Optimum Performance Nutrition
Last month’s article in Martial Arts Illustrated, I outlined one of the most important things with regards to overall health and performance, which was water. It is often disregarded and over looked when it comes to getting the most out of training and competition.
With that in mind, this month we are going to look at what you should consider when you are looking for optimum performance in your training and when competing.
As humans it is in our nature to look for a magic pill to instantly make us lean and strong. Of course supplement companies know this, it is big business and is why you will see more and more products promising you that their new supplement will give you exactly that.
Before you go head long into buying these though, you need to ask yourself will this funky coloured drink actually help you at all? Do you know what the ingredients are and what they are supposed to do?
So let’s address what optimum nutrition is and how we can use it to get the best results.
Nutrition is Key
When going into any training program it is important to realise that you will get the best results if you follow a regimented nutrition program. Do not leave this to chance!
To perform at your best you have to be aware of what the right fuel is for energising your body and for building your body. This can have a major impact on your performance and the results you want.
I am going to make a bold statement here….
“If you cannot get your training nutrition right, you are wasting your time in the gym”
Optimum nutrition is key to the gains you attain and the results you get through proper fueling of muscles to train and to recover. If you have a great strength & conditioning program in place, but neglect your nutrition, performance will suffer because of it. To get the most of what you are doing combine optimal training WITH optimal nutrition, otherwise you may just find yourself wanting.
Diet myths that will affect performance
Through the years I have read countless things about the best things to eat and the best ways to eat it. I bought into a whole host of things way back when, it is easy to when you don’t know any different. So I thought I would explode a few diet myths that you may think are true…
1) You must eat every 2-3 hours
It takes you gut around 6 hours to digest a meal. Eating every 2-3 hours will wreak havoc on you digestive system. Putting new digesting food on top of older digesting food places an enormous stress on your gut, it also puts an increased strain on your liver, which can become over stressed as it constantly tries to process any toxins. This also impairs the livers ability to metabolise fat.
A long time ago our ancestors were hunter gatherers and never ate so much!
This myth was started back in the 70’s by nutrition companies looking to increase sales. It is almost impossible to eat 6 meals a day and so it was recommended to have low quality “body building” supplements and protein powders to make up the deficit. Although supplements are excellent for performance they should NEVER be a meal replacement.
Look to pack in 3 nutrient dense meals every day.
2) Eat less and move more
The old adage of eating less and moving more for getting into shape has been around for a long time. Unfortunately our bodies are for more complex and have far more going on day by day for this rule to apply. This does not take into account hormonal state, inflammation or how well we digest food based on how healthy our guts are. Everyone one of these can and will affect how your body responds to what you eat, how it is absorbed and how you train.
3) If I don’t eat I will lose muscle!
This is something I bought into for a long time. That if you don’t eat at least every 3 hours all your hard work and muscle gains disappear as your body goes into a catabolic state and uses your muscles for fuel.
Utter garbage! Our bodies are designed to go without food for up to 92 hours before there is an adverse change in our metabolism. Again this goes back to our hunter gatherer days and yes that still applies, human evolution takes way longer that the technology revolution of today.
This myth again was perpetuated by supplement companies looking to profit on this one.
Carbohydrates are NOT Created Equal!
There has never been so much confusion regarding the role of carbohydrates and the type that we should and shouldn’t be eating. To be honest I remember a time when I was the same, what you should eat, what you shouldn’t eat and one piece of advice conflicting the next. Believe me I understand the confusion.
I have travelled the world to train and learn from different nutrition experts and guess what? They all had a common theme with their nutrition principles. This is no coincidence!
One thing I always do before I recommend any type of new nutrition protocol is to try it out myself. I cannot expect to know the kind of result for my clients if I haven’t tried it out first. Now I am well aware that everyone is different but the principles remain the same, only the method of delivery would change depending on whether you want fat loss, muscle gain or the best of both worlds.
Carbohydrates from junk food are NOT the same as carbohydrates from good food choices. If you want to perform at your best your carbs should come from mainly fruits and vegetables or gluten free grains.
Don’t kid yourself that 100 calories from a chocolate bar is the same as a 100 calories from broccoli, it just doesn’t cut it when you are looking at optimum performance nutrition.
Refueling is Essential
The other important factor regarding carbohydrates is that for optimum performance they are critical. Low carb diets will not let you perform at your best. Simply put low carbohydrates = low glycogen (energy) levels. Eating the right amounts and the right time is one of the most important nutritional considerations that you can do for fat loss and maximise productivity from your exercise regime.
The dominant energy supplies are dependent on exercise duration. After around just 45 seconds muscle glycogen is very important for energy supply.
The type of fuel your body uses depends on the energy demands of a given sport, given that martial arts is explosive in nature, it is important to optimise energy requirements as the following table illustrates.
|Duration||Energy Classification||Energy Supply|
|1 – 4 seconds||Anaerobic||ATP (in Muscles)|
|4 – 10 seconds||Anaerobic||ATP + CP|
|10 – 45 seconds||Anaerobic||ATP + CP + Muscle Glycogen|
|45 – 2 minutes||Anaerobic, Lactic||Muscle Glycogen|
|2 – 4 minutes||Anaerobic + Aerobic||Muscle Glycogen + Lactic Acid|
|4 – 10 minutes||Aerobic||Muscle Glycogen + Fatty Acids|
The primary fuel for exercise is ATP and it is much easier for the body to breakdown muscle glycogen and blood glucose into ATP than it is to breakdown fat.
