Protein intake around exercise is always a hot topic around the gym water-cooler. Is it better pre-workout? Post-workout? Intra-workout? The options seem endless. It’s well recognized from previous research that the minimum amount of protein required to stimulate muscle protein synthesis (MPS) is 20g post-training and that increasing to 40g post-training had no impact on muscle gains after exercise. That said, if you can get some marginal gains from ramping up your protein post-training, why not? A new study attempts to uncover if ratcheting up your intake to 40g post-training is really worth the effort and if bigger athlete require more protein post-training.Read More
Vitamin D has been gaining significant momentum recently in the research for its ability to influence over 1,000 different genes in the body and subsequently some important performance parameters. Failing to get sufficient vitamin D regularly can negatively impact many endurance parameters, including maximal aerobic capacity (VO2 max), susceptibility to colds and flu, inflammation, recovery, and stress fractures.Read More
Tell me is this scenario sounds familiar. You’ve been training in the gym for a while, you made some nice gains and now your progress has stalled. You’re doing all the compound lifts – squats, deadlifts, bench press, chins, etc. – but you just can’t seem to get any stronger, or any bigger.
The answer might not be your exercise selection or rep scheme, but something a lot simpler that you may have overlooked… rest periods.
A new study investigated the effects of long rest periods (i.e. 3-minutes) versus short (i.e. 1-minue) during resistance training. Twenty-one young men who were regular lifters trained three times per week, 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions for seven exercises per session, over the course of 8 weeks. The researchers tested muscular strength, endurance, and thickness before and after the study. The results were eye opening.
The group that rested the had to take “long” rest periods had significantly greater gains in muscular strength (i.e. 1-RM squat and bench press), as well as significantly greater muscle thickness in the legs (and a trend for upper body improvements).(1) It may not surprise many trainers that taking longer rest periods helps with your maximal strength performance, but the fact that it can also increase muscle thickness makes it a great “rest” strategy for athletes or anyone trying to add more lean muscle and size to their frame.
A lot of lifters can get caught up in the burn and build-up of lactic acid as a measure of training success, and therefore shy away from longer rest periods. This study suggests the longer rest periods you take, the greater loads you can lift, which then translates into greater hypertrophy gains.
How can you make this practical during your training session (so it doesn’t take you 2 hours to train every session)? Your best bet is to superset opposing body parts, or upper and lower body, to maximize your time. For example, you could alternate chest and back exercises, or alternate between a compound leg exercise and upper body push or pull movement.
You might be wondering if your work capacity will be impaired by the longer rest periods? Great question and one the researchers investigated. They found muscular endurance was equal between the two groups, so taking 3-minute rest periods didn’t reduce the work capacity of the lifters compared to their 1-minute counterparts. This goes against a lot of popular thinking, as a 1-minute rest interval has to be the most common prescribed in gyms across the country.
If you’re struggling to get bigger or stronger (or both), and feel like you’re doing all the right things in the gym, the answer overcoming your plateau may be simpler than you think. This groundbreaking new research suggests adding 3-minute rest periods to your compound lifts to ramp up strength and hypertrophy gains. (Just think of how much down time you’ll have for mobility work!)
Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS
Check out more articles in the "STRENGTH" SERIES...
Today, over 33 percent of America gets less than 6 hours of sleep, which throws your blood sugar and insulin levels out of whack, ramps up cravings, and shoots your cortisol stress levels through the roof. No wonder you’re tired.
One of the most common complaints from clients is fatigue. Practicing in a busy downtown clinic in a major city means I see a lot of Type A clients constantly on the go from work and play.
Whether it’s trouble getting out of bed in the morning without hitting snooze three times, struggling through afternoon energy crashes or not getting to bed early enough, sleep has a major impact on mental and physical health (and performance).
We sleep less than our grandparents’ generation, and we’re constantly stimulated by connectivity. We’re overtaxed!
The average person today gets 1.5-2.0 hours less sleep than our grandparents’ generation, and when you combine that with the constant stimulation of mobile devices and connectivity, our brains and bodies are generally overtaxed and under-recovered. (1) Before you add more “siestas” into your day, you need to understand how sleep works to maximize your naps.
What Is a Sleep Cycle?
