Nutrition

  1. Fluid Balance: The Importance of Proper Hydration

    Sometimes the simplest things are the ones easiest to overlook. When you’ve got a supplement plan, training schedule, and a diet to try to stick to, remembering to make sure you’re taking on enough water can easily slip through the mental cracks. Even experienced athletes can be unaware of just how important proper hydration is, not just to your workouts, but to your overall health.

    Water is by far the most abundant chemical substance in the body, making up some 95% of the brain and 75% of muscle tissue. It also serves a number of important functions that keep you healthy. It acts as a messenger, a building material, and as a solvent delivering nutrients. It helps regulate body temperature, maintain cell pressure and keeps the concentrations of various body fluids in check. It’s unsurprising then that even mild dehydration can have such a big effect on the way our bodies work.

    Performance

    One of the most obvious effects of dehydration is muscle cramps. You need water to make your muscles contract and relax and you need water to transport nutrients to the muscle tissue and carry away the waste. If the concentrations of electrolytes in your body aren’t kept within healthy ranges then nerve function will be impaired, and as nerves control the muscles, performance and control can be set back even further. If you’re trying to pack on some muscle, making sure you’re maintaining a proper fluid balance is essential.

    What’s less immediately obvious however is just how badly dehydration can impair your performance across the board. Studies have shown that a 2% liquid loss correlates to about a 10% loss in power right across the board. If you’re an elite athlete whose success is dependent on fine margins and who trains to extract every last drop of performance, a drop of 10% can instantly cancel out gains you’ve made over years of hard training. Even for recreational athletes this loss of power can damage the progress you’ve made and keep you from achieving your personal goals. All those after work weight sessions and weekend runs won’t have been for nothing, but you won’t be seeing the gains you expected.

    Other symptoms to look out for

    The effects of dehydration range from mild to severe. Feeling light headed or dizzy, cramping muscles, or a noticeably dry mouth are early warning signs that you’re not taking on enough fluids. You might stop sweating altogether even during intense exercise while your body tries to retain as much water as it can, putting you at risk of heatstroke. Symptoms of heatstroke include faster breathing, a faster heartbeat, extreme mental fatigue (possibly including disorientation and delusions), loss of consciousness and seizures. If you or someone you’re training with starts exhibiting any of these symptoms then call for immediate emergency medical attention, as untreated heatstroke can be fatal.

    Principles of proper hydration

    • Keep taking in fluids throughout the day rather than waiting until you feel thirsty
    • 300 - 500ml of fluids 20 - 30 minutes before the training session to make sure you’re optimally prepared for your workout
    • Avoid excessively cold drinks, 10-15°C is ideal
    • Another 300 - 500ml sports drink will help replace the water and electrolytes lost through training.
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  2. What's In Your Drink? An Athlete's Guide to Hydration

    Unfortunately, sometimes proper hydration is not as simple as just taking an extra bottle of tap water with you next time you head to the gym. The best type of drink in each scenario is determined by your fluid absorption rates. The higher the carbohydrate content of your drink, the slower it can travel through the stomach and be absorbed through the walls of the small intestine. A really sugary drink then might not be the best choice in the middle of training as it will take too long to work it’s way through your body to maintain proper hydration and if you’re exercising for long periods of time normal bottled or tap water won’t provide your body with a replacement electrolytes for those lost through sweat. Isotonic drinks strike a nice balance between pure water and sugary sports drinks, allowing for relatively fast hydration while supplying your body with lots of electrolytes and other nutrients.

    Depending on the type of exercise you’re doing, it’s best to stick to water, isotonic drinks, or heavily diluted sports drinks before and during training. Once you’re done for the day though, a sports drink high in sugars, carbs, electrolytes, and even a little protein can be just what you need to get yourself rehydrated.

    In order to make sure you’re choosing the right drink for the right situation it’s important to know what the label is telling you about the contents of your drink. Beverages marketed towards athletes generally fall under three different types, each of which are absorbed by the body in different ways.

