Avid Runner and fitness enthusiast, Pallavi Aga addresses the common nutrition-related queries that all of us have as endurance athletes.
There is a host of information about nutrition that is available to us today. But we still have those niggling doubts that we might not be sure whom to ask. These queries with the answers have been detailed for you below.
How much food has to be eaten before and after a workout?
Stored glycogen is available to the body for use for about 90 minutes. If the workout is going to end within that time no additional pre-workout food is needed. If the workout is going to last more than that time period, a small bowl of oats / a banana with some peanut butter or honey with curd works well. More than that will be difficult to digest and might cause digestive issues.
It is better to carb load a day prior for a longer workout. Post workout meal should be about 50 g of carbohydrates and about 20 – 30 g of easily absorbing protein in a ratio of 4:1. A good post workout meal will be a boiled egg with a banana or simple chocolate milk. Whey protein smoothies with whey isolate are good with a fruit too.
How should we tweak the nutrition in order to lose weight and body fat?
Intermittent fasting is the best way to lose body fat. A workout with several hours of fasting can be done and the body can stay in the fat burning mode for some time after the workout. The fast can be broken by a high protein meal with some good quality fats. Carbohydrates can be avoided unless it’s been a long workout of more than 90 minutes.
What is the source of energy for muscles?
Working muscles need energy. Carbohydrate is the form of energy that muscles prefer. Carbohydrates are stored in the body in limited amounts as glycogen in muscles and the liver.
When exercising, the body faces glycogen depletion and sometimes the athlete experiences “bonking” or “hitting the wall” and can no longer maintain exercise intensity.
Carbohydrate demand in a fit athlete is 3 to 5 g of carbohydrate per day per pound of body weight whereas normal people do not need more than 1.8 to 2.0 g per pound per day.
As a general guideline, somewhere around 40-50% carbs, 25-30% protein, and 20-30% fat is recommended. There is an on- going research for re-evaluating the guidelines and many sports medicine specialists like Dr. Phil Maffetone and Dr. Timothy Noakes are advocating the low carb high fat diet with fat adaptation by which the athlete’s dependence on carbohydrates is reduced.
How important is hydration?
It is very important to keep hydrating especially during the hot summers in India. During exercise, particularly rigorous, our bodies produce sweat for a variety of reasons, mostly to assist the control of body temperature, and through this sweat, electrolytes are lost. Electrolytes are minerals present in the body needed for a variety of purposes such as the catalysation of chemical reactions, contraction of muscles and even the regulation of water in the body.
Consuming electrolytes can re-hydrate the body by providing these lost electrolytes, unlike water, to help you continue working out.
As I am concerned about sugar and artificial content, coconut water or homemade sports drinks can serve as a healthy substitute.
Please check for thirst, dry mouth and yellow coloration of urine – these are signs of dehydration.
Lemon/orange water with honey and Himalayan pink salt is a good option. Keep drinking almost 500 ml per hour. Pinch the skin and see for dehydration. Dizziness, headache, and nausea indicate electrolyte imbalance.
Is it important to focus on weight loss only by going on a hypocaloric diet and doing a lot of cardio?
The important thing about weight loss is that there has to be fat loss and not muscle loss. One cannot lose fat very fast only by calorie restriction and cardio as there is always associated muscle loss too. Adequate diet targeting fat loss is a must otherwise there will be metabolic disturbances. Loosing 1 pound of fat is equivalent to 3500 calories. Safety guidelines recommend curtailing about 500 calories per day if looking into weight loss which can lead to a loss of 1 pound per week. Focus more on fat loss and lean muscle gain through strength training and high-intensity interval training.
What should be kept in mind to avoid cramps(muscle/abdominal cramps)?
Micronutrients and electrolytes are a must to avoid cramps along with hydration. Sodium, Potassium, Calcium, and Magnesium are essential. The focus should be on nutrition rich food items like nuts, seeds, broccoli, pink salt, and green leafy vegetables. Hydration and electrolytes are also important one day prior.
Is it possible to do spot reduction?
There is no magic mantra to spot reduction. Protein intake is a must every day with a focus on calories in and out and do a good leg workout. You can do resistance training or circuit training workouts. Low carb and high protein diet with a calorie deficit work best. Protein requirement ranges from 1- 2 g/ kg depending on the workout one is doing.
How to manage digestion issues when doing HIIT or a cardio workout like running or cycling?
The only way is to avoid simple and processed carbs and intake of too many sugary drinks. Increase the day to day intake of fibre especially seeds like pumpkin, sunflower and chia seeds. Avoid eating too much fibre the night before and the morning of the event. Do not load yourself with too much energy gels before and during the run.
If you’re faced with irritable bowel issues then it’s best to use Imodium tablets and go slow on carb loading diet.
Is it fine if one consumes items that are high on sugar and refined/processed food after the workout/run?
Ideal post workout is complex carbs and protein like peanut butter and a banana or quinoa or oats with boiled eggs. After a workout, the body is under a lot of stress and inflammatory foods such as refined carbohydrates and sugar add to the inflammation. They also spike the insulin levels leading to a crash in the form of fatigue later on.
What is the significance of a low carbohydrate, high fat diet for Athletes?
Fats give more energy to the body vis-a-vis carbohydrates. There’s a lot of research which shows that low carbohydrate, high fat diet together combined with workouts done on fasting, work on the fat-adapted mode and gradually the body moves from using carbohydrate as a source of fuel to fat as fuel. Intermittent fasting can also be done. Longer heart rate based workouts are advocated in the fasting period. Once a person is fat adapted the need to intake too much carbohydrates comes down. This is very beneficial for the body and immunity. The use of too much carbs by athletes is leading to the onset of Diabetes and increased body fat in the best of athletes.
What important tips would you give people who are interested in increasing weight?
It is imperative that they check BMI and Body fat Index. The focus should be on muscle gain, not fat gain for which one has to be disciplined about weight training combined with intake of adequate protein with some complex carbs like sweet potato, quinoa, and banana. Fats in the form of nuts and seeds, avocado and coconut oil can also be consumed. A word of caution here, intake of too much carbohydrates will increase both muscle and fat quotient in those who are doing only weight training. There can be an increase in belly fat in men and thighs and chest in women.
Does intermittent fasting help?
Studies show that periodic fasting can cause a healthy decrease in blood glucose and insulin, improve immune function, and reduce excess body fat and weight. These are the keys to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes, among other chronic illness.
An important benefit of fasting is the increased levels of ketone bodies, which trigger various health benefits. The best way to move ahead with intermittent fasting is to fast overnight and then avoid having breakfast. It can occur without caloric restriction, without the risk of nutrient deprivation, and can have other systemwide benefits too, such as improvements in gait, reduced markers of aging, and cognitive function.
What are the correct cooking oils to use?
There is a lot of research now which shows that refined seed oils are especially harmful to health more so cardiovascular health as they are very high in Omega-6 fatty acids which lead to a skewed ratio between Omega-3 and Omega-6 ( normal rate of 6:3 is 2:1) .
The oils which should be used are Ghee, white butter for cooking and Cold pressed Olive oil for drizzling on salads and as dips. Avocado oil can be used also. Cold pressed Mustard oil is another option. I urge people to avoid frying as that leads to free radical formation.
In conclusion, I would say that use food as fuel for your body and workouts and remember that you cannot out train a bad diet !!