There are two main types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (non-REM), which are separated into four stages. You can think of REM as “active” sleep and non-REM as “quiet” sleep.
In Stage 1 (non-REM), you’re settling down to rest and you drift in and out of sleep. This period lasts 5-10 minutes, during which the brain produces theta waves that slow brain activity. It’s the period between wakefulness and sleep. (If someone woke you up at this point, you would probably say you weren’t even asleep.)
In Stage 2 (non-REM), your body temperature drops and your heart and breath rate become more regular. Ironically, your brain produces small bursts of activity in preparation for deeper sleep phases. You spend about 20 minutes in this phase.
Stage 3 (non-REM) is when slow delta brain waves kick in, your muscles relax, blood pressure drops, and you transition from light to deep sleep. This is your deepest sleep, when your body really starts repairing and rebuilding your muscles, memory, immunity, hormones, nervous system, etc. It’s like taking your car into the mechanic: deep sleep tunes-up the body so it’s running on all cylinders.
Stage 3 sleep is the deepest, restoring your body’s muscles, memory and immune system.
In Stage 4, you enter REM sleep and your body becomes extremely relaxed (in fact, paralyzed) and your brain more active. Rapid eye movement begins in this stage (thus the REM acronym), as well as your dreams. Most people spend about 20% of their sleep in REM.
Your body rolls through all of these stages every 90 minutes, but they don’t happen in sequence. You start off in stage 1, then progress to stages 2 and 3 before your body reverts back into stage 2. This cycle occurs multiple times before you hit REM sleep, about every 90 minutes.
Benefits of Napping
Adding naps into your routine can provide numerous health benefits. Remember, a nap is usually only light sleep (20-60 minutes in phase 1-3) or one sleep cycle (90 minutes), whereas in deep sleep overnight, your body will roll through multiple cycles. Check out the of benefits of napping below:
1. Naps Improve Brain Function
Napping is the ultimate brain-hack. Research shows even a 5-15 minute nap can significantly improve cognitive function for the next 1-3 hours, something most of us can really use during that afternoon slump. (2)
2. Naps Prevent Weight Gain
If you don’t get enough sleep time at night, you’re over 50% more likely to be obese. (3) That’s no joke. If you know you aren’t getting to bed early enough at night, make time to decompress during the day to maintain a healthy body composition. The extra sleep and recovery from a midday nap can help mitigate these effects.
3. Naps Support Athletic Performance
Not getting enough sleep is also a performance killer. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recently found that sleep restriction reduced maximal aerobic power, energy expenditure and time to exhaustion in athletes. (4) It’s no wonder elite athletes nap so often!
4. Naps Improve Immune Defenses
If you get less than six hours of sleep nightly, you’re at 4.5x greater risk of catching a cold or flu. (5) This is one of the reasons why you get sick when you’re trying to hit a deadline and burning the midnight oil (at the expense of sleep) or when you’re a new parent who is constantly waking up throughout the night to comfort or feed your baby. Napping can help offset this effect and increase immune function.
5. Naps Can Boost Your Memory
Pre-school kids do this as part of their daily routine, and now the research shows it helps to improve memory consolidation. That’s right, a 30-minute nap within four hours of a learning task significantly improves memory; increasing this to 45-60 minutes for adults could make your memory five times more effective. (6) We always think doing “more” is the answer, but this research highlights that taking the time to rest will increase your efficiency.
6. Naps Improve Resiliency from Travel
If you travel for work and fly across multiple time zones, it deeply impacts your body’s circadian hormone output, significantly raising cortisol and adrenaline stress hormones and reducing sleep quality. (7) Naps help build resiliency by increasing the amount of time you spend in parasympathetic “rest and digest” mode.
7. Naps Lower Blood Pressure
If you’re always on the go, regularly drinking caffeine, or in poor health, you may have high blood pressure. Studies show that taking a regular afternoon nap is inversely associated with heart attacks. (8) Another great reason to make time for a siesta.
How Long Should You Nap?
