Performance Nutrition Updates

ImageSports Nutrition is like a revolving door with an endless cycle of research going in and new recommendations coming out.

And the revolving door of sports nutrition has been turning for quite some time since my last update. Although I apologize for such a delay in new research updates, I find that some times it is best to wait and see what the research trends tell us over time. This assures that I can conclude some consistency in the research and that I’m not just jumping on the bandwagon of the newest findings. It also provides a good amount of time to see which professional athletes are adhering to new recommendations and what they’re performance outcomes are as a result.

I do also love reading research that gets us to question if what we are currently doing is the most effective and efficient way to attain optimal performance. Our sports are ever evolving with new training techniques and new equipment, so it’s only natural that our nutrition recommendations get regular updates as well.

Remember that the focus of these recommendations are endurance activities, and that different recommendations will benefit speed & power sports.

We know that the more energy you can consume each hour of exercise the better your performance will be. And just as you train your body to be more efficient at handling greater training loads, you must also train your gut to be more efficient at tolerating greater amounts of carbohydrates and fluids during exercise.

Past recommendations have been to consume 30 to 60 grams of carbs per hour of exercise, which is based on the knowledge that our bodies burn approximately 1 gram of carbohydrate per minute of exercise. And while this is still a good recommendation, esp. for athletes just getting into endurance sport, there is a good amount of new research highlighting the performance benefits of consuming carbohydrate in the range of 60 to 90 grams per hour. In fact the newest research to come out of the Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise highlights performance improvements in trained cyclists and triathletes with higher does of carbohydrate; concluding optimal carbohydrate doses between 68 and 88 grams per hour.

The ultimate nutrition goal of any endurance athlete is to consume enough energy during training and racing so that glycogen stores can be saved for as long as possible. For instance, in triathlon adequate energy consumption during the bike leg will prevent glycogen (storage carbohydrate) from being used up which will then be a valuable resource during the run stage when energy consumption rarely matches energy output.

So if the body is burning about 60 grams of carbs per hour how is it possible to take in more energy then the body is burning without the body feeling overloaded? The answer is in the source of energy. Different types of sugars are metabolized though various pathways at different rates. So if you combined glucose, fructose and maltodextrin (a long chain of glucose molecules attached together) in an energy product the body will be metabolizing glucose and fructose using separate pathways therefore providing a longer lasting energy source that is more manageable on the digestive system.

It still goes without saying that higher rates of carbohydrate need some training by the digestive system. However, utilizing energy products with multiple types of sugars will assist in greater energy input and gut toleration. And it is also worth noting that fructose is the sweetest tasting sugar, so you may find that products with higher amounts of fructose are very sweet to the taste. Because of this, high fructose sports drinks may often be mixed to a lesser concentration. This is certainly fine since you will consume more of something that tastes better. However, just remember that diluting the concentration will also dilute the amount of carbs and electrolytes being consumed each hour, and this must be factored in when calculating energy needs per hour of exercise.

Currently two notable athletes utilizing higher carb recommendations are Richard Ussher and Chrissie Wellington. And although they continue to have great success I do have to remind myself that their digestive systems have been well trained over years of racing. We must not forget that we are all individual in our needs and toleration of foods and fluids. Utilizing your training sessions and less important races to experiment with energy products and their timing will help you to hone in on the perfect combination of energy products and timing for optimal race day performance.


Summer Recovery Snack

Recommendations for post exercise are to consume a high carb snack or meal with a little bit of protein within 30mins. However, the loss of appetite after intense or longer duration training/racing can make it quite difficult to get the required energy in within the optimal window. But now that summer has arrived I’ve found an easy recovery snack solution, popsicles!

Making your own popsicles is super easy. Recipes that contain milk provide enough protein for muscle repair, and mashed up fruit or an added sweetener such as honey, agave or maple syrup work to replenish glycogen stores.

You can also freeze up some chocolate milk or other favorite post-recovery (non-alcoholic) beverage for your enjoyment and replenishment.

Glycemic Index

What is the glycemic index?

The glycemic index (GI) is a number given to carbohydrate containing foods which ranks them on a scale from 1 to 100 according to their effect on blood sugar levels compared to the standard of pure sugar (glucose), which has the greatest effect on blood sugar = a GI of 100.

Carbohydrate foods include grains, starchy vegetables, fruit and dairy products. All carbohydrate foods are placed into one of 3 GI categories: Low, Moderate and High

Low GI foods have a score of less than or equal to 55.  These foods produce only small fluctuations in blood sugar and insulin levels. Low GI foods assist to keep energy levels balanced and decrease hunger by keeping you feeling full for longer. Consuming a daily diet made up of a significant amount of low GI foods has the potential to help reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes, along with improved blood cholesterol levels and weight management.

