by Grant Harrison MSE, CPT – Source Endurance
When we look at training and our overall functioning as an athlete, we can compare the way our body works to the way a flame works. In order to have a flame, three components need to be present: heat, oxygen, and fuel. Our heat is the effort and intensity at which we train. Without a doubt, most people emphasize training and lean more heavily on what they can do on bike to maximize performance. The oxygen needed for fire relates to how easily our body delivers oxygen to the tissues. The more oxygen we deliver to our tissues, the more energy we can produce. Finally our fuel is what we have to burn. This is where the analogy is the most fitting. Our fuel comes from three major macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, but it is also highly regulated by the micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals. All of this is stored in our muscles, organs, blood, etc. and are in a constant state of flux as we are constantly burning or storing energy.
So, why is nutrition so important? Because what you take in determines the quality of energy production. Trying to burn rotten wood won’t produce a quality flame. Likewise, your performance hinges on how well you fuel your body not just during a training ride, but all the time. Many of the concepts used for the workouts we do can be applied to nutrition as well. For instance, our body makes incremental changes to respond to our eating habits, much like our body does when we train consistently for a month. The changes may not be drastic in month one, but they may be observable. Spread that same rate of improvement across 5 months to reach a peak, and now you’ve got something really great. It gets better though. Usually reaching a peak through training means that there might need to be a little break or reduction in training shortly thereafter, but reaching peak nutrition is something you should hope to maintain once obtained. Paired with proper training, nutrition is arguably the most important variable that affects performance. This is because our energy production is determined by the fuel that we supply it with. The amounts, types, and timings the of fuels you ingest are often the difference in your body telling you, “Yes, you’ve got room for one more interval” or “Not today, no matter how hard you try.” Endurance athletes are constantly thinking about how they can improve by 1% here, 2 % there, so why not more thought given to nutrition? Perhaps because it’s extremely difficult to quantify improvements due to nutrition but the percentages may add to be much larger than you might think.
Performance goes beyond just having enough energy. As your training load increases, the body needs more to be able to rebuild. But it boils down to more than just making sure you bring in as much as you are burning. For example, amino acids play an important role in regulating the BCAA (branched chain amino acid) to tryptophan ratio in our blood. When our amino acid pool becomes depleted through exhaustive exercise, we increase this ratio, which induces the onset of neurological fatigue. Supplementing with amino acids has shown to reduce the onset of fatigue. This is a prime example of how the quality, not necessarily the quantity, of our intake directly affects performance.
Overall the flame analogy is an excellent example of how our body utilizes fuel. From the nutrition standpoint, our meals are our fuel supply and the quantity and especially the quality of this fuel supply directly influences our overall functioning and especially athletic performance. Reaching peak nutrition will require an in depth look at what your needs are and steps to guide your nutrition in the right direction. So what’s next?
First and foremost, become informed. Get blood work done and consult your doctor and/or a registered dietician. Not only can blood work point to potential vitamin and mineral deficiencies, but it may help identify imbalances that may be inhibiting a properly functioning metabolism, which is especially important when it comes to daily life, let alone athletic performance. Secondly, we are here to help. As a certified nutrition coach with a physiology background, I can help you meet your nutritional goals. For more information about our Nutritional Services, click here.