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Track Cycling Training - All About Nutrition

Sports supplements have been used in various guises for many decades by athletes and bodybuilders. Even as early as the 1940s research indicated that supplemental protein could increase muscle mass if used by strength training athletes. However the last decade has seen the evolution of a multi million pound, international industry.

As the industry has grown, the products have become more advanced and the scientific scrutiny and testing has increased. It is fair to say that as the industry becomes more mainstream, the collective responsibility to ensure objective and concise information is readily available, increases. 

In their very broadest sense, sports nutrition products are designed to improve performance and help aid recovery from intense exercise. Many sports supplements are in fact food supplements which means that they provide nutrients that are found in everyday foods but in a concentrated form. For example, whey protein is exceptionally high in protein (typically 80%) and can provide the same levels of protein found in a chicken breast but without the inconvenience of having to prepare and cook it.

As the name suggests, sports/food supplements should be complementary to a balanced diet. The majority of a persons nutrients should always come from a diet being rich in unprocessed foods, using supplements to fill in any nutritional gaps.

Supplement Limitations

As the sports supplement industry has grown in size, marketing by companies has increased. Unfortunately, some of the communication used builds unrealistic expectations. As someone who may be recommending sports nutrition products to users, it is key to understand what can be realistically achieved by using sports nutrition products. Sports nutrition products are not miracle potions, they will not yield huge gains in performance, however they will aid the user when combined with other important factors.

In its simplest form, the key pillars to achieving physical goals fall into the following areas:

Diet

Arguably the most important factor. With a diet that isn't tailored towards the correct goals, the goals may well not be realized. In its broadest sense, diet will also include the use of supplements, although it is important that they are not the main source of nutrition.

Training

Without the correct exercise plan, the body will not be subjected to the right stressors from which it can adapt. For example someone wanting to put on mass would not train the same way as someone preparing for a marathon.

Rest

As the adage suggests, you don't grow in the gym. Essentially recovery takes place in the days after training. If there is insufficient rest, training gains will be hindered and the body may go into a state of over training.

The most important aspect when recommending products is making sure that they are suitable for the user. Understanding the users goals and any potential intolerances is key to finding the right product for any given person. Additionally having an understanding of their lifestyle (active/desk job) and diet will also play a factor in the type of products that are suited.

Understanding Body Types

Ultimately the boundaries of any exercise programme will be limited by a persons genetic make up. The simplest way of categorizing body types is to think of someone as thin, fat or muscular. This approach is known as somatotyping. The three somatotypes are known as; ectomorprhic (tall and thin), endomorphic (short and fat), or mesomorphic (muscular). They are best imagined as shapes where ectomorphic would be an upright rectangle, endomorphic a circle and mesomorphic as a triangle.

Real life sporting examples of each of the above (in sequence) would be basketball players, sumo wrestlers and then bodybuilders with each one representing an extreme example. However, it is important to note that most people do not fit perfectly into one somato type, rather they are likely to fall somewhere in between with aspects of different types. When considering supplementation, it is important to account for body type as they carry implications for an individuals predisposition to achieve specific goals.

For instance, an endomorph body type may struggle to keep their body fat down but may find it easier to gain both muscle and fat. Goal dependent, these individuals may benefit from a more restrictive diet accompanied by products designed to increase their metabolism. Conversely the ectomorph body type who struggles to gain weight may have to increase food intake whilst supplementing with weight gainers in order to supply maximal gains. The ectomorph would need to avoid fat burners recognising that in general they have higher metabolisms than endomorphs and therefore a higher energy turnover.

To build muscle or cause any training adaptations, generally there needs to be an energy surplus, meaning food intake and calories must be higher than calories used. As the endomorph uses less energy, they need less calories, whilst the opposite is true of the ectomorph body type. Ectomorphs are sometimes also titled hard gainers due to the difficult time they have gaining weight. The body type that is usually best suited to the general athlete is the mesomorph which tends to put on little fat whilst producing maximal adaptation and gains from their training with ease. In general, as long as the basic requirements are met (i.e. adequate protein in the diet) these body types respond well to all dietary and supplemental protocols.

Energy Balance

To put this information into context, it is important to understand energy balance. Energy is liberated by catabolic processes which is the breaking down of large compounds to smaller ones. This energy is used to maintain bodily functions such as digestion, metabolizing food, thermoregulation (heat control), physical activity and adaptations. The amount of energy liberated per unit time is known as ones metabolic rate, which is subject to change. Metabolic rate depends on age, activity levels, weight, muscle mass, gender and body type of the individual (which is genetically influenced). The amount of energy needed to keep these functions going is seen as the energy output, which equals the calories needed to be used, shown below:

Energy output = External Work (i.e. exercise) + Energy Storage + Heat (all seen as metabolism.)

When energy intake is taken into account in order to have an energy balance, intake must equal output. There are 3 states of energy balance; positive, negative and balanced as depicted in the equations below:

Energy Output = Energy Intake (Balanced) Energy Output < Energy Intake (Positive Energy Balance) Energy Output > Energy Intake (Negative Energy Balance)

In a negative energy balance the person will draw energy from fat and glycogen stored within the body to meet energy requirements. Therefore weight loss will occur as insufficient energy is being supplied to maintain bodily functions. This is the scenario that people on a ‘diet’ are trying to achieve. In a positive energy balance, the excess energy will be stored as glycogen, fat or used for anabolic processes, whereas in a balanced state the body will maintain weight and function. To allow for adaptations and gains, it is important for the individual to have a positive energy balance which is achieved when more calories are consumed than are required to maintain normal bodily functions. However, it is important not to eat too much as the fat gain would be detrimental, usually an excess of 300-500 kcals is more than appropriate.