Your body runs on a 24-hour biological clock, known as your circadian rhythm. This rhythm peaks in the morning (to wake you up) and falls in the evening (to prepare you for sleep). It also bottoms out a little in the afternoon, one of the reasons we all feel a little fatigue around then. During this 24-hour cycle, we have two periods of intense dips: one between 2am to 4am, and the other approximately 10 hours later. If you wake up earlier, this afternoon dip will be more towards 1-2pm, while if you start your day a bit later, it may be anytime between 2-4 pm. It’s important not to nap too close to bedtime, as this will shift your circadian rhythm and you’ll struggle to fall asleep.
The early afternoon is the best time to nap. If you sleep too close to bedtime, it’ll shift your circadian rhythm.
The duration and timing of your nap are important factors to consider. If the timing of your nap is off, you’ll likely wake up tired, groggy and disoriented (not the effects you were likely aiming for). Below are three napping strategies that can help boost your mental and physical performance. Use the one that works best for you.
The Desk Worker’s Nap
If you work at a desk all day, it’s not easy to carve out 60 or 90 minutes to nap during the day. The “desk worker’s” nap is only 15-20 minutes in stage 2 sleep, but helps to quickly recharge your brain to boost cognitive function. Aim for anytime between 2pm and 4pm.
The Entrepreneur’s Nap
If you work for yourself or set your own hours, it’s possible to carve out a longer stretch for napping during the day. Business owners usually work really long days, so getting a full 60 minutes allows you to get into stage 3 sleep and consolidate better memory. Again, aim for between 2pm and 4pm.
The Athlete’s Nap
If you’re training intensely, your body will benefit from a full 90-minute sleep cycle (with REM sleep) to maximize recovery from training. This type of sleep enhances nervous system and muscular repair, as well as boosting creativity (for the artist types who want to take advantage too!). Athletes normally perform two-a-day training, so the nap may be a bit earlier, between 1pm and 2pm, to allow time before the afternoon training session.
We are busier today that we’ve ever been, and sleep usually takes a back seat when you’re pressed for time. Reboot your mental and physical performance by adding a daily nap into your routine. It’s an incredible health hack that can supercharge your brain and body so they can keep up with your hectic pace.
(This article originally appeared @Paleohacks.com)
Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS
Want to learn more? Listen Dr. Amy Bender PhD talk naps and sleep on the Dr. Bubbs Performance Podcast...
Check out more articles in the SLEEP SERIES...
It’s the middle of winter, and the days are dark and cold. But you’re still training intensely and eating clean to get ready for your upcoming competition. Unfortunately, there is one vitamin no amount of clean eating can fix, especially in athletes. New research suggests maintaining the right levels of vitamin D may improve several elements of performance, including your VO2 max, sprint capacity, and power production.
A Growing Research Field
Exercise dramatically increases an athlete’s demand for vitamin D, as your muscle, heart, and vascular tissue all contain key vitamin D receptors. Today, studies show more than 50 percent of athletes are low in vitamin D.1 While the direct cause isn’t clear, it’s most likely a combination of things like inflammatory processes, muscular damage, increased protein synthesis requirements, increased immune activity, lack of sun exposure, race, and genetics.2
A clear vitamin D deficiency occurs at blood levels less than 20ng/mL (< 50 nmol/L), while insufficiency for athletes is generally defined at blood levels between 20-32 ng/mL (50-80 nmol/L). Insufficiency simply means you’re not getting enough to meet the demands of your activity. Intense training is demanding. New research suggests that 40-50ng/mL (100-125 nmol/L) seems to be the “sweet spot” for supporting optimal athletic performance, and experts agree the body needs daily replenishment to meet that requirement.3,4
Achieving your ideal vitamin D intake may upgrade six key areas of performance:
- VO2 max
- Muscular power production
- Testosterone levels
- Susceptibility to colds and flu
Let’s take a closer look at each.
1. VO2 Max
You likely spend a lot of time planning and periodizing your training to maximize your efforts, but did you know that not having enough vitamin D could compromise your maximal oxygen uptake, or VO2 max, a classic marker for assessing aerobic fitness? New research in professional hockey and soccer players found a strong correlation between low vitamin D status and VO2 max. If you’re a weekend warrior, this relationship may be even stronger.
Experts will tell you just because there is an association doesn’t mean that increasing the amount of vitamin D in your diet will improve performance. However, a new study in vitamin D deficient rowers found that 8 weeks of supplementation (6,000IU per day) resulted in more than a 10 percent improvement of VO2 max. For elite athletes, improving performance by 2-3 percent is the difference between a podium finish and being in the middle of the pack.5,6,7 Remember, more is not always better. Talk to your doctor and get tested before supplementing with high doses of vitamin D.