Moderate GI foods have a score of 56 to 69

High GI foods have a score of 70 and above.  In the daily diet high GI foods should be consumed in moderation, however; while training and racing, especially at higher intensities, high GI foods are the prime source of fuel for working muscles.




How do GI foods fit into athletics?

Different GI foods can be used at specific times throughout training/racing to enhance performance and aid in recovery. Therefore the GI score can be used to choose the most appropriate foods for pre, during and post training/racing.

In general low GI foods are best consumed pre-training/racing (given that you have at least 2 hours digestion time) since they result in consistent maintenance of blood sugar levels, which spares muscle glycogen utilization during prolonged exercise, leading to the potential for improved performance.

After warming-up and just prior to the start of an event, a high GI food snack can be consumed within 10-20mins of the start. This will work to provide a boost of energy and dampen hunger, without the subsequent transient hypoglycemia if a proper warm-up has been completed.

High GI foods are also perfect for during and immediately after training/racing. During activity high GI foods provide quick and easy energy for working muscles, and for post activity they provide immediate replenishment of glycogen stores.

It just so happens that many of the foods we consume have a moderate GI. Moderate GI foods can be used in combination with low GI foods for pre-training/racing snacks and meals, which can help to replenish liver glycogen stores used up in the overnight fast. Moderate GI foods can also be used in combination with high GI foods during and post training/racing to assist in sustaining energy levels during, and provide for greater nutrient density in post-training/racing meals & snacks.

Following are GI tables. The 1st lists common pre-training/racing breakfast foods listed from lowest to highest GI (since our focus is low GI foods for pre-training/racing), and the 2nd lists common during training/racing foods from highest to lowest GI (since our focus is high GI foods for during training/racing).

Food GI
Common Breakfast Foods  
Dried apricots 32
Orange 30-48
White/wheat spaghetti 40-60
Multigrain English muffin 45
Orange juice 45-55
Pasta 45-60
Up & Go beverage cocoa/malt flavor 46
Banana, ripe 47-62
Skim milk 48
Brown rice (slow cooking) 48
Apple muffin made w/ rolled oats 48
Muffin 48-65
Porridge made from rolled oats 49
Muesli breakfast bar 50
Raisins 54-64
Vogel’s honey & oats bread 55
Alpen original muesli 55
Rolled oats 59
Whole grain bread 60
Crunchy muesli –apricot bar 61
Scottish oats 63
Yoghurt </= 64
Weetabix /Vita-Brits 69


During Training/Racing Foods GI
Glucose 50g 100
Clif bar- cookies & cream 100
Gatorade 89-100
Dextrose 50g 96
Baked potato w/out skin 87-98
Pretzels – traditional 84
Jelly beans 76-80
Honey –commercial 62
Bread with jam 62
Creamed rice 59
Chewy granola bar 58
Clif bar – chocolate brownie 57
Coca Cola 53-63
Power bar- performance choc 53
Fructose 50g 23

How do I know which foods are low GI for my daily diet and high GI for training and recovery?

Vegetables: Low GI = non-starchy vegetables, legumes, peas and beans.

High GI = starchy vegetables: sweet corn, potato, sweet potato, taro & yams.

Fruits: Low GI = Temperate climate fruits: apples, pears, citrus (oranges, grapefruit) and stone fruits (peaches, plums, apricots).

High GI = Tropical fruits: pineapple, paw paw, papaya, rock melon and watermelon

Grains:  Low GI = buckwheat, quinoa, brown & basmati rice

Breads: Low = those made from chickpea (besan) or legume based flours and those made with buckwheat, rice bran and psyllium husks. Also sour dough breads and those made with stone ground flour.

High GI = most others: white, wholemeal, and corn products (tortillas)

Cereals: Low GI = wholegrain, high fiber, low sugar cereals. Look for cereals that are based on oats, barley and bran.

High GI = puffed cereals, and those low in fiber and high in sugar

Pasta: Best for low GI = buckwheat (soba) noodles, cellophane noodles (lungkow bean thread) and green bean vermicelli (mung bean flour noodles).  Low to Moderate GI = most other spaghetti and pastas

High GI grains: millet, crackers, biscuits, rolls, most breads and cakes, and snack foods such as corn and potato chips, rice cakes, corn thins and rice crackers.

