Monday, July 25, 2016

Overthinking it?

I have had the great honor to work with hundreds upon hundreds of athletes in my career.  Olympians, recreational, youth, all different sports and ages. One thing that I have realized is that "it depends" is a very popular answer in my repertoire of answer questions from athletes. The simple reason is that each athlete is very individual from their physiology, genetic make up, fitness level, and psychological outlook.  The latter is what I wanted to chat about a bit in this blog since it seems to be a hot topic in the sports nutrition for athletes world.

What I am referring to is not mental tenacity, planning and preparing meals or snacks, or even what an athlete eats.  I am talking about psychological excessiveness.  I am sure there is a more technical term for this but this is how I describe it. Most athletes do have an "excessive gene" which I define as taking things to the extreme. This can sometimes be good and sometimes not. I remember a few years ago when I was doing my low carb/high fat nutritional experiment and I had to completely take my nutrition to the extreme to ensure that I was only eating a certain amount of carbohydrates and protein while keeping my fat high. I had to log every day.  I had to be methodical to the point where it was fun at first but drove me crazy by the end of my 4 week experiment. Perhaps it was just me, perhaps not.

What I have learned from many athletes whom I have worked with is twofold: 1) many believe nutrition is complex due to their past experiences and feel that they need to count, weigh, measure, and take their nutrition to the quantitative breaking point which can be cause mental exhaustion and lead to the already high life stress of athletes, and 2) many just want nutrition to be simple. Tell me what to eat and don't make me think about it too much. Don't get me wrong, I respect athletes who want to learn more about food and what is best for their bodies but much like my feelings at the end of my nutrition experiment, I wonder if it is worth overthinking this whole nutrition thing.

Hire a qualified Sport Dietitian who can help you take this very complex nutrition world and make it simple. That's our job. I doubt you want to know the intricate details of metabolic processes but rather, want to know what you can purchase at the grocery store to improve your health and athletic performance.  Learn what foods will best optimize your blood sugar and improve health and performance without overthinking this. We all lead busy lives with a high amount of life and training stress. Add another layer of complexity to the mix and it may just send you over the edge.

Push your computer away from you now and think deeply about how you perceive food. How you interact with it, and if you let it take up too much brain power than it should. Now take a deep breath and know that it will be okay no matter which side of the thinking fence you are on. Over or under thinking.  It happens. Try to find that happy balance!

Until next week...


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Meals, mush and feedings

My apologies for missing my blog post last week. I was on a 4 day road trip across the country to coach at a draft legal triathlon for my Teens that TRI team. Fortunately, I had another great travel nutrition tip pop into my head during to my experience on the road, living the hotel life.

I believe many people think that when you travel, you must go out to restaurants when you eat. I mean, you need to eat a meal but does it really have to be a meal? I mean, what is a meal anyway? My perception of meals and snacks is that they are feedings. Call them opportunities to control and optimize blood sugar through the use of different nutrients in foods. Meals hold a certain connotation to them that screams possible overfeeding and quite frankly, I believe this leads to a greater stress on individuals when trying to deal with meal planning.

If we drop the barriers of meal planning and call them what they really are, feedings, perhaps there will be a more positive shift in the way we approach food. Maybe, just maybe, we would listen to our instinctual hunger cues more, eat when we are hungry, only until we are full, and not be pressured into eating too much because of the word "meal". It's just a thought but having spent 19 hours in the car last weekend, it really afforded me the opportunity to collect my thoughts on this subject.

Try it and let me know if switching from a meal and snack system to a feeding paradigm shift works for better controlling your blood sugar and becoming more metabolically efficient. I am curious to hear how many find success with this. I know I have but it did take a little while because I had to switch my habits that were engrained for many years. Be patient and remember, we are all on this journey of life together but we can all take different roads. Be adventurous when you feel comfortable and have the confidence to make the change and maintain it!

As for the "mush" in my blog title...well that was one of my feedings in my hotel room during my last trip. I like to purchase natural crunchy peanut butter, berries or a banana, and unsweetened coconut or almond milk at a grocery store and mix it in a cup in my hotel room.  It's a quick and easy feeding that hits the spot in terms of satiety and improving metabolic efficiency.

Here's to a great week!


Sunday, July 3, 2016

Got Sleep?

Who needs sleep? It seems like more and more athletes are pushing the limits of the 24 hour day to try to fit in as many tasks as possible. But with what consequences? Endurance athletes are known for waking up at "O-dark-thirty", with compromising sleep for early morning training sessions. While this may or may not be the best thing for each individual athlete, what affect may it have on the body?

This brings me to topic of my blog in relation to the research article that I read last week (I read a bunch but this one stood out based on its timing). It looked at sleep deprivation and the effects on testosterone. First a quick review about testosterone. This steroid hormone is produced in larger amounts in males and smaller amounts in females. It increases during puberty and begins to decline after the age of 30. This is important because it acts in the promotion of the growth hormone response which can affect muscle protein synthesis. Aging athletes with decreased testosterone production usually see a decrease in performance. Testosterone boosters and supplements have been all the rage in the past (and present) but I'm not here to discuss that controversial topic.

Back to the research study I read. While it only looked at a small sample size of 10 healthy, young (24 years old) males, what I found interesting (and worth writing about) was the sleep deprivation aspect of this study.

After a normal week of getting 8 hours of sleep per night, the subjects visited the lab where they spend the first three days getting 10 hours of sleep per night then were restricted to 5 hours of sleep per night for the next 8 nights. Most athletes wouldn't bat an eye at this change. In fact, it may be the norm for most working athletes who have families and may travel for work. However, if we fast forward to the results, what is really interesting is that daytime testosterone levels decreased by 10-15%.

Many questions always come out of reading research studies. Probably the most important is one that I receive on frequent occasions from athletes who either have low testosterone levels or are trying to naturally boost their levels is, "what can I do to increase my testosterone levels?". While blood work analysis should first be encouraged for each athlete regarding their hormone levels in response to age and training status, perhaps the pertinent answer right now is simply to try to stay consistent with sleep patterns and try not to deprive yourself of sleep if at all possible.

I know it may be difficult for some but if you are an athlete, sleep should be planned in your day just like your training and nutrition. There is no excuse for missing out on one of the best times of the day that you can use to repair your body and improve its physiological adaptation to training stimuli.

Off to bed now...