Tag Archives: eating healthy

Improve Your Sport Climbing (16): Nutrition and Body Composition, Part 7 (HARD)

“The recent popularity of higher-protein, higher-fat, and lower-carbohydrate diets has serious and potentially negative implications for athletic performance.” (Dr. Dan Benardot in  “Advanced Sports Nutrition-2nd Edition“)

Image Courtesy of phasinphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Courtesy of phasinphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today’s entry discusses the ideal distribution of macronutrients in your diet for the promotion of top athletic performance and recovery, as covered by Dr. Dan Benardot, leading nutrition expert and author of “Advanced Sports Nutrition-2nd Edition” (ANS).

Carbohydrate, fat and protein are the three macronutrients that provide us with the energy needed for survival. Every food you consume includes one, two or all three of these essential macronutrients. Each plays an important role in a well-balanced diet, and each type of macronutrient also has a preferred and a less-preferred form to consume – meaning that not all carbs, fats and proteins are created equal.  For more on the types of carbs, fat and protein you should select (and which ones to avoid or limit), read the first chapter of ANS.

Carbohydrate: Poor carbohydrates. They’re so misunderstood and maligned. Carbohydrates are your muscles’ preferred fuel source, and supplying your body with enough carbohydrates at appropriate times (while also staying hydrated) is probably the No. 1 thing you can do to enhance athletic performance. Since sport climbing is generally a high-intensity sport, you actually use more carbs when you’re trying hard on a climb for fuel than anything else. Once you deplete that fuel source, it’s game over, unless you supply your body with a steady stream of carbs throughout a workout or climbing day to allow your muscles to continue to have adequate fuel for the demands you’re placing on them – not to mention your brain.

As Dr. Benardot explains in ASN: “A failure to sustain glucose delivery to working muscles results in cessation of high-intensity activity.” Since our ability to store carbs is limited (unlike our ability to store fat), not taking in carbs during an intense training session or climbing day is a surefire way to sabotage your efforts. Benardot continues, “When blood sugar becomes low, mental fatigue sets in, and mental fatigue results in muscular fatigue regardless of how much energy is stored in muscles.” In addition, it’s likely that not taking carbs and fluids in during intense activities (like sport climbing or training for sport climbing) can result in muscle breakdown – not what most folks are trying to get out of a solid climbing day or training effort.

Benardot makes it clear that human survival needs in terms of diet are quite different from what humans should be eating to promote peak athletic performance. He suggests that athletes aim to get 55 to 65 percent of their total daily calories from carbohydrates to optimize performance and recovery, both. If you think this is easy, think again! Use an app like MyFitnessPal to track your macronutrient intake for a few days, and the results might surprise you, even if you think you eat a lot of carbs already.

Fat: Fat is an essential nutrient that helps deliver fat-soluble vitamins and that is needed for certain bodily functions. It also helps you feel full and makes food taste good. Athletes should take care to have a balanced approach toward including fat in the diet, taking care to have no more than 25 percent of total calories to come from fat, as even a few days’ increase in fat intake has been shown to result in decreased athletic performance, most likely from a lack of adequate carbohydrate consumption.

Protein: Protein gets too much play in most athletes’ diets, according to Benardot, who warns against using protein to replace carbohydrate in your diet, as this can seriously diminish your training and performance results, both. He explains that the majority of athletes (and the American population in general) already consume more protein than necessary to optimize athletic performance and general health. By doing so, athletes often undermine their training and performance results, in part because eating too much protein can lower the intake of carbohydrates essential for performance and recovery, both.

Eating an adequate amount of protein is of course necessary for performance and recovery. For nonathletes, the recommendation given in ASN is .8 gram per kilogram of body weight, while for athletes, the recommendation is roughly double that amount, or between 1.2 and 1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight. Ideally, you’ll eat even amounts of protein at each meal, as the body uses protein more efficiently when consumption is distributed like this throughout the day, rather than eating 90 grams of protein in one sitting.

Burning protein for energy in place of carbohydrates is undesirable and inefficient for your body. Protein is harder for the body to use as fuel and excessive protein consumption can lead to loss of body water, too, due to the way the body handles it. Too much protein in the diet is often stored by the body as fat, or burned for energy, a process that creates a great amount of metabolic waste products that the body must then get rid of.

