in prevention of sarcopenia in conjunction with proper diet & exercise. Note that these scenarios do NOT apply to most people.

            Also, to note, study methods are vital to know, a study method that focuses on one cellular pathway, or metabolic interaction, may miss the point, as above, the example of BCAA’s increasing anabolic signalling, is misleading, as a rise in mTOR or insulin does not mean muscle protein synthesis, as discussed above. Signalling does not equate to physiological effect. Some studies also don’t report how they control for diet, or calorie intake, which means the results are always open to scrutiny. For example, if you took the time to read about a supplement that purported to increase performance and decrease muscle loss, you may find that the control group, were starved overnight, and the study group are given a supplement, as a lecturer once told me, if you had a control group that were starved or fasted, and a study group that licked a lollipop, there would be a difference! Sometimes, results don’t actually mean anything.

THE ACTUAL EVIDENCE BASED SUPPLEMENTS

            There are 5 main evidence based supported ergogenic aids, which we will cover, along with some sports foods and nutritional products, and we will look at the context in which they are appropriate. Caffeine, creatine, nitrate/beetroot juice, Beta-alanine and bicarbonate are the supplements we will evaluate, and we will look at whey, carb powders/gels and iron supplements in addition.

CAFFEINE:

            Caffeine works as an ADP receptor agonist, it doesn’t give you energy per se, it simply stops you from feeling more tired. Depending on the dosage, it can also cause central nervous system excitement and raise cortisol levels. Caffeine has mixed effects on people, due in part to built up tolerance and to genetic variants of gene CYP1A2, which dictates how it is metabolized in the liver. Caffeine doses of 3-6mg/kg confer performance benefits when consumed 60 mins prior to exercise, however opting for the lower dose of 3mg per kg wills still offer ergogenic benefit, and will decrease the likelihood of gastric distress the higher dosage can lead to. Increasing the dosage of caffeine past 9mg/kg does not continue to offer increasing benefit, due to the varied responses to caffeine, and tolerance variation, it is worth trialling out for yourself your race tactics, in training, so as to avoid any unexpected stomach issues, anxiousness or sleeping issues. Don’t worry if you’re a habitual coffee addict, your general caffeine intake will not impede the effect of the lower dosage. Evidence states that caffeine can be beneficial with the aforementioned doses if taken in a 2.5hr period prior to exercise or during, towards the latter end of the race. Caffeine doesn’t give you more energy, as some would say, it simply stops you feeling more tired, and makes you more alert, stokes the nervous system making it easier co-ordinate hard efforts, however, the psychological phenomenon is just as valid as a physiological change, in terms of aiding performance. For reference, a standard coffee had approx. 80mg of caffeine, and a gel would have anywhere from 30-80mg.

CREATINE:

            Creatine has stood the test of time, and the hype is real. Creatine helps the body resynthesize phosphocreatine at a high rate, and also increases phosphocreatine stores. which is useful for any sport or training sessions involving explosive effort and maximal outputs. For explosive work, or anything max effort up to 6 seconds, you use your ATP-PC system, however this naturally runs out very rapidly, creatine helps replenish this, ultimately allowing one to do higher volumes of maximal and intense work, which is what leads to the strength and performance gains. Creatine has its best effects in efforts lasting under 30 seconds, it doesn’t necessarily make sense for an endurance athlete to load up on creatine, as gaining a lot of lean muscle may affect power to weight ratios, VO2 max ratio, in which case, the weight gain may neutralize any strength gains. However, early season or off season, when in general prep phase, creatine may be good to take with gym sessions, long term creatine use may avoid the weight gain noted with loading protocols, and can alter cell signalling to promote glycogen storage in cells, which may benefit the ultra-endurance athlete. Bog standard creatine monohydrate is king, no need to get fancy with it, increasing price doesn’t increase effectivity. Opt for lower doses of 2-5g per day long term as opposed to the 20g per day loading phase doses recommended for power athletes, increase your water intake, if you want to take creatine. I would recommend optimizing protein intakes, training to your max, optimize fuelling in sessions, and then, if you need extra, as an endurance athlete, to go to creatine.

