MYTH – Sports nutrition is not important to me, I've got far too many other concerns.
However demanding your lifestyle, it is important to take the time to plan an effective nutritional strategy as these practices will help to fuel physical activity, meaning in the longer run you will get more reward for the effort you put in. For those serious about their sport or exercise it is a well-accepted concept that diet can significantly affect performance. In order to achieve the quality of your training and maximise adaptations, it is essential that you consume a diet that matches the demands placed upon the body.
It is a well-established fact that the two greatest effects of fatigue in prolonged exercise are (1) a depletion of the body's carbohydrate stores, and (2) the loss of fluid as a result of sweating. Both of these factors can be managed and maintained via successful nutritional strategies, thus improving performance by delaying the onset of fatigue.
MYTH – Consuming carbohydrate in the evening promotes weight gain.
It has long been a common misconception that the consumption of carbohydrate in the evening can cause weight gain. However, this is incorrect, and this myth is potentially damaging to an athlete in training.
Food is composed of three macronutrients: carbohydrate, protein and fat. The way they interact with our digestion and eventual body composition does not fluctuate dependent upon the time of day. It is more than likely that due to general eating habits the largest meal of the day is consumed in the evening, therefore it is this overindulgence, rather than the time of day, that can result in weight gain.
The most important aspect is ensuring the body is correctly fuelled for performance and that the macronutrients consumed reflect the type of activity undertaken.
When we exercise we utilise a mixture of macronutrients. However, carbohydrate is our body's fuel of choice, as it supplies energy to muscles, vital organs, the brain and central nervous system. During exercise the carbohydrate stored within our muscles (muscle glycogen) becomes depleted and it is vital that this is replaced to enhance recovery and fuel the subsequent training sessions. If a training session is undertaken in the evening, withdrawal of food consumption after this has a profound negative effect on performance and physiological training adaptations. In addition to consuming carbohydrate after exercise, protein, electrolytes and water all play a crucial role and must be consumed dependent upon the activity and its intensity.
If weight gain is a problem, then it may be beneficial to address other options such as food choices, portion size and meal regularity. Remember it is important not to create a cut-off time after which food can or cannot be consumed.
MYTH – Abstinence from food before training promotes weight loss and eating is not necessary before morning workouts.
The potential damage that this myth can have on an athlete is extremely detrimental. If adequate quantities of food are not consumed the athlete will never allow their body to fully recover. Therefore, abstinence from food before exercise increases the risk of burnout and can compromise health.
When athletes consider avoiding carbohydrate prior to exercise then the body will not have maximum muscle glycogen stores and are therefore unable to delay fatigue for the most efficient duration. To simplify, it is like going for a drive in a car with a half-empty fuel tank: you will run out of fuel much earlier than if you had filled it up before the start of the journey.
In a practical situation, people do like to get up early and workout immediately. Here, consumption of food is not always practical or comfortable for the athlete. It is vital that the athlete is aware of their intention the night before and plan ahead. Consuming a sufficient amount of carbohydrate the previous day will ensure that glycogen stores are high and the body is fuelled for exercise. If muscle, liver and blood glycogen levels are at maximum the body has the capacity to store approximately 2000kcal, which equates to about 90 minutes of continuous exercise. Small, nutritionally beneficial snacks can be a good method of topping up the glycogen stores in the morning. One example could be to consume an energy bar 30-60 minutes before exercise, providing enough carbohydrate was consumed the evening before.
In addition to this, an isotonic sports drinks, carbohydrate gels and dextrose tablets are all effective methods of ensuring glycogen stores are continually replaced during exercise, so that the body is properly fuelled.
MYTH – I can eat as much carbohydrate as I want before and during exercise, with no detrimental effect.
A common misconception with isotonic sports drinks, carbohydrate gels and additional carbohydrate rich products are that the more you consumed, the greater the benefit. This is correct up to a certain point, after which no additional impact on performance will occur.
Approximately 1g of carbohydrate can be oxidised per minute during exercise therefore the suggested intake is 30-60g per hour. Above and beyond 60g is unlikely to be burnt for fuel and may also give rise to gastric discomfort.
When working out for longer than 60 minutes, the primary concern for the athlete should be fluid replacement and carbohydrate consumption. A good way of achieving this would be in the form of an isotonic sports drink. These are designed for rapid rehydration while also providing energy in the form of carbohydrate. If the athlete was looking to increase that carbohydrate intake within the hour to the full 60g for optimal replacement, the use of a carbo gel is an effective on-the-move way to refuel.
MYTH – I drink plenty of water when I'm exercising, there is no need for anything else.
While water is essential, isotonic sports drinks provide an advantage over water, within a rehydration strategy. Water alone merely replaces the fluid lost through sweat, but fails to replace the electrolytes and carbohydrate. Both of these are critical in the delaying of fatigue and efficient functioning of the body whilst exercising. An isotonic sports drink is a functional product aimed at providing the most effective blend of nutrients during exercise. The combination of fluid, carbohydrate and electrolytes provide a far superior benefit to the endurance athlete than water alone.
Leading Sport Scientist at Lucozade Sport