Interestingly enough, endurance athletes (like distance runners, swimmers and cyclists) typically have higher protein needs than athletes participating in sports like sport climbing and bouldering – because your body actually does burn protein for fuel, and the more endurance-oriented the activity, the more protein gets burned for fuel during the activity. Remember from the discussion on carbs above that carbohydrate (glycogen) storage is limited, so if you exercise for a prolonged period of time without replenishing fuel stores adequately, your body will burn more and more protein for fuel as muscle fuel stores get depleted (muscle loss, anyone?).

The next Improve Your Sport Climbing entry will discuss the optimal timing and distribution of nutrients before, during and after training or competition/performance days.

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This multipart series of articles starts here, in case you have to catch up – you’ll also find a full table of contents, complete with links, in that entry. My designation of each area as “easy,” “medium” or “hard” is purely subjective. I’ve arrived at the designations from my personal experience garnered from 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You may find some of the areas harder or easier to change. You also might not agree with me or my take on things. That’s fine – feel free to take it or leave it as you wish! Also, remember that the information I provide here is purely offered as advice and that no exercises or training program should be undertaken without receiving medical clearance from a healthcare professional.

One other caveat: As will be true for all of the entries and articles in this series, if you’ve already mastered or maxed out the topic at hand to the best of your ability level, you’ll reap far fewer benefits or none at all from my suggestions – good for you that you figured it out, but sorry I couldn’t help you out more. Happy climbing and training!

Improve Your Sport Climbing (16): Nutrition and Body Composition Part 6, (HARD)

Image courtesy of Kittikun Atsawintarangkul/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Kittikun Atsawintarangkul/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today’s entry discusses the topic of taking supplements as related to athletic performance and recovery, as covered in my recent interview with Dr. Dan Benardot, leading nutrition expert and author of “Advanced Sports Nutrition-2nd Edition.”

Q: Are there any supplements athletes should take?

A: Supplements should be used to be used to supplement known biological weaknesses, not as a preventive measure.

For example, if somebody is low in iron, they will not perform up to their athletic ability. Women are predisposed to having an iron deficiency. If this is the case, then a reasonable iron supplement makes sense – but if you take too much, it’s toxic, so iron should only be supplemented if a deficiency is found [via a blood test]. It can increase risk of all sorts of diseases if you supplement unnecessarily.

Most athletes don’t realize that there’s a reduced tissue sensitivity that occurs with a chronic intake of supplements. If you’re healthy, you use a tiny bit of stored vitamin C per day, and you could go a long time without any symptoms of scurvy. But if you chronically take a huge supplemental dose, your tissues “figure out” that they don’t need it, and they consequently don’t let it in as easily, so you get a resistance in tissues to the vitamin in question, and then you’re stuck having to take the vitamin, as you’ve altered your daily requirement. If you stop taking it, you will need it – because you’ve increased your daily requirement by supplementing.

Be extremely careful about how and why you take supplements. If there’s a biological need, sure – have a logical dose. Most people don’t realize this, but they are being given huge doses of vitamins and minerals. For example, with iron, taking too much every day is an ineffective way to return to a normal iron status. Chronically exposing yourself to a huge amount of any particular vitamin or mineral predisposes your absorption system to take in less and less of that particular substance. Also, receptors that take up a number of different vitamins and minerals can become completely saturated by the overly supplemented vitamins and minerals, causing other necessary vitamins and nutrients to not get absorbed. This can create other nutrient deficiencies, even if your diet appears to be well balanced. So generally speaking, even with a known deficiency, taking a smaller supplement here and there tends to be better to return to normal levels than taking a regular and relatively huge daily dose.

***

In “Advanced Sports Nutrition,” Dr. Benardot also discusses ergogenic (performance-enhancing) aids in depth, concluding, “There is no ergogenic aid that can make up for a proper fluid intake, a solid nutrition intake, an appropriate training regimen, and sufficient rest.” He warns that many ergogenic aids actually contain potentially harmful and/or illegal substances not listed on the labels. He is of the opinion that most athletes would see a marked increase in performance if they paid more attention to regularly consuming carbohydrates and fluids before, during and after training and competition, as it’s common for athletes to underfuel and get dehydrated despite having plenty of fluids and foods readily available to them.