NITRATES:

                Beetroot juice has gotten a lot of press as a superpower in the media, and whilst that claim is likely to be quite an overestimation, there may be some efficacy to it, let’s take a look. Nitrates are the components in beetroot juice that offer up the benefits. Nitrates work by increasing vasodilation and oxygen uptake, which also happens naturally when you exercise. The jury is out due to mixed results and insufficient data. Some evidence dictates that intakes of nitrates offer benefits in the 2-3-hour periods post consumption, with bolus intakes of 310-560mg investigated. Elite athletes or anyone in good nick, who has a VO2 of over 60ml/kg/min, may not experience much benefit, as there is already little room for improvement, and some researchers warn that the side effects such as upset stomach may outweigh the potential gains when risks are weighed up too. This would be one to try in training, and would not be the first line of action for increasing sports performance.

BETA-ALANINE:

                This supplement may not be too familiar for endurance athlete populations, but will be for gym goers most likely, and is known widely for its ability to give you a tingling sensation in your face, also known as skin paraesthesia. Taking beta-alanine increases muscle cell (myocytes) carnosine content, which has buffering and anti-oxidant properties, and has been shown to increase maximal exercise tolerance. There are positive intake and performance correlations across training level and elite status athletes, though the correlation is markedly weaker in increasingly elite performers. Doses of 3.2-6.4g/day split into equal doses every 3-4 hours for 4-12-week periods show efficacy, however, this is likely not realistic and does not mimic what typical consumers can or would be willing to do, making it a supplement that is likely difficult to adhere to. Some research also showed huge intra-individual differences in cell content of beta-alanine during dosage periods, as beta-alanine stays elevated for long periods of time in the body, meaning supplementing needs to be individualized and that likely more data is needed.

SODIUM BICARBONATE:

                This has been shown to slightly increase performance in short, high intensity events, translating to 2% improvements for events lasting less than 60 seconds. Sodium bicarb. Has similar properties to beta-alanine, but has an acute spike between 75-180 mins post consumption, meaning it would need to be trialled out repeatedly to figure optimal timing with doses of 0.2-0.4mg/kg. Also, unlike beta-alanine, this product buffers extracellularly, i.e., in the blood stream, as opposed to inside the cells. Sodium bicarb. Is very likely to lead to stomach upset and vomiting, and consuming 3-4 smaller doses per day for 3-4 days prior to the event can have the same effect, without the side effects. If that is not possible, two split doses in a 4-hour period pre-race taken with carbs, will help ease gastric suffering.

THE OTHERS (GOOD, BAD & TOTALLY UNNECESSARY)

            The rest I have yet to mention are in my opinion, cupboard staples. As an endurance athlete, or active person in general, your intake needs for protein are just higher, to the tune of at least 1.2g/kg per day, which is not always easy to eat. Whey protein simply makes it easy to do, and for people getting all up in arms, higher protein intakes do not cause kidney failure, or damage your liver. If you are healthy, and have no pre-existing conditions, high protein intake is fine, and whey powder is simply dried milk. Casein is a good option prior to bed, as it is slow release, and may improve your sleep quality a tad. If you are in a power sport, injured or in a heavy training block, protein needs re higher again. Making it easy means it’s practical, means you’ll do it for longer.  

            Carb powders and gels are almost ergogenic aids, we’ve just known about them for so long. If you plan to perform maximally, or are doing anything involving long distance with some hills and sprints (cycling/triathlon), you will smash your glycogen levels and rely on glycogen stores to get you from A to B. Doing some training fat fuelled is good for metabolic conditioning, but you don’t do it race day, or in key sessions, in a similar vein, it would be like wearing ankle weights in training to get stronger, and lining up with them on race day. Carb units will help maintain exercise tolerance, increase time to fatigue, decrease muscle catabolism and improve recovery, talking to a sports nutritionist about how to toe the line between optimal carb & fat fuelling will get you the best of both worlds, alongside practicing your fuelling protocol for training scenarios.

            Iron levels, haemoglobin and red blood cells are all vital for oxygen transport, get a blood test, see where you’re at, you can likely raise it, if you can, do. Get your red meat, green veg and adequate protein and calories in the hatch, and consider an iron supplement for a course, and take a break. Repeat bloods are a good idea to see how your progressed, as red blood cells have a lifespan of about 12 weeks, so changes don’t really occur for about 3 months.