Not only is what you eat important, but when you eat is just as crucial to maximise the growth cycle over 24 hours, enhance recovery and increase your muscle strength and power. This requires that you understand the breakdown of 3 phases.
During a training session, you must be able to release enough energy to perform the task at hand. The energy required for peak muscle contraction during your training session has to be sufficient, otherwise your performance will suffer.
Immediately after and up to 45 minutes to an hour after a training session is the “Post Workout Window”. Your body’s stores are depleted and this is the most important time to refuel with the right combination of nutrients to repair damaged muscle protein and replenish your muscles glycogen (energy) stores.
From the moment the anabolic phase ends to your next training session is when your body has to rest, recover and grow. This is when the right nutrients, rest and recovery are critical for optimum results.
Pre workout nutrition
Pre workout nutrition can hand you a big advantage in your training and I would say absolutely essential if you are looking for that extra edge in training. By far the best thing to use pre workout are branch chain amino acids (BCAA’s). Supplementing with BCAA’s prevents the body breaking down muscle tissue for energy as they are already available in the blood. It also triggers the release of anabolic hormones which increases both testosterone and growth hormone, essential for both growth and repair.
There are some great BCAA formulations out there, but you can also just buy BCAA powder, mix with water and get it in!
One other thing you can use is coconut oil. I cannot speak highly enough about coconut oil. It is full of medium chain triglycerides (MCT), which is great for instant energy that can be used by the body immediately. It also does not spike insulin like carbohydrates either which is a bonus. Look to take on 1 or 2 tablespoons pre workout.
As long as you get your pre workout nutrition right, any exercise lasting less than around 75 minutes should only require water. There is no need to drink energy drinks at all! Most of the commercially available ones you can buy are of poor quality and any nutrients added are NOT enough anyway.
If you feel you must have an extra kick you can mix BCAA powder with water and sip it throughout training.
Post work out nutrition
There has been boat loads of research done on the best time to refuel after training as fighters, athletes and the weekend warrior look to get the most out of their training sessions. Unfortunately even though there is some great information out there it can still be confusing as there are a lot of supplement companies producing products that have too many unnecessary ingredients, especially artificial sweeteners and colourings. It is easy to be tempted by these, so let me help you cut through the crap.
The post workout window is the best time to load up on nutrients after they have been depleted following a hard training session and lasts about an hour after training. That is not to say that your time has been wasted if you miss this window, however it certainly is the best time to use supplementation to maximise your training gains.
The following supplements are what I have found to work really well post workout:
- Fast absorbing carbohydrates
Each of these has a part to play and I can vouch for every one of them personally and with the fighters I train who get excellent results.
Creatine has been researched to death and is proven to aid in increasing muscle energy (ATP). This doesn’t just happen straight away though, taking creatine consistently PWO over a prolonged period makes sure the muscles get fully saturated ready for the next training session.
Protein provides the building blocks for our bodies to repair and PWO is a crucial time as they look to repair after a grueling session. Unfortunately there are a lot of poor protein powders on the market, loaded with poor quality whey protein. This can cause stomach bloating, which I see a lot (ever seen a MMA fighter with a 6 pack but their stomachs look distended?) inflammation and excess mucus production. Remember whey is a byproduct of the dairy industry and most people cannot tolerate the lactose it contains. If you can get a good quality grass fed whey protein and you do not react to lactose then great, otherwise look to getting a vegan alternative containing rice, pea and hemp protein.
There are a lot of people who are trying to cut weight (read fat) and so don’t take carbohydrates post workout. This is a mistake. The quickest and most effective way to shuttle nutrients into your cells is by using or spiking the hormone insulin. Many believe it is a fat storage hormone and can be if your diet is poor. What it actually is, is a storage hormone, which can store vital nutrients for growth and repair. Post workout, fast absorbing carbohydrates such as maltodextrin or waxy maize starch will spike insulin and will take protein into to cells rapidly. PWO you are looking at a ratio of 2:1 carbs to protein.
BCAA’s are great both pre and post workout, I am seeing more and more PWO formulas containing them.
Glutamine is considered an anabolic amino acid and as well as helping repair the gut and intestinal tract it has been shown not only to stimulate the entry of other amino acids into our cells but in a recent study at Oxford University, glutamine was shown to lessen the effects of overtraining.
It is hard to find formulas with all of these supplements in, I personally make my own, combining these together. If you are on a budget, definitely go for protein, carbs and creatine for the most bang for your buck.
Quick Start Guide
- Start each day with a pint of clean water with the juice of one whole lemon in to aid digestive health
- Look to get 3 nutrient dense meals in per day. It takes approximately 6 hours for a meal to pass through the gut.
- make sure your hydration is addressed (The Hydration Equation)
- Eat only real whole foods (organic if possible)
- Aim to shop for fresh foods every 3-4 days
- avoid processed / fake foods
- Add coconut oil to your diet
- rotate your foods to maximise vitamin / minerals whilst reducing the chance of developing food intolerances
- Eat as many greens as possible, loaded with nutrients these are awesome for max performance.
- Look to get the majority of your carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables.
- Use pre and post workout supplementation for maximising your training effort.
- post workout is the only time you should consider starchy carbohydrates
- limit your intake of inflammatory foods
- don’t eat 2 hours before bed
- limit alcohol to once per week if you must drink and look at the cleanest sources e.g. Vodka/soda/lime juice
To your strength and Health
(Article Originally written for Martial Arts Illustrated Magazine )