2. Power Production
Your muscle tissues have many key receptor sites for vitamin D, and they seem to play a key role in supporting power production. For athletes, increasing power production translates to improved performance on the playing field. Recently, the Canadian Women’s National Hockey strength and conditioning team found athletes with higher power production were more likely to make the final selection for the national team.
Additionally, a study in soccer players found increasing baseline vitamin D status over an 8-week period resulted in an increase in 10-meter sprint times and vertical jump.8 While not all studies found this relationship, it’s important to ensure you meet the minimal baseline requirements to ensure maximum training benefit.
3. Testosterone Levels
Low testosterone is a common symptom in athletes who are over-reaching and overtraining. Unfortunately, too many people look for a quick fix rather than address why their testosterone levels are low in the first place. Vitamin D is a precursor to testosterone production and may increase the binding efficiency of testosterone to its receptors.4 Low levels are linked to increased protein breakdown, reduced strength, and increased body fat.
If you’re an athlete over age sixty, the connection is even more compelling because low vitamin D levels at that age correlate strongly to low testosterone levels.9 A new study over a 12-month time span found that adding approximately 3,000 IU of vitamin D daily resulted in increased total, bioavailable, and free testosterone.10 For those training through the winter, low testosterone combined with intense training will lead to sub-optimal recovery and increased risk of symptoms of overtraining (i.e., increased muscle soreness, low mood, fatigue, low libido, etc.). This is especially true for athletes who compete in indoor sports year round that limit sun exposure.
Inflammation is a natural product of intense training. However, too much inflammation can impair muscular function and future performance. One study showed adding an extra 4,000 IU of vitamin D daily can offset the increased inflammatory reaction with a high-volume training load of 10 sets of 10 reps of compound exercises in men and women.11
Interestingly, the group adding extra vitamin D also noted a mere 6 percent drop in power output over the course of the workout, while the group not supplementing had a 32 percent decrease in power. Amazingly, this deficit lasted for up to 48 hours. If you’re preparing for a competition or the CrossFit Games, maintaining power output during competition is critical to your performance.
5. Colds and Flu
There is nothing worse than catching a cold or flu in the days leading up to a competition. All those hard training days and dedication to be at the top of your game, only to be cut short by a nasty bug. If you’re low in vitamin D, the “foot soldier” immune cells that make up your innate immune system will also be low. If this first-line of immune defense is compromised, you’ll be at increased risk of infection.12
Vitamin D promotes hundreds of anti-microbial proteins in the body that fight off bacteria and viruses and helps keep your immune system robust in the build-up to competition. Research in athletic populations highlights that maintaining optimal levels of vitamin D can reduce common infectious illnesses.13 If your levels are low, your immunity and performance will likely be compromised.
Training intensely isn’t just tough on your muscles and joints. It also takes a toll on your mental game. If you're an athlete, you regularly push that fine line between over-reaching (pushing beyond your limits to grow stronger) and overtraining (pushing too far beyond your limits). Therefore, it’s crucial to maintain a positive mood as you fight through the toughest weeks of your training.
Low levels of vitamin D are consistently associated with low mood and depression, and because many athletes train indoors through the winter months (and sometimes even summer, depending on your sport), deficient levels can impair you sense of well-being.14 Cognitive decline also impacts your decision-making abilities, which are crucial in the heat of competition, yet fatigue and pain make them very difficult.
Sources of Vitamin D
Now that you know vitamin D is key for optimal performance, where is the best place to get it? The sun is far and away your best source of vitamin D. Fifteen minutes of exposure on 5 percent of your skin leads to 10,000-20,000 IU of vitamin D production.4 If you live in a city with a true winter – north of the 42nd parallel – you’ll need more than sun exposure alone to meet your demands, as the sun isn’t high enough in the sky for an adequate dose.
Including vitamin D rich foods in your diet should always be your foundation, and the best dietary sources include egg yolks, pork (yes, bacon!), mushrooms, fortified milk, and yogurt (if you struggle to digest dairy effectively, discontinue).