            Now to the bad and unnecessary, and these are ones I see quite a lot, the first being high dose Vitamin C or antioxidants, the effervescent type, which I see people taking on the way to training. Think about this, antioxidants help to alleviate oxidative damage, so they may limit the metabolic stress and acid build-up that occurs with exercise, theoretically making you perform better and recover better, or so the legend goes. Let me put it this way, if I were to attach a small hidden motor onto your bike, you would perform much better, and recover better, training would be easier, but what would be the point? Unless your goal is to sit on an uncomfortable seat for hours on end and move as fast as possible, in which case you should get a motorbike. If you take something that takes away or drastically reduces the stimulus (localized muscle fibre damage and oxidative stress), you don’t get anything to adapt to or recover from, and you have more or less wasted your time. Taking high dose antioxidants takes away the gains you get from training, not totally, but to a certain extent, also, it isn’t worth the potential diarrhoea, and to note, you don’t need high dose vitamins to boost your immune system, you need adequate vitamins, only a deficiency or overload will cause issues. In terms of totally unwarranted, it is electrolyte tablets, if you eat fruit and veg, you get many of your electrolytes, and you likely sprinkle salt on your food, you don’t need electrolyte tabs. Sodium is the major concern, as it is lost in sweat, but sports drinks/gels and powders contain it, and normal Western civilized folk actually consume in excess of sodium intake recommendations, you simply don’t need the tablets, especially if you are doing something that is less than 90 mins in duration. If you are doing an ironman, or huge stage cycle, you may lose some more potassium that would need replacing, however, many sports fuels contain this in minor amounts, and potassium deficiency is incredibly rare. Bottom line, ditch the electrolyte tablets, stick to sports products with electrolytes and carbs (TORG energy/HIGH5/Tailwind etc.)

            I hope this helps, there are many more supplements, there are tonnes of totally useless ones, and potentially some more that could make this list in years to come, just because a bottle says something, or the claim seems super legit, does not mean it is. Always think, is this relevant for me. For help tailoring a supplement guide to support your goals, get in touch!

Thanks for reading,

Evan.

INTRODUCTION

            I want to cover this topic as part of what I am calling the practical application series for athletes, as oftentimes, the link between knowledge, perfect plans and actual results is the application and execution. We are often overexcited and overly ambitious in the planning stage, that we sometimes forget that all we need are simple steps to get us to our goals. The first article I am covering in this series is travel, domestic & abroad, and how to manage your nutrition when you don’t have access to your kitchen, local supermarket, mother’s cooking or even familiar foods. Personally, I was lucky enough to travel quite a bit with my own athletics career, though this mostly spanned Europe, and as such, the time differences were not too extreme, and the food wasn’t too different, so it was manageable. One example I can recall however, is racing in Slovakia, in a town called Dudince, the supermarkets only had sparkling water, which I hated at the time, and, if taken on board during the race, would have caused me to projectile vomit with the force of a Cola-Mentos rocket.

This article is going to cover managing nutrition in foreign places, managing travel and not having your circadian rhythm affected too much if you require a long-haul flight, and minimizing the side effects of long-haul flights (jet lag), such as fatigue and gastric discomfort. If you are a professional athlete, odds are you travel a lot, and are in foreign places the majority of the year, adapting a mesocycle of nutrition planning to suit an altitude or warm weather camp, or indeed, for competing abroad, such as the Tokyo Olympics next year, will inhibit as much as possible and deleterious effects on performance.

JET LAG & SLEEP

Jet lag, or circadian desynchonicity, comes about due to there being mismatches between an individual’s body-clock, and the daylight hours in their immediate environment. Your body clock syncs itself based on exposure to light and dark primarily, it is controlled by your suprachiasmatic nucleus in your hypothalamus, and is fed information by the intensity and wavelength of light that hits your retina. Your hypothalamus also controls a lot of hormone release and pulse rhythms, over a 24-hour period, which are affected by desynchronised clocks. If your body clock is out of sync, you will find yourself staring at the ceiling at night, you may lose your appetite, you will be fatigued, will likely have some gut issues and will absolutely have a performance decrease, and these will mostly effect an individual for a 24 hour period, though a larger time difference may take longer to adjust to.