Also Low GI = Nuts (healthy fats) and Low fat diary products

Note: Consuming low GI foods is a healthy way of eating, however; this does not mean that you have to cut out all moderate to high GI foods from your daily diet. All of the various fruits and vegetables have different nutrients and health benefitting compounds, so it is important to consume a wide variety of foods from each food group every day. For athletics concentrating on consuming low GI foods during the daily routine plus pre-training/racing meals, and then focusing on high GI foods during training/racing and in recovery is the key to using GI for enhanced performance.


What are they?

Electrolytes are substances that carry an electric charge and are minerals essential to the diet. Electrolytes of interest to athletes are sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), calcium (Ca2+), magnesium (Mg2+), and chloride (Cl). Each electrolyte has an important role to play in energy metabolism and muscle function, with sodium being a critical electrolyte for endurance training. During exercise electrolytes maintain hydration and muscle contraction by stimulating thirst and retaining fluids. Maintaining good hydration is paramount since just a 2% decline in body fluid can lead to  symptoms of dehydration such as gastrointestinal upset and cramping, difficulty in regulating body temperature and diminished mental focus and concentration.

Where do I find them?

Electrolytes are readily found in a variety of foods, and a diet rich in a variety of veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, dairy products, lean meats and whole grains should provide adequate amounts to meet daily needs. General sodium intake recommendations are less then or equal to 2.3 grams/day.

For training and racing purposes electrolytes can be obtained through sports drinks (carbohydrate + electrolytes), or through electrolyte only drinks/tablets. Ex. Nuun, GU or salt tablets. Endurance training usually requires electrolyte amounts that exceed daily recommendations of 2.3g/day, especially when weather conditions are hot and humid or the duration of a training session or race is greater than 3 hours.

When do I need electrolytes?

The 3-H rule is helpful in determining when electrolytes are needed during training and racing. Use electrolytes when the weather is Hot or Humid, when you’re going out for a Hard effort and when you’re going out for over 1 Hour.  This is especially important if you’re a heavy sweater (have salt residue on your clothing or helmet straps after exercise, or loose a significant amount of water weight during exercise). Also if you’re exercising early in the morning and you haven’t been able to adequately hydrate or fuel up before exercise, taking along sports drink (carb + electrolyte drink) can help to provide carbohydrate for energy and enhanced fluid absorption, along with electrolytes for maintenance of hydration and muscle contraction.

*A carbohydrate rich snack/meal is highly recommended before heading out for exercise that is intended to be longer than 1 to 1 ½ hours in duration.

How much do I need?

Individual sweat rates vary widely and can range from .5 – 1 liter per hour up to 2.4 liters per hour for heavy sweaters. On average .8 to 1 gram of sodium is lost in each liter of sweat, but again sodium concentration losses can be as much as 2 grams per liter for heavy sweaters.

General recommendations are to mix sports drinks to recommendations, which should provide adequate electrolytes and carbohydrate concentrations. If you’re training goals have you regularly participating in exercise over 2 hours in duration then seek out a sports drink that contains 500-1200mg of sodium per liter of solution and 800-2000mg of potassium per liter along with a 4-8% carbohydrate concentration.


*These electrolyte recommendations are just that –recommendations. Each of us is individual in our fluid and electrolyte expenditure, our needs for replenishment each hour, as well as what we can tolerate. There are many sports drinks out on the market so experiment with different products to find what works best for you. And if you’re planning on using nutrition products provided on race day, test them out a few times during your more intense training sessions to assure they will be tolerated on race day. Just make sure to mix drinks to packaging recommendations.

*Research into the onset and prevention of muscle cramping is continuous. Muscle cramps can be can be brought on by a host of factors, which include muscle fatigue, dehydration and electrolyte deficiencies.



Energy Gel Update

It’s been awhile since I posted my last article on homemade energy gels. And since there’s been so much interest as of late, I thought I’d research what other outdoor enthusiasts have recently come up with and post the best of the best for your personal experimentation. First a concoction I’ve made in the past with good success is a 50/50 combo of chocolate syrup (your choice of brand) and espresso (your choice of flavor), which I put in a GU flask for ease of use. This combo is affordable, the ingredients are readily available, it’s easy and quick to make, and will provide a nice dose of energy and caffeine for the duration.

The next best concoction I came across was a combination of 50% brown rice syrup, 20% blackstrap molasses (loaded with potassium), 30% honey, a pinch of salt and a bit of water to desired consistency. The flavor of this combo can be enhanced with lemon or lime juice, vanilla extract, peanut butter or nutella, coffee or green tea.  See this combination being created at Recently I’ve been making a recipe similar to this filling a GU flask with 1/4th honey, 1/4th brown rice syrup and 1/2 espresso. This provides multiple types of sugars and a hit of caffeine, as well as tastes great.