Of course, if you live in a city with a true winter climate, food alone won’t meet your demands. The general recommendation for supplementing with vitamin D during winter is 1,000-2,000 IU per day. However, this is the case for the general population, not athletes. The research on athletes suggests between 4,000-6,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily is a good bet, however this should only be taken during your intense training phases (up to 8-12 weeks), or from November to March. If you decide to take vitamin D doses greater than 2,000 IU, you must get regular blood tests done with your doctor.
Give Yourself a Winning Edge
Whether your goal for 2016 is achieving a new personal best or finishing on top of the podium, make sure your vitamin D levels are adequate. Assess your vitamin D status, add more vitamin D-rich foods, and find the right supplement strategy to meet your needs.
Intense training requires a robust nutrition plan to meet your body’s demands, and failing to adequately replenish vitamin D can negatively impact too many key systems to ignore. Get your daily dose of vitamin D this winter. The research shows it can make all the difference.
(Read the rest of my article @BreakingMuscle)
Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS
1. Farrokhyar F, et al., “Prevalence of vitamin D inadequacy in athletes: A systematic review and meta-analysis,” Sport Medicine 5 (2014): 365–78.
2. Willis KS, Smith DT, Broughton KS, Larson-Meyer DE. “Vitamin D status and biomarkers of inflmmation in runners,” Journal of Sports Medicine, 3 (2012): 35-42.
3. Ogan D, Pritchett K. “Vitamin D and the athlete: Risks, recommendations, and benefits,” Nutrients 5 (2013): 1856–1868.
4. Dahlquist D et al. “Plausible ergogenic effects of vitamin D on athletic performance and recovery,” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12 (2015):33
5. Koundourakis N et al. “Relation of vitamin D level to maximal oxygen uptake in adults,” American Journal of Cardiology, 107 (2011):1246–9.
6. Forney L, et al. “Vitamin D status, body composition, and fitness measures in college-aged students,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28 (2014): 814–24.
7. Jastrz?bski Z. “Effect of vitamin D supplementation on the level of physical fitness and blood parameters of rowers during the 8-week high intensity training,” Facicula Educ Fiz ?i Sport, 2 (2014): 57–67.
8. Close G et al. “Assessment of vitamin D concentration in non-supplemented professional athletes and healthy adults during the winter months in the UK: implications for skeletal muscle function,” Journal of Sports Science, 31 (2013): 344–53.
9. Wehr et al. “Association of vitamin D status with serum androgen levels in men,” Clinical Endocrinology (Oxf), 73 (2010): 243–8.
10. Pilz S, et al. “Effect of vitamin D supplementation on testosterone levels in men,” Hormone and Metabolic Research, 43 (2011): 223–5.
11. Barker T et al. "Supplemental vitamin D enhances the recovery in peak isometric force shortly after intense exercise," Nutr Metab (Lond), 10 (2013): 69.
12. Youssef D et al. “Vitamin D’s potential to reduce the risk of hospital-acquired infections,” Dermatoendocrinol, 4(2012):167-75.
13. Larson E. “Vitamin D supplementation in athletes,” Nestle Nutrition Institute Workshop Series, 75 (2013): 109-21.
14. Polak M et al. “Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations and depressive symptoms among young adult men and women,” Nutrients, 6 (2014): 4720–30.
What is creatine? When most people hear the word creatine, they immediately think of high school or college-age jocks trying to get bigger and stronger. But creatine is far more than just a muscle-building supplement.
In fact, its benefits range from improved cognitive function, concussion prevention, autoimmune support and even improvement of some chronic degenerative conditions.
Not quite sure what creatine can do for you? Let’s take a closer look.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is a protein that is produced naturally in the body and is found in abundance in animal protein. It’s a high-energy molecule made up of three amino acids – arginine, methionine and glycine – that helps to produce ATP, the energy currency of every cell in your body. Without ATP, your cells would have no fuel and you wouldn’t even survive!
Animal protein is the best food source of creatine, such as grass-fed beef, wild game meats, ocean-fresh fish and free-range poultry. So, if you’re already following a Paleo approach to eating, naturally rich in animal protein, why would you need to add more creatine via a supplement? Adding a creatine supplement allows your body to store greater than normal levels of creatine in the body, thereby providing an added source of ATP to support your muscles and your brain. While these supra-physiological doses may not be exactly Paleo, there could be certain scenarios where you can get significant benefits.