Zeitbergers are environmental cues that can stimulate the rhythm and activity of our circadian rhythms, light is the strongest zeitberger, whereas non-photic zeitbergers include temperature, meal timing, exercise, social interaction and pharmacy (including caffeine and alcohol). To break it down to basics, we want melatonin spikes around 10pm, and cortisol spikes in the morning around 6-7am, wherever we are in the world.

Travelling East, crossing more times and time of flight (leave/land) will all affect the degree of jet lag one experiences, if you are simply hopping the Irish channel from Dublin to London, for example, this section is irrelevant, if you are going on a training camp to South Africa, leaving from anywhere in the Northern hemisphere, listen up. What can we do?

  1. Over the counter melatonin, doses of 2-8mg have been shown to decrease jet lag, OR, if you dislike taking pills, pistachio nuts have seriously high amounts of natural melatonin in them. Talk to your pharmacist about this one, it would be a good idea to take it when it starts to get dark, in your country of visit (either figure out when on the plane you need to take it, or wait until you land.
  2. Caffeine/coffee. I don’t travel without coffee; indeed, I don’t do much without coffee, but caffeine can increase daytime alertness, coffee during the day will help maintain circadian rhythm, and delay melatonin release by approx. 40 mins if a 200mg dose is taken 3 hours before bedtime (it is worth noting that a cup of coffee is about 80mg, I do not suggest taking a 200mg dose of caffeine), but simply having 2-3 cups during the day may help, if combined with the above point.
  3. Meal timing has mixed evidence and data in humans to conclusively say whether or not it has a large effect on circadian rhythm. Some research shows that timing of carbohydrates can affect sleep quality, with data showing that high CHO meals pre bed can inhibit deep sleep over the first half of the night, versus lower carb options. A higher carb meal 4 hours prior to bed can decrease sleep onset latency, some research shows that low carb diets (classed as 1% energy from carbs in this study) increased deep sleep, though this is not practical, convenient, nor is it conducive to sporting performance.
  4. To maximize your sleep quality (quantity & quality are NOT the same thing), you need to ensure your room is dark, or that you have an eye-mask, opt for a quiet environment, or get ear plugs. If you can, make sure you room is cool and well ventilated, try not to leave air-con on all night, as it can give you throat and sinus irritation, and effect your sleep.

EATING ON THE GO

            This can be tricky, as for many, the thought of travel often spurs about a frenzy of excitement, or anxiety, both of which may lead someone to forget to eat. Managing an adequate and balanced intake is important for athletes with high energy needs, and athletes in weight category or power to weight ratio sports, who cannot afford to eat in excess. Before the flight, to avoid stomach upset or motion sickness, it is advisable to avoid alcohol and large meals, the aversion of caffeine for habitual consumers may actually be a bad idea, as withdrawal is more likely to affect these individuals, than motion sickness would. For the anxious flyers, water, crackers, popcorn and small dairy based products may help ease the stomach.

            In flight, it is worth noting that sense of taste & smell is often vastly decreased as a result of pressurized cabin air, and it is worth noting that to combat this, some airlines actually increase the sugar and salt content of their product ranges on board. For longer haul flights, one to two meals may be given on board. It may be necessary to supplement food intake with protein bars, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and rice cakes, to ensure adequate intake and to have options to combat boredom eating. Constipation on long haul fights can be problematic, so inclusion of some kiwi-fruit, prunes or chia seeds would help combat this. Insoluble fibre supplements such as Optifibre can also dissolve into a glass of water and help move things along, so to speak.

            My personal recommendations for some cabin bag snack and airport feasts are as follows, see below:

  • Airport: Bland smoothie or protein shake + rice cakes/crackers (coffee if habitual).
  • Cabin bag: Bag nuts (cashew/almond), dried fruit (apricots/figs) + protein bar.
  • After landing: 1 x sachet Dioralyte + cup green tea (I get sore throats after flying).