Next is more of a whole foods approach with the combination of 20 pitted medjoal dates, 2 branches of celery and ½ a banana in a blender, plus water to your desired consistency. This combo may require a significant amount of water to get to a consistency that could be used in a GU flask, so some packaging experimentation may also be required for this one. And last chia seed energy gel. 1-2 spoonful’s of chia seed placed in a GU flask and filled with water. Refrigerate overnight = gel in the morning. I haven’t tried this one just yet but the consistency is supposed to be similar to tapioca pudding. I can imagine this one may also need some extra flavoring of perhaps some almond or vanilla extract or a bit of sweetener.

The options are endless. So have fun experimenting and please let me know what fun concoctions you come up with as well as what you find works during those hard intense training, racing sessions.

The Skinny on Snacking

Can snacking throughout the day actually help you loose and maintain a healthy weight? The answer is Yes!

I know it’s contradictory to think of frequent eating as a way to loose weight, but for most individuals it is just the ticket to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight for the long term.

Why are consuming snacks throughout the day so effective?

1. Consuming 5 to 6 small, well portioned, and well-balanced meals/snacks allows your body to utilize the energy coming in more efficiently, creating energy balance. Consuming large meals that exceed the bodies’ caloric needs at any given time leads to the storage of nutrients as glycogen and fat.

2. Small meals/snacks throughout the day assists in moderating blood sugar levels so that you’re able to maintain a high level of energy all day long, without the roller coaster effect of extreme energy highs and lows

3. Snacks between meals also help to keep you feeling satisfied so that you don’t go into your next meal starving, which for some can lead to the over consumption of food.

Protein, Fat and Fiber all help to create the feeling of fullness. Prepare snacks and meals that contain healthy fats (nuts, seeds, nut butter, avocado, olives), lean protein sources (eggs, very lean red meat, poultry, tempeh, low fat dairy & complementary proteins = beans & rice, hummus & toast), and fiber in the form of beans, legumes, fruits, vegetables & whole grains (hummus, lentil or split pea soup, brown rice, fresh fruits and veggies etc.…)


Salads Galore

Salads Galore!

I’m currently spending some time on an Island off the east coast where local farm stands are literally on every corner and provide everything from fresh salad greens and vegetables to milk, yogurt and cheese to eggs, meat, coffee, herbs, honey and preserves. So each night I’ve been creating delectable salads that I can’t help but share.

Tonight’s Salad:

Mixed greens

Shredded carrots

Sliced cucumber

Halved grape tomatoes

Sliced avocado

Chopped cilantro

Cubed feta cheese

Sprinkle of Sunflower and Pumpkin Seeds

Sprinkle of Dried Cranberries and Walnuts

Snap peas to line the bowl

On the side:

½ piece of corn on the cob

Fresh Haddock Fish fried in a small amount of walnut oil with garlic and sliced almonds


FBI: Food Borne Illness

Food Borne Illness: What you need to know to keep yourself and your family safe.

Food Borne Illness is a major cause of sickness and even death that affects individuals’ worldwide. The latest outbreak from alfalfa sprouts is proof of just how serious and wide spread the outcome can be. Although Food Borne Illness is brought to our attention as a result of poor production and food handling practices in large-scale food manufacturing facilities; the principles of food safety are the same no matter how big or small the operation.

Following the five basic food safety principles will assist in keeping yourself and your family out of harms way.

  1. CLEAN hands, food contact surfaces and fruits and vegetables.
  2. SEPARATE raw, cooked and ready-to-eat foods while shopping, storing, and preparing foods.
  3. COOK and reheat foods to a safe internal temperature.
  4. CHILL (refrigerate) perishable foods promptly.
  5. THAW frozen meats in the refrigerator or under cold running water.

Extra Tips:

  • Have a couple different colored cutting boards on hand in the kitchen and designate each color for preparing certain foods. For instance a red cutting board for meat and animal products and a green board for fruits and vegetables. This prevents any possibilities for cross-contamination of bacteria from meats and animal products to fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Place raw meats and meat products on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to prevent meat dripping on fresh and ready-to-eat foods.
  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before handling foods and between the preparation of different food groups.
  • Cook fish and seafood to 145 degrees F (63 C), cook steaks to 160 degrees F (71 C), and cook ground meats and reheat foods to 165 degrees F (74 C).
  • Every now and again it can be difficult to know if a food is past its expiration date or safe to consume. So the saying goes: when in doubt throw it out.