Can Creatine Boost Your Performance In The Gym?
If you want to improve your performance in any sport, then improving your power, strength and lean muscle mass are key factors. Creatine significantly improves all of these areas, and then some.
Increasing your maximum strength is like adding more horsepower to your car’s engine; the stronger you are, the faster you run. Supplementing with creatine is proven to increase your max strength by 5-15%, which translates to more weight on your squat, deadlift or Olympic lifts. (1)
Creatine supplementation has also been shown to increase sprint performance, as well as endurance during repeated sprints. (2) This can help endurance athletes improve 5k, 10k and marathon times, cyclists upgrade time trial personal bests, and CrossFitters achieve superior WOD times.
If you want to add lean muscle, creatine has been proven to add 2-4 lb. of fat-free lean muscle in 4 to 12 weeks of training.(3) The muscle growth comes from the body’s capacity to increase ATP production from creatine supplementation, allowing you to train harder and recover faster. If you’re not wanting bigger muscles, simply modifying the dose can mitigate these effects.
The benefits don’t stop there. Creatine might just be the best “brain hack” out there!
Can Creatine Boost Performance at Work?
One of the most common questions I get asked by clients in clinical practice is, “How can I improve my mental focus and memory?” If you want to upgrade cognitive function, working memory and intelligence, then creatine may help unlock your true potential.
Creatine has shown significant promise as a potent brain-boosting nutrient. A study at the University of Sydney examined the effects of 6 weeks of creatine supplementation (5g per day) on memory and intelligence. (4) The researchers found those people supplementing with creatine had improved working memory, reduced mental fatigue and increased intelligence. That’s right, not only can you remember more details and maintain your focus for an increased number of hours, you actually get smarter, as well!
More and more research is coming down the pipeline uncovering creatine’s ability to boost brain function, focus and mental productivity. However, you can eat all the meat in the world, but your creatine stores cannot reach these supra-physiological levels without added supplementation.
Tempted to start benefiting from higher creatine and ATP levels in your body? Let’s take a look at whether this stuff is really safe.
Is Creatine Safe?
Anecdotal side effects of creatine often heard in the media include dehydration, cramping, musculoskeletal injury, gastrointestinal distress and kidney damage, yet the research does not support these claims.
While these side effects seem scary, none of this has been shown in the research studies. In fact, research on creatine supplementation of 10 months to 5 years found no negative effects on kidney function (5) and has in fact been linked with improving medical conditions such as brain and spinal cord injuries, muscular dystrophy, diabetes and high cholesterol.
With all the fad supplements out there, creatine is a proven and safe strategy for upgrading your health and your performance. Let me walk you through the approach I typically recommend to my clients.
How Much Should I Take?
If you want to boost your performance in the gym and at work and give creatine a try, here is the best way to start. For men, add a 5g serving every day with a meal; for women, 3g per day. Creatine monohydrate is the most cost-effective form and actually the type they use in all the research studies, so save yourself a few dollars and forget the expensive creatine with supposed “bells and whistles”.
The highest dietary source of creatine is herring, followed by red meat, however this only saturates the tissue to approximately 90%. The addition of a supplement take this to 105-110% saturation, thus providing the brain and body benefits. For vegetarians and vegans, tissue levels hover around 70%, so the addition of a supplement can be even more beneficial.
You can add a powder form (make sure it has no added sugar) into some water and drink it; just be sure to eat a meal at the same time, as elevated blood sugars and insulin help improve absorption. You can also opt for capsules, but it’s a lot of pills to take on a daily basis (typically 6 x 500mg for women and 10 x 500mg for men).
Continue for 8 weeks and see for yourself how you look, feel and perform. If you’re satisfied with your results, you can discontinue it. The washout period for creatine levels to return to pre-supplement baseline is about 30 days. If you want to continue, the research shows you can maintain your dose for 6-12 months, if desired. However, periodic tapers of 2-3 weeks is recommended every 2-3 months.