EATING ABROAD

            So, now that you have landed, foreign place, no full cupboards, no dinner to come home to, routine out the window, how will you manage? The first thing is to practice food hygiene, as some places just have less stringent quality control than others, and that’s just objectively true, and to avoid high risk foods. Here’s what we need to do:

  • Start with the obvious, wash your hands after using the toilet, and bring a sanitizer around with you.
  • Have your own personal water bottle/shakers/cutlery.
  • Don’t always assume tap water is fine, it is not always the case, if in doubt, go with bottled sources.
  • Avoid the buffet spots, these are full of foods that have been laid out all day, and have been heated/reheated continuously, also, they may be on display for the world to sneeze on. Go freshly prepped if you can.
  • On the same token, avoid raw foods, salads, sushi, raw egg, unpasteurized dairy, steak tartare and pâté, as these are all foods that are most likely to not be washed, or to be contaminated. Just don’t risk it.
  • Bring plan B solutions with you. I rarely leave county Tipperary without a few bags of microwave rice, a tub of whey, dried fruit and nuts. These are your reliables.
  • Don’t look at being abroad as a holiday and as an excuse to let loose, don’t hide behind it or have it as a foregone conclusion that nutrition is out of the window.
  • If food availability is poor, adding olive oil to meals and any high fat dairy you can get your hands on.
  • If you have a routine, try emulate it as best possible.
  • Bring a multivitamin, as insurance.

This is hotly debated topic, what is FODMAP, what is it for, how does it work? All is explained below!

Having IBS and issues with bloating, cramps and malabsorption can really wreak havoc with your life, it can cause food to become a source of anxiety, it can destroy your appetite, cut you off from your social and ruin your confidence, not to mention feel powerless in terms of never knowing what to eat. The FODMAP protocol is designed to help you avoid specific sugars and fibres that either are poorly digested, are broken down rapidly by gut bacteria to create gas, or which can draw water into your intestines, these sugars and fibres are well defined, and there are clear cut ways to avoid them, it just takes a little know how and a little practice. Let’s look at what FODMAP stands for:

  • F is for fermentable. The sugars and fibres that your gut bacteria love to eat and make lots of gas with, very quickly, leading to bloating and abdominal pain, and possibly reflux/nausea.
  • O is for oligosaccharide. These are compounds consisting of fructans and galacto-oligosaccharides. These are very poorly absorbed and difficult to digest for humans in general, and can be common sources of gastric distress. Sources include onion, garlic, legumes, pulses, wheat and rye.
  • D is for disaccharide. These are two molecule sugars such as lactose, the sugar in dairy products, ice-cream, creams and milk would be the biggest offenders. High fat cheeses should be fine.
  • M is for monosaccharide. Fructose is the main one here, it is well absorbed in the presence of glucose, foods usually have a mix of the two, but in high fructose foods, you may be prone to malabsorption issues, foods high in fructose will include honey, apples, watermelon and watch out for high-fructose corn syrup on labels (also known glucose-fructose, isoglucose, glucose-fructose syrup). Avoid juices in excess.
  • A doesn’t stand for anything. It’s purely to make the acronym easier to say. Just FYI.
  • P stands for polyols. These are sugar alcohol sweeteners that contain about 3 calories per gram (just nice to know they are not calorie free). These are not absorbed, and they can draw water into your gut, giving you the urge to go to the bathroom and potentially to have diarrhoea. These include sorbitol and mannitol, anything ending in –ol is most likely a sugar alcohol, unless you are drinking actual alcohol, which has 7 calories per gram.

How we approach it

The FODMAP protocol should be stuck to for approximately 4-6 weeks, sticking to lower FODMAP food options for this period of time, Monashe university have useful resources and an app that is quite useful and can inspire some recipes! After the six week period, you can start slowly introducing some of the trigger foods, basically anything that isn’t on the list. This should be done under the guise of a dietitian or registered nutritionist, as the nature of the low FODMAP diet can put people at risk of energy and nutrient deficiency, an expense for lower incidence of gastric issues. Taking a multivitamin, speaking to a doctor and getting a blood test to check your nutrient status prior to embarking on this would be a good idea. The main thing to note is that this diet is only designed for short term, the whole point is to include more and more items as your gastric symptoms allow, in increasing amounts.

Food lists (to include)

Low FODMAP carbs: Options include rice, potato, gluten free bread, rice noodles, gluten free pasta pasta/spaghetti, oats, corn, quinoa, buckwheat, popcorn, oat/rice/potato flours are fine, fruit is okay, but that is a separate category below.