Got Milk?

Got Milk? Or better yet Got Chocolate Milk? It’s quite possible that chocolate milk may just top the charts as the number one hit for recovery this training season. Research studies continually show that consumption of carbohydrate and protein post-exercise maximizes recovery for subsequent training and racing performances.  And it just so happens that low-fat chocolate milk has the perfect balance of high quality protein and carbohydrate.

Research studies frequently test low-fat chocolate milk against commercially available carbohydrate-protein supplements and carbohydrate replacement beverages. When looking at the variable of time to exhaustion in subsequent exercise bouts (utilizing trained endurance athletes) no difference in time to exhaustion is noted between chocolate milk and the commercial carb-protein supplements, and significant difference or longer durations of exercise before exhaustion are noted with the use of chocolate milk over carbohydrate replacement beverages. These outcomes suggest that low-fat chocolate milk is a viable post-exercise carb-protein beverage to aid in recovery and improve subsequent exercise performance.

Why is chocolate milk such a great choice for recovery?

1. It tastes great! Which means you’ll have no problem consuming the adequate amount for your individual recovery needs.

2. Milk contains high quality protein in a good ratio to carbohydrate, which allows your body to maximize glycogen (carbohydrate) stores while promoting muscle synthesis and reducing muscle breakdown.

3. Milk contains essential vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin A, Vitamin D and Calcium, which help to maintain strong bones and a strong immune system as well as healthy skin and eyesight.

4. Chocolate milk is also inexpensive and can be found at almost any convenience store and/or grocery market

5. And it can be enjoyed hot or cold, which makes it a versatile beverage for both winter and summer training and racing.

So see for yourself how easy and delicious recovery can be.

*Alternative milk fortified with Vitamin D can also be used to make chocolate milk. For instance soy, almond or oat milk and lactose free milk.


Ferguson-Stegall L, McCleave EL, Ding Zhenping, et al. Post exercise Carbohydrate-Protein Supplementation Improves Subsequent Exercise Performance and Intracellular Signaling for Protein Synthesis. J Strength Cond Res. 2010; 25(5): 1210-1224.

Pritchett KL, Bishop PA, Pritchett RC, et al. Acute effects of chocolate milk and a commercial recovery beverage on post-exercise muscle damage and cycling performance. J Appl Phys Nutr Metab. 2009; 34:1017-1022

 SCAN’s Pulse. Conference Highlights from the American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting. Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition Journal. 2011; 30(1): 17-19.




Beverage of choice

For most individuals a stop at the local café in the early morning for coffee or tea is a ritual that helps to get the day off to a good start. In fact coffee and tea at any time of the day is well accepted. And while there certainly is nothing wrong with coffee and tea consumption; it may just be worth taking a look at the beverage choices we are making throughout the day, along with the size and frequency with which we consume them.  Let’s do a quick daily beverage check in.

How many beverages of any type do you consume each day?

Do you know how many calories are in each of them?

How many calories does that add up to?

I think most people would be shocked to know how many calories, grams of sugar and grams of fat are in specialty coffee drinks and milk shakes; and how many calories and grams of sugar are in iced tea, soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, and alcoholic beverages. Daily consumption of various beverages throughout the day can really add up, especially around the waistline.

Although hot and cold beverages can be very satisfying, liquid calories don’t produce the same satiating (filling) effect as solid foods. In fact many beverages actually work to stimulate appetite, including beverages that contain artificial sweeteners. Because artificial sweeteners can be upwards of 600 to 800 times sweeter than regular sugar they have the capacity to excite greater desires for sweets; and there are still many questions regarding how our bodies metabolize these sweeteners, and respond to them hormonally.

So here are a few tips so that you can have your beverage and drink it too.

  1. Enjoy your coffee black and your tea plain.
  2. If you need to add a hint of something choose a small amount of fat-free or low-fat milk, or alternative milk such as soy or almond.
  3. Choose water over sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened iced tea and soda. To enhance water choose unsweetened carbonated water and add lemon or lime juice to it.
  4. If your headed out for a night on the town or just throwing back a cold one after work or play just remember that alcohol can add up to a pretty hefty calorie tab. Light beer will save you some calories coming in around 100 per bottle. However, if light beer is just not your style then maybe take a breather in between drinks for some carbonated water and conversation.
  5. Of course there is room for everything in the diet so if you’re craving your favorite specialty coffee heaped with whipped cream on top then go for it and just think of it as dessert. You can save yourself a few calories by ordering a small and savoring every sip.

So cheers to your health and hydration.