Just remember that creatine isn’t a quick fix. You still need to eat real, whole food, train properly and get quality sleep if you want to improve brain function and body composition. If your diet and lifestyle are junk, creatine isn’t going to help much.
Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS
(This article orginally appeared @Paleohacks)
Want to learn more? Listen to expert strength coach Keith Norris talk "Mindset Hacks & How To Look Good Naked" on the Dr. Bubbs Performance Podcast...
Check out more articles in the "HYPERTROPHY" SERIES...
- 3-Minute vs. 1-Minute Rest Periods - What's Best For Size & Strength?
- 5 Suprising Reasons You're Not Gaining Weight
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Low-carb and ketogenic diets can be tremendously effective nutrition strategies for weight loss and improving metabolic health. Does this mean they're also suitable for athlete trying to maximize performance and body composition? Not quite. Context matters. When you shift the context from overweight or obese individuals in the general population to high-level athletes pushing themselves hard to perform, the optimal nutritional strategy shifts as well.
For athletes training to achieve a personal best running a 10k, triathlon, or qualifying for the CrossFit Games, your eating strategy will not be the same as a sedentary person simply trying to lose weight.
Remember, exercise is a catabolic process, triggering a release of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline in order to raise blood sugars to fuel your activity. If you are exercising at a slow pace (less than 65% heart rate) your body has the time to use fat as a primary fuel source. However, as your exercise intensity increases your body quickly shifts to using muscle and liver glycogen (your body’s carb stores) to fuel exercise. You have a limited capacity to store glycogen, which means after about 1-hour of training at a high intensity, you’ll likely have exhausted all your body’s glycogen stores.
WHAT’S THE PROBLEM WITH LOW GLYCOGEN STORES?
High-level athletes training hard need carbohydrates to train effectively at high-intensities, Without carbohydrate, training output falls and so too does the adaptive response to exercise. Carbohydrates are also crucial for keeping glycogen reserves topped up, critical for being able to perform in repeated training bouts. That's not all. Carbohydrates are also crucial for supporting nervous system recovery and for preventing suppression of immune system function following a hard training day, week or month.
The research is clear that if you start your next training session with low or sub-optimal glycogen status, you’ll significantly reduce your capacity to work at high-intensities and your performance will suffer. A recent study of athletes who consumed only 40% of their total calories as carbohydrates and performed “two-a-day” training sessions suffered a significant decrease in their performance during the 2nd session because they did NOT adequately replenish muscle glycogen stores.1
If you are training at high intensity and following a low-carb diet, you are treading a very fine line. Especially if your diet is always low-carb, every single day, no matter what you do in training. Fuel for the required demands; if you're working at high-intensities, restricting carbs will also restrict your ability to perform. If your goal is optimizing your performance potential, eventually you will exhibit signs of overtraining and exhaustion if you're following a 100% low-carb or keto approach.
Overtraining syndrome is when you hit a wall that lasts multiple weeks and even months. You're tired, rundown, unhappy and your numbers in the gym keep sliding backward. This can happen when you train too intensely for too long, with too much volume for too long, or without adequate rest periods or tapers built into your training regime. While you to push yourself hard and train often to be the best (i.e. functional over-reaching), you don’t want to push yourself over the edge into overtraining (or even non-functional over-reaching).
Short-term symptoms of inadequate glycogen repletion include fatigue, reduced work capacity during training, poor recovery and extended delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Long-term symptoms are pronounced fatigue, reduced strength levels, and increased muscular weakness.
HOW CAN YOU IMPROVE RECOVERY AFTER EXERCISE?
To maximize performance during high-intensity training or competition is to ensure you have enough of the right food on board to fuel performance. Before intense training or competition day, you need to ensure your glycogen stores are topped up and you've consumed enough carbohydrate before training, as this is your body's primariy fuel at high-intensity. If you're exercising for more than 60-90 minutes, adding simpel carbs during exericse is a proven strategy to improve your performance.
After training, you want to stimulate the recovery process as soon as possible. The best way to accomplish this is to consume protein + carbohydate in your meal post-exericse. Aim for at least 20-30g of protein and 1-4x the amount of carbs and you'll be ready to attack the gym again the following day.