Dr. Benardot summarizes his main point about ergogenic supplements as follows: “Of all the ergogenic aids mentioned…it is very clear that carbohydrate holds the greatest promise for improving both endurance and power performance. Before trying anything else, athletes should consider a regular consumption of carbohydrate with plenty of fluids.”

The next entry will delve into the roles that carbohydrates, along with protein and fat, play in supporting peak performance and recovery in greater detail.

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This multipart series of articles starts here, in case you have to catch up – you’ll also find a full table of contents, complete with links, in that entry. My designation of each area as “easy,” “medium” or “hard” is purely subjective. I’ve arrived at the designations from my personal experience garnered from 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You may find some of the areas harder or easier to change. You also might not agree with me or my take on things. That’s fine – feel free to take it or leave it as you wish! Also, remember that the information I provide here is purely offered as advice and that no exercises or training program should be undertaken without receiving medical clearance from a healthcare professional.

One other caveat: As will be true for all of the entries and articles in this series, if you’ve already mastered or maxed out the topic at hand to the best of your ability level, you’ll reap far fewer benefits or none at all from my suggestions – good for you that you figured it out, but sorry I couldn’t help you out more. Happy climbing and training!

Improve Your Sport Climbing (16): Nutrition and Body Composition, Part 4 (HARD)

Image courtesy of Raktim Chatterjee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Raktim Chatterjee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“[A]thletes should work as intensely as possible within a given time frame to increase fat loss and optimize body composition.” (Dr. Dan Benardot, “Advanced Sports Nutrition-2nd Edition“)

Today’s entry continues the previous entry’s discussion about working toward optimizing body composition (strength-to-weight ratio), as covered in my recent interview with Dr. Dan Benardot, leading nutrition expert and author of “Advanced Sports Nutrition-2nd Edition.”

Q: What is the best way to lose fat and sustain or gain sport-specific lean muscle mass?

A: There are a couple of physiological realities that people don’t generally understand too well. First of all, genetically, we’re coming from a place where calories were hard to come by. Our bodies are always trying to become more energy efficient. And, we are amazingly good fat storers. We have remarkable ways to store fat!

Secondly, if you lift weights [or train] with regularity, your body will be forced to make an energy-efficient adaptation. Once that adaptation – with larger, stronger muscles and a more efficient cardiovascular system – occurs, the adaptation to activity is associated with a lower caloric requirement than you had when you started the activity.

In other words, you need to constantly ramp up the activity’s intensity to maintain caloric burn and to push for greater adaptations. And, while it may take you weeks to become extremely efficient at a certain level of physical work, if you stop doing it for some time or don’t continue to increase your intensity, the body will try to go back to baseline.

There’s also a common misunderstanding of proportion and volume when discussing activities for fat loss. Doing a low-intensity aerobic activity to burn 100 calories, let’s say that 80 percent of those calories come from fat, so 80 calories are burned from fat stores. Double the intensity of that exercise so that you’re burning 200 calories in much less time, and the fat-burn proportion has gone down to 60 percent – but you’re still burning 120 calories from fat. People chronically confuse proportion with volume, and this has led to the erroneous idea that relatively low-intensity aerobic activity is the best way to lose fat or is necessary for fat loss. It’s not. [For more on this, check out “High or Low Intensity Exercise - Which Is Best For Weight Loss” on ShapeFit.com.]

Summing it up, these two things – our bodies’ ability to store fat and our propensity toward energy efficiency – make an athlete’s life difficult. Athletes need to focus on getting calories in regularly in relatively small doses in order to sustain muscle mass and keep body fat levels desirably low, as well as engaging in sport-appropriate training programs that continuously challenge the body in new, more intense, ways.

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This multipart series of articles starts here, in case you have to catch up – you’ll also find a full table of contents, complete with links, in that entry. My designation of each area as “easy,” “medium” or “hard” is purely subjective. I’ve arrived at the designations from my personal experience garnered from 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You may find some of the areas harder or easier to change. You also might not agree with me or my take on things. That’s fine – feel free to take it or leave it as you wish! Also, remember that the information I provide here is purely offered as advice and that no exercises or training program should be undertaken without receiving medical clearance from a healthcare professional.

One other caveat: As will be true for all of the entries and articles in this series, if you’ve already mastered or maxed out the topic at hand to the best of your ability level, you’ll reap far fewer benefits or none at all from my suggestions – good for you that you figured it out, but sorry I couldn’t help you out more. Happy climbing and training!