Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Nutrition (Part II) by Chris Puppione...

- Between Gatorade and water, what is best for you before the race?
Cue up your DVD of “The Waterboy”, folks…


Adam Sandler had it right here, people. I definitely feel that hitting the water hard, early and often is far better for an athlete prepping for a race. And lets make something else clear as well—water will not cause you to cramp. There is no need to discuss it here other than to state clearly that at no time is water a dangerous thing for the high school runner—or for the competitive runner at that. Hyponatremia is only a danger for people running for an incredibly long time and consuming blindingly large quantities of fluid, so there is no real threat here for the athletes we will work with at the prep level.

As I mentioned in Part I of this topic, there is a danger on race day of causing a sugar-insulin reaction which can lead to an eventual blood sugar crash, and due to the concentration of these fluids, an athlete could risk crashing by drinking these prior to exercise (if not timed out correctly).

Can you drink a sports drink before a race? Sure. Is it advisable? No.

Drink water—there is nothing better for hydration and there is no risk of altering your blood sugar level adversely. And drink a ton of it while you are at it—the sedentary person must consume a minimum of 64 ounces of water a day—that is 4 regular-sized bottles of Crystal Geyser or Arrowhead or Evian.

But that is for the sedentary person—you know, the own sitting on a futon eating Cheetos and watching South Park re-runs between 8-hour bouts of World of Warcraft.

As for runners…try doubling that number. That’s right—shoot for 8 bottles of Aquafina a day. Coaches, ask your athletes to drink one bottle per hour during the school day—that is 6-7 bottles easy before afternoon practice. Yes, I know this increases bathroom trips, but that is far better than a trip to the ER or bonking in a workout or run.

- Following a race or workout, what are the best things to eat or drink for recovery?
I was waiting for this question because this is great stuff—and where the most damage can be done—good or bad, depending on the choices an athlete makes.

Before we talk about what to eat or drink, we need to address when an athlete should eat or drink following a run, race, or workout.

Answer—DO IT NOW!

The numbers say it all here—you can replenish and store more than double the amount of glycogen in your system by consuming food and drink in the first 120 minutes following intense exercise than after that window. Even more specifically, by hitting up a carb and protein rich snack in the first 15 minutes following a race or workout is the most beneficial. This could be as simple as any kind of protein bar and a small bottle of Gatorade while you stretch.

Basically, bring a snack to practice to eat and drink as soon as you are done. This will accomplish the following:

- optimize recovery from the immediate fatigue
- increase positive blood flow and get rid of waste
- enhance glycogen recovery for your next training session
- aid in muscle building and repair
- boost the immune system to avoid illness

So that takes care of the when, now for the what—and I am only going to give one specific example, because it is pretty interesting…

Chocolate milk. Seriously.

International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 2006, 16, 78-91

This study was done at Indiana University and it basically found that chocolate milk is an easy source for all the nutrients an athlete needs to enhance recovery following a workout, race, or run. The key is the blend of carbohydrates and proteins found in flavored milk that bears a great similarity to the desired carb to protein ratio of 4:1. The study concluded that chocolate milk was just as beneficial as any commercial sports drink. Look it up—it is no lie, and who doesn’t love chocolate milk?

Bottom line, eat and drink a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein, and do so as close to the conclusion of your workout as possible. The first 15 minutes is ideal, but you can drift out to the two-hour mark and still reap great benefits and enhance recovery from the session.

- Besides soda, what other foods should athletes stay away from while in training?
A few years ago, I had the chance to meet and talk with Karen Harvey, the head women’s cross country coach at Florida State University. Harv was a great athlete in her own right, and has had great success as a coach, taking the ladies from the University of Illinois from the cellar of the Big Ten to the podium at XC Nationals in less than five years before moving to FSU and taking that team to the podium in her first year and a current top-5 national ranking in 2008.

Harv feels that much of the success she has had with her athletes is due to her attention to detail as it relates to nutrition. She feels that there are some definite no-nos for the endurance athlete, especially as it relates to maintaining good bone health (i.e. no stress fractures):

- sodas
- sugars
- caffeine
- salt
- alcohol

These items all contribute to the leeching of calcium from bones, leading to a poor structural foundation and acting as catalysts for injury in the endurance athlete. These, then, are definite food items to avoid.

Also, athletes should avoid carbs that are high on the glycemic index because they have a poor energy return. Low-glycemic index carbs provide more energy and release it more slowly, keeping the athlete free of the aforementioned blood sugar crash.

High-glycemic index carbs to avoid would be cakes, cookies, doughnuts, white bread, sugar cereals, frozen yogurt, ice cream, dried fruit, French fries, potato chips, coleslaw, and potato salad.

Low-glycemic carbs that you want to shoot for would be peanuts, milk, grapes, brown rice, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, spinach, tomatoes, and just about any fruit you can get your hands on.