If you've got another training bout within the next 4 hours, then consuming high-glycemic index (GI) carbs immediately after training can be very helpful. High GI carbs enter the bloodstream quickly, allowing you to rapidly replenish glycogen stores in the first 30-60 minutes after training when glycogen synthase enzyme activity is elevated and allows for optimal replenishment.(2) In China, a recent study examined the effects of high-glycemic meals after exercise on performance in runners. The results showed athletes consuming high-GI meals post-training had significantly improved work capacity during their subsequent run four hours later.(4) Root vegetables make a great post-workout carb choice, especially if you bake them, which naturally raises the glycemic index of these foods. Great starchy carb options include sweet potatoes, yams, yucca, plantains, carrots, beets, parsnips, etc.
If you are on the go and don’t have time to sit down for meal, try adding some dried fruit to your post-workout nutritional arsenal. Dried fruit is very high-glycemic, and while not ideal as a midday snack when sitting at your desk, it’s a great option after vigorous activity. Try 2-4 Medjool dates for 36-72g of carbs, or half a pack of dried mangos (1.5oz provides 36g of carbs).
The total amount of carbs you consume post-training depends on a few variables: your genetics, current body-fat percentage, training phase, etc. Aim for one gram of carbs per kilogram bodyweight in the first hour after exercise (divide your bodyweight in pounds by 2.2 to achieve your weight in kilograms).(2,3) This can be repeated every two hours for up to 6 hours post-training for elite level trainees and sports that require two-a-day training, such as triathletes, Olympic weightlifters, and Ironman competitors.
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU WAIT TO CONSUME YOUR CARBS POST-TRAINING?
Carbs directly replenish glycogen stores and after exercise your capacity to soak up carbs and top up glycogen is heightened. Research shows that if you wait several hours post-training you will reduce your glycogen repletion rate by as much as 50%(5) Not consuming enough carbs after exercise can also exacerbate inflammation, depress immunity, and lead to prolonged muscle soreness.(6) In real-life terms, the meals you consume over a 24-hour period will be sufficient to top up your glycogen stores. It's only if you're performing two-a-day training sessions, or training multiple times within a 4-6 hour time frame, that you need to really think about loading in high-glycemic carbs to maximize recovery.
If you follow low-carb, high fat (LCHF) or ketogenic diet you can still benefit by incorporating more carbs than normal post-training, without affecting your capacity to burn fat.(7) For most, adding more carbs before intense training, as well as in the post-recovery meal, is a great way to boost performance and recovery. The truth is, during high-intensity exercise the research is clear that LCHF or VLCK diets impair top end performance.(8) Adding more carbs to your nutritional aresnal is likely the added boost you need to upgrade your performance.
Remember, if you’re gearing up for a 10k run, triathlon, CrossFit Games or your competitive season, fatigue is directly related to muscle glycogen depletion when exercising at higher intensities. For optimal athletic performance, refuel with the right amount of carbs post-exercise and take your game to the next level.
Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, MSc(c), CISSN, CSCS
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1. Ivy JL et al. Muscle glycogen storage after different amounts of carbohydrate ingestion. J Appl Physiol. 1988 Nov;65(5):2018-23.
2. Jentjens R, Jeukendrup A. Determinants of post-exercise glycogen synthesis during short-term recovery. Sports Med. 2003;33(2):117-44.
3. Ivy JL1.Glycogen resynthesis after exercise: effect of carbohydrate intake. Int J Sports Med. 1998 Jun;19 Suppl 2:S142-5.
4. Wong SH et al. Effect of glycemic index meals on recovery and subsequent endurance capacity. Int J Sports Med. 2009 Dec;30(12):898-905.
5. Jentjens R, Jeukendrup A. Determinants of post-exercise glycogen synthesis during short-term recovery. Sports Med. 2003;33(2):117-44.
6. Flakell PJ et al. Postexercise protein supplementation improves health and muscle soreness during basic military training in Marine recruits. J Appl Physiol 2004;96:951-956.
7. Burke LM, Hawley JA, Angus DJ, et al. Adaptations to short-term high-fat diet persist during exercise despite high carbohydrate availability. Med Sci Sports Exerc 20002;34:83-91.
8. Antonio J, Kalman D, Stout S, et al. Essentials of Sports Nutrition and Supplements. International Society of Sports Nutritionists. Humana Press, NY 2008.