Low FODMAP fruits: Banana (green), blueberries, cantaloupe, cranberries (1 tbsp), clementine, grapes, guava, honeydew and galia melon (NOT watermelon), kiwi, lemon & limes (juice is okay too), mandarin, orange, passionfruit, papaya, pineapple, raspberry, rhubarb, strawberry.

Low FODMAP veggies: Bamboo shoots, bean-sprouts, beetroot, broccoli (1/2 cup), Brussel’s sprouts (2), butternut squash (1/4 cup), cabbage (1 cup), carrots, chick peas (2 tbsp), courgette, cucumber, eggplant, fennel, green beans, ginger, kale, lentils (1-2 tbsp), lettuce, marrows, olives, parsnip, snow peas (<5 pods), peppers, potato, pumpkin, seaweed, spinach, sundried tomato (<4 pieces), sweet potato (1/2 medium potato), tomato, turnip, yam, zucchini.

Low FODMAP dairy: Butter, brie, camembert, cheddar, cottage, feta, goat , Monterey Jack, mozzarella, parmesan, ricotta (2 tbsp), Swiss, dairy free chocolate pudding, margarine, almond milk, hemp milk, lactose free milk, rice milk (200ml), sorbet, soy protein (avoid soya beans), Swiss cheese, tempeh, tofu , whipped cream, coconut yoghurt, Greek yoghurt (small portions), lactose free yoghurt.

Low FODMAP nuts/seeds: Walnuts, pecan, pine nuts, brazil nuts, almonds, chestnuts, chia seeds, hemp seed, sunflower & pumpkin seeds.

Low FODMAP condiments: Butter, strawberry jam, maple syrup, marmalade, peanut butter, pesto, ketchup, BBQ sauce, mustard, soy sauce.

Low FODMAP protein: Beef, cold meats, cod, chicken, egg, haddock, lamb, mussels, oysters, plaice, pork, prawns, Quorn, salmon, trout, turkey, tuna (avoid breaded or marinated options, flavour foods yourself as much as possible.

Low FODMAP drinks: Water, lactose free milks, lemonade made fresh, tea, coffee, gin, whiskey, wine, 1 glass sugar free soda max.

Sneaky things to avoid

  • Sugar free soda or squash, chewing gum, mints. Check labels for sorbitol/mannitol/xylitol, these are sugar alcohols and can cause some gastric pain and diarrhoea in IBS sufferers.
  • Avoid dried fruits; they have an increased concentration of fructose sugars as a result of the processing.
  • Avoid anything with garlic or onion, garlic infused oil is fine.

Portions

  • Gluten free pasta (100g/7 tbsp/3 handfuls)
  • Gluten free spaghetti (100g/bunch 1 inch diameter)
  • Brown rice/couscous/Quinoa (80g/5 tbsp)
  • Buckwheat (75g/5 tbsp)
  • Popcorn (40-50g)
  • Potato (2 egg sized potatoes)
  • Bread (2 slices wholegrain, 1 slice Maltese bread, 1 wrap, 1 small bread roll)
  • Cereal (2 Weetabix, 40g cereals, 50g oats)
  • Fruit (1/2 banana, 1 apple/orange/pear, 6-7 grapes, 10-15 blueberries, 3-4 strawberries, 2 dates, 1 cup of chopped melon/pineapple)
  • Veg (1 handful broccoli/spinach/kale, salad veg, 1 carrot, 1 marrow, 1 cup of chopped pumpkin/squash, 2 tbsp peas/corn/beans)
  • Seeds (1 teaspoon)
  • Nuts (6-8 nuts)
  • Oils/dressings/honey (1 teaspoon)
  • Dairy (200ml milk, 125g yogurt, matchbox/thumb sized portion of cheese)
  • Chocolate (2-3 squares, 2 cookies, 5-6 maltesers, small chocolate bar)

How can you add flavour to your food without risking side effects?

  1. Use garlic/onion/chili/herb infused oil. FODMAPs cannot infuse into oil, but you can get their flavour to, use these to keep your meals kicking!
  2. Use good old herbs and spices, these are all okay.
  3. Add a little salt, and a little pepper.
  4. Sauces like soy and salad dressings should be okay.

Thanks for reading, I hope you find this helpful!

Get in touch:

  • fitnutspectrumfitness@gmail.com
  • Instagram: @elynchfitnut
  • Facebook: E Lynch Fitnut

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