- Final thoughts?
Some quick hitters and then a big finish…

1. Eat several small meals a day—this avoids the crash, spikes the metabolism, keeps energy stores replenished, and keeps the athlete from getting hungry and eating too much junk food.
2. Have a Cheat Day—if an athlete can buy into a well-balanced diet and follow it for six out of seven days of the week, then they deserve a day to reward themselves for their commitment. On this day, the athlete can make any choices they want with their food intake—it lets them feel a little more normal and free—although they often continue to follow the healthy plan they are on.
3. Fiber—get it where you can. It improves digestion, regulates blood sugar levels, and aids in basic lifetime health.
4. Breakfast is the #1 meal of the day—do not skip this…EVER. Break the fast—get it? When you wake up, your energy levels are low, so get something in you and fire up your metabolism so you will get something out of the rest of your food for the day.
5. Take a multi-vitamin daily—always good to have your bases covered.
6. Calcium—this is a big one, especially for the young ladies that we coach. They need to know that 90% of their peak bone mass is created by the time they are 18, so they cannot afford to be without their calcium-rich foods—milk, leafy greens, yogurt, cheese, enriched cereals, and salmon. Again, credit Karen Harvey for helping me with this one.

Okay, and now for the big one…IRON.

Iron deficiency is a potential problem for all distance runners, especially if they do not address their needs through their daily diet. Here is the issue—iron aids in oxygen transport, oxygen storage in the muscle, and fuel metabolism. This is huge, then, as low iron levels would mean:
- less oxygen being carried to muscles to perform their tasks
- less oxygen being readily available at the muscle because of insufficient stores
- an inhibited ability to break down fuel necessary to perform a run, workout, or race up to par

Athletes lose iron through bowel movements, menstruation, and through their feet (heel strike anemia). Since none of these things can or should be stopped, iron intake must become paramount for the endurance athlete. This means proper diet and/or supplementation.

I could go on for quite some time here and get painfully scientific, but I will just offer some guidelines and FYIs as it pertains to iron, courtesy of the great Dr. David Martin (worked with Peter & Seb Coe):
1. Shoot for Heme iron—this is in red meats and liver, and is the most absorbale.
2. Supplement with liquid iron if you can rather than pills. Also, when supplementing, be sure to take your iron with Vitamin C as it aids in absorption, and without it, you may just be popping pills for sport and seeing no benefit.
3. Part of getting fit for better race performance is accomplished with iron-intake—50% of aerobic metabolism is dependent upon iron, and without sufficient amounts, the athlete will never be as fit as they can be.
4. Lose the Teflon and go with cast-iron skillets—seriously, it helps.
5. If you are getting your iron sources from egg yolks, baked beans, spinach, or broccoli, take some Vitamin C or chug some OJ with it—you need to convert the nonheme iron in these foods to the more absorbable iron in the ferrous state (F++). Trust me—just do it.
6. A 1gm/dl drop in your hemoglobin due to low iron levels can reduce VO2max by 3%--that is a good :30 slower over the 5k distance! And that is just 1gm/dl drop, and in many athletes with low iron, it is far worse.

Dr. Martin has stated on many occasions that iron is the one single atom that is the most crucial for an endurance athlete’s success. To quote Ron Burgundy, “It’s science…”

Finally, why is good nutrition important?
- Health
- Fuel
- Recovery
- Oxygen transport

All of which lead to better performance—so eat your way to a PR.


If anybody would like the Chocolate Milk study article, please email me at albertjcaruana@gmail.com and I will send it to you. Unfortunately, I am not able to attach pdf files to this blog.


Anonymous said...

These have been amazingly useful. especially because these are all things that my coach talks about. And to hear the same things echoed is really comforting. Thanks so much for doing this Coach Puppione.

Peter Brewer said...


I had forgotten about using orange juice to promote ingestion of usable iron. Good work. Excellently readable, thorough, and immediately applicable.

Anonymous said...

- sodas
- sugars
- caffeine
- salt
- alcohol
can someone explain the negative effects of these things? especially the last four.

Anonymous said...

and i disagree with the 'water doesn't hinder you or make you cramp during a race' theory. i distinctly remember drinking water (lots of it), prior to racing Mt. Sac last year, and not only was i still semi-dehydrated, but i got a massive cramp somewhere around poopout. even when i drink a little water 30 min before a race, i still feel it sometimes. Suggestions?

Anonymous said...


The answer to your second post (if it is the same anonymous poster) is in your own posting--"i was still semi-dehydrated..."

Your cramping was most likely due to dehydration or shortage of potassium in your system.

It is not the water's fault.

As for the negative effects of the others, I believe if you read the interview again you will find that I explained some of the negative effects of soda, sugars, and caffeine. As for salt, it can have several adverse effects depending on the individual--you have to know what your tolerance is. As for alcohol, if you drink alcohol as part of your training or racing plan, you are not really trying too hard to be an athlete.

Alcohol can lead to weight gain, overeating, random acts of stupidity, etc. But again, like any of the things on this list, you can find readily available info as to why they are problematic.

I only answer the questions Albert asks me to a certain degree--be a student of your port and do some research of your own.

Anonymous said...

Sorry--I meant to say "be a student of your sport" in my last response. Also, I was not meaning to be dismissive of your inquiry--I was just in a hurry.


- Caffeine = use of this over time can damage the adrenal glands. Also, caffeine can lead to energy peaks and valleys that throws the body off of a natural rhythm and can lead to poor training and racing.

- Salt = throws off the bodies potassium/sodium balance if too much comes in (which is common since people never take in as much potassium as they should). Also, salt in excess can worsen exercise induced asthma symptoms.

I think I addressed the others earlier.

Anonymous said...

okay, cool. thank you coach puppione. i'll keep that in mind, especially regarding the potassium/sodium balance. and i'll keep hydrating.

Kevin Liao said...

Excellent article, was a great resource in helping me write a nutrition paper for my high school XC team to follow.

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