    • Hypotonic drinks have a concentration of sodium and sugars lower than the concentration of fluids in the body. They’re low in carbohydrates, but good at helping you replenish lost fluids quickly.
    • Hypertonic drinks have a higher concentration than the body. They’re absorbed more slowly and when taken during exercise, unless properly diluted, can actually lead to you losing even more water than you were before. This is why hypertonic sports drinks are usually consumed after a workout to help your body replenish lost carbohydrates, glycogen, and electrolytes.
    • Isotonic drinks contain a concentration roughly similar to that of bodily fluids. Isotonic drinks are very easily absorbed and are great for rehydrating the body during exercise while providing a small boost of carbohydrates and electrolytes.

    When your workout can lead to a very high loss of liquid, for example in the case of running a marathon, drinking only water can cause hyponatremia, a potentially fatal condition that leaves the body with abnormally low levels of sodium. In these situations it is extremely important to make sure the fluids you take on contain sodium.

    Keeping yourself properly hydrated will ensure that you’re seeing the benefits of all of the work you’ve been doing in the gym. More than that though it might also leave you feeling less stressed, less fatigued, and just healthier overall!

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  3. Should you start your new year with a January detox?

    Should you start your new year with a January detox?

    “New year, new you.” January detoxes are all the rage right now and a lot of newspaper articles and websites are extolling the virtues of juice cleanses and other diets purported to help you get your new year off to a healthy start. But what’s the science behind them, and what’s the best way to take part in a January detox without negatively impacting your performance?

    Lots of detoxes promise you that you can wash away the calorific sins you’ve committed over the holidays and flush out all of the toxins in your body by switching to an extreme diet for a short time. Some even go as far as saying that detoxes can help prevent disease. The problem with these claims is that if toxins really did build up in your body in this way you’d likely be in need of serious medical attention - your kidneys, your liver, even your lungs and your skin are all helping to detoxify your body right now.

    If you go on a week long juice cleanse you might lose weight, but this is because you’re not eating, not because you’ve flushed toxins out of your body. If you aren’t getting the calories you need then your body will start burning through the stores of glycogen in your muscles for energy and once those are depleted it might start breaking down muscle tissue. Obviously this isn’t ideal if your main aim is to put on some lean muscle mass and compete!

    While the fad diets might do you more harm than good, there’s still a lot to be said for starting your year off in a healthy way. Instead of worrying about cleansing your body, there are some ways you can ‘detox’ this January with a healthy diet.

    One of the best things ways that you can improve your diet and increase your performance is to incorporate more foods and supplements that increase your immune function. Try to make sure that you’re getting plenty of whole-grain carbs, lean proteins, and lots and lots of leafy vegetables. Along with some quality amino acid supplements this kind of a diet will go a long way towards you starting your new year off in a healthier, stronger way.

    Making sure you’re recovering in the right way is also a big part of healthily improving your performance. For the best results, consuming something high in protein and carbohydrates within 30 minutes of finishing bouts of high-intensity exercise such as a whey protein shake will help reduce muscle soreness and aid recovery. Try to keep yourself well hydrated with lots of water and electrolyte drinks, and eat something high in protein like an egg sandwich within an hour of finishing your training. Again, amino acid supplements are also great at helping you boost your recovery. If you don’t have one already, devising your own post-exercise routine and making sure you follow it religiously is one of the best things you can do to kick off your new year.

    Snacking is a great way to keep your calorie intake up, so instead of being tempted to cut out snacks as part of a January detox it would be much better to make sure that you’re snacking right. Replace crisps and chocolate with nuts and fresh fruit, and if you need something sweet then AMSport have plenty of tasty alternatives that won’t break your new diet.

    Wanting to start your new year of in a healthy way is commendable, but following a January detox from a tabloid or trying a juice cleanse will hurt your performance a lot more than it helps. Instead, if you can get into the habit of eating better and using the right supplements this January, then you’ll be on track to make 2017 your best year yet.

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