These are general guidelines and assume that the general goal is lean muscle mass. Under certain scenarios where different goals are desired, this approach may change. People approaching competitions will for instance have very specific dietary and supplement needs which will of course be dependent upon the nature of the competition.

The one thing that remains consistent across all advice, irrespective of body type/somatotype is that adequate amounts of protein must be consumed for optimal results. Therefore in order to make the correct dietary adjustments carbohydrate and fat intake must be manipulated in preference to protein. This is further explored in this document in later chapters. Furthermore although there are other more accurate methods for body assessment (e.g. fat percentage via callipers), somatotypes provide the user or adviser with a quick, easy and non-invasive means of assessing a physique and its needs, and for this purpose is the most understandable and useable.

Measuring the success of a supplement regime and monitoring the effects on the body is a vital tool for any new user of supplements as well as the experienced supplement user trying a new product. Those taking supplements for the first time should start with basic building blocks and progress once the respective benefits of each added supplement can be objectively assessed.

A useful start point (assuming lean muscle mass is the objective) may be to start supplementing with 25g of fast acting protein such as whey first thing in the morning and then before and after the workout. Progress in terms of performance increases, weight gain or loss, strength and body fat percentages should be maintained by the supplement user. In its most basic form, observation can be used to gauge progress.

The next step would be to add another supplement when a plateau is reached, repeating the process of evaluation. It is important to note some supplements are cycled to increase their efficacy, although these will be discussed later.

Many gym members or athletes can go for years without optimizing their performance gains if their diet is inadequate. By not consuming sufficient energy, the body will not recover or adapt to the stressor, in this case training. As the body has no surplus energy, no adaptation can occur and the body hits a plateau where no meaningful gains are seen. In order to determine an individuals energy requirements it is important to know what their lifestyle entails. For example; do they walk to work, is their work active (i.e. manual labour) or sedentary (i.e. office, desk based) in its nature or somewhere inbetween.

Furthermore an individuals training tolerance may also change due to their lifestyle. Training tolerance is seen as the amount someone can train without entering an overtrained state. An overtrained state is where an individual is unable to recover properly from lifes stresses which can lead to a compromised immune system, lack of adaptation ability, lethargy, poor sleep patterns and a loss or gain in appetite.

Although supplements such as antioxidants may aid in combating the negative effects of stress, they cannot be expected to compensate for over-training. Whilst supplements play a very positive role, the importance of understanding sources of stress in the lifestyle and managing them is key.

So what must be considered when devising a diet in order to provide the body with the appropriate energy and foundations for optimum training gains?

The most basic way of looking at energy is in terms of calories, or more accurately Kilocalories (kcals). Labelled on food packaging at the top of the table named nutrition information, they are expressed in relation to serving size as well as per 100g. The typical non-training male is said to require 2500 kcals per day and the typical female, 2000 kcals. This provides a basic approach to calorie counting but requires further clarification.

The body derives energy from three main sources known as macronutrients. These are proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Each macronutrient per gram provides not only differing amounts of Kilocalories but also carries out different functions within the body, which is why considering the ratios of each are important for health and recovery. Proteins and carbohydrates are the least kilocalorie dense macronutrients, roughly supplying 4 kcals/g each. Fat however is the most kilocalorie dense, supplying 9kcals/g. This helps to explain why many diets have a low fat focus.

However, some fats are essential to the human body and cannot be assimilated or made by the body. These are known as essential fatty acids and will be detailed further on. Equally important is carbohydrate which is the easiest fuel for the body to use and indeed the only fuel that our brains can use. Carbohydrate is known as glucose (in the blood) and glycogen (when stored in the liver and muscle cells). In order to utilize the latent energy in food, it must be first converted into these forms of carbohydrate. This is why fats and proteins are harder to use as they must first be converted through metabolic processes.

The preferred ratios of each macronutrient for a general athlete would be seen as around 24% protein, 33% fats and 43% carbohydrate. By simply counting calories it can be seen that significant dietary compromises might be made. Furthermore, the kcal intake of 2500 kcals per day is a gross simplification. By accounting for lifestyle factors and weight of the individual the equations within the appendix which can be found at the end of this document can be made more accurate for determining an individual’s energy requirements. To ensure the correct ratios, the simplest way is to multiply the percentages provided above by their Kilocalorie requirement. Assuming 2500kcals are required for maintenance, a further 300-500 kcals would be required to allow recovery and adaptation to training. These figures are based on a normal 180lb male. So taking the lower end of 2800kcals the following equations would apply:

Protein: 2800 x 0.24 = 672kcals/ day from protein or dividing it by 4 we are able to derive the grams required: 672/4 = 168 g of protein per day.

Carbohydrates: 2800 x 0.42 = 1176kcals/ day from carbohydrate or again divide it by 4 to establish the grams needed: 294g per day.

Fats: 2800 x 0.33 = 924kcals/ day needed from fat or divide it by 9 to determine grams/ day: 924/9 = 103 g per day.


It is best to divide these amounts over several meals and snacks every 2-4 hours, to ensure full assimilation of the nutrients and to avoid overloading the digestive system. Furthermore frequent feeding will provide a constant stream of energy and building blocks for body repair and function throughout the day, ensuring an anabolic state (meaning a state of growth/ building). Furthermore, eating consistently also stops the hormone insulin spiking, keeping the level steady throughout the day. This is important as it will reduce fat storage and the potential of developing such diseases as diabetes or heart problems.