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Greg Whyte OBE

Physical Activity Expert

Nutrition

Welcome to The Whyte Answer, a chance for you to hear from Professor Greg Whyte, a lead expert in the field of physical activity, here you have the chance to ask Greg any question you may have on the topic, no matter how simple or complex the matter, there is something for you here.


How Over 35’s Should Use Sports Nutrition

In this blog Professor Greg Whyte introduces the science of ageing and how targeted exercise and nutrition is required to reduce the rate of age-related decline in performance. By adopting a ‘healthy lifestyle’ we have the ability to slow the rate of aging (and potentially reverse aging for those that have lived a less than healthy lifestyle!).

Aging is not solely a matter of chronology, it is also intimately associated with biology. As we age our bodies change in response to a host of stimuli (or lack thereof!) leading to a reduction in peak performance. The rate of decline in performance (and health) is, in part, in our own hands and closely linked to changes in behaviour.

In general, a large number physiological changes occur as a result of aging including: a reduction in cardiac output (important for, amongst other things, aerobic capacity); decreased elasticity of lung structures; reduced muscle mass, strength, flexibility and mobility; glucose intolerance; and insulin insensitivity (diabetes in common in the elderly), to name but a few! Combined, these age-related changes lead to a reduction in physical performance that we commonly see starting from a peak in our mid-30’s.

Several biological ‘theories of aging’ have been proposed which can be summarized into 2 categories. Firstly, the accumulation of damage to informational molecules, and secondly, the regulation of specific genes. In other words, the repair of our cells cannot keep pace with the rate of damage throughout life leading to aging, and/or the role of specific genes is to switch-off or reduce the replication of cells leading to aging.

But, all is not lost! In addition to our genes, our environment (i.e. diet, physical activity etc.) plays a central role in the rate of aging. By adopting a ‘healthy lifestyle’ we have the ability to slow the rate of aging (and potentially reverse aging for those that have lived a less than healthy lifestyle!).

Exercise and diet have a key role to play in aging.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that the rate of the age-related decline in physical performance can be slowed significantly with targeted exercise. For example, strength and power training becomes increasingly important to combat the age-related reduction in muscle mass and strength.

Targeted nutrition is required to support the changing demands of aging (i.e. quality, quantity and timing of protein ingestion plays a central role in muscle mass and strength for older athletes).

As we age it is important that we pay greater attention to our exercise and diet to ensure we optimize our performance. Commonly, master’s athletes adopt the same practices as those of young athletes, to their detriment. The consumption of excessive sugars and inadequate protein combined with a focus on age-inappropriate training programmes are common mistakes made by master’s athletes.

In this series of blogs, along with the team at Elivar, I will be addressing some of the key nutrition areas that should be adapted for the older athlete to ensure optimum performance and health.


TWA – How the Over 35’s should use Complex Carbohydrates

In this article two-time Olympian and Professor of Sports Science Greg Whyte explains why we should avoid excessive consumption of simple sugars, adapt a periodisation approach to our nutrition and focus on complex carbohydrates for improved performance and long term health benefits.

Sugar has recently become Public Enemy No.1. Whilst this could be seen as a media obsession to pin falling public health on a single source, there is some truth in the potentially harmful effects of excessive sugar consumption.

The deleterious effects of excessive sugar consumption impact on both health, including links to obesity and metabolic syndrome (increasing the risk of Type 2 diabetes & heart disease), and performance. In particular, excessive consumption of sugar (particularly simple sugars) can have a profoundly negative impact on health and performance as athletes age.

Sugar is the generic name for sweet-tasting, soluble carbohydrates, many of which are used in food. There are various types of sugar derived from different sources. Simple sugars are called monosaccharides and include glucose, fructose, and galactose.

Combining these simple sugars results in disaccharides (2 simple sugars i.e. sucrose which is granulated sugar; maltose from malted grain; and lactose from milk). Longer chains of sugars are called oligosaccharides or polysaccharides (also known as ‘Complex Carbohydrates’).

The longer the chain of simple sugars the longer they take to break down. Of note, sugars provide no nutrition with the exception of energy (why they are often called ‘empty calories’).

Whilst there is a growing trend for ‘Fat Adaptation’ in endurance and ultra-endurance sport care is warranted in adopting a low/no carbohydrate diet during heavy, intensive training and competition. Sugars are not essential in our diet however, high intensity exercise (above the anaerobic threshold) relies heavily on carbohydrates for energy production.

Accordingly, an athletes diet should reflect the demands of the upcoming training session/event to ensure optimal performance. Periodising your diet, in a similar fashion to periodised training, will provide the appropriate fuel for the task at hand. This approach is even more important for the older athlete, particularly in terms of sugar.

Biological and physiological changes as we age can lead to glucose intolerance; and insulin insensitivity. Furthermore, Type 2 diabetes is common in later life. Accordingly, the type, timing and volume of carbohydrate ingestion is important for the older athlete to avoid a range of common problems with excessive simple sugar consumption including: gastro-intestinal discomfort (i.e. bloating, nausea, diarrhea); poorly regulated blood glucose levels; and weight gain. Importantly, excessive simple sugar consumption can be deleterious to health as well as performance.

Ensuring optimal energy availability is crucial for the older athlete however; the focus should be on complex (slower release) carbohydrates rather than simple (rapid release) sugars.

Periodising nutrition to ensure adequate complex carbohydrate ingestion at meal times combined with targeted sports nutrition providing high quantities of complex carbohydrates, will help optimize training and competition performance whilst better protecting health.

Take Home Messages:

  1. Avoid excessive consumption of simple sugars
  2. Periodised Nutrition can significantly improve health and performance in older athletes
  3. Complex carbohydrates rather than simple sugars should be the aim for the older athlete.


TWA – How Over 35’s should fuel Pre-Training

A balanced diet is the best way to ensure your body has the right fuel in the tank for your next training session. However we all live in the real world and sometimes it’s just not possible to eat properly before training. In this blog physical activity expert and world-renowned sports scientist, Professor Greg Whyte describes how we should fuel pre-training.

Ideally, we should eat real food prior to training however, sometimes this is not possible to achieve in our busy lives. There simply isn’t enough time between finishing work or family commitments and beginning training. Short of time, the temptation is to reach for the biscuit barrel or vending machine as a solution, or simply avoid fuelling up, and both of these options can lead to sub-optimal training performance.

In addition to energy, low levels of fluid intake throughout the day, combined with prolonged exposure to hot or air conditioned environments, can lead to sub-optimal hydration states that can negatively impact performance.

Adopting a targeted approach to pre-training energy and fluid intake should focus on delivering the right energy for the training session ahead, as well as delivering a personalised approach, particularly for the older athlete.

This approach has been termed ‘Periodising Nutrition’ and, much like periodised training, targets the specific needs of the athlete to optimise performance.

Given the altered tolerance to simple sugars in older athletes (learn more), pre-training nutrition should focus on complex carbohydrates. Optimising energy and hydration levels prior to training is of paramount importance, particularly for older athletes short on time and opportunity to train. Adopting a targeted approach to pre-training energy and fluid intake should focus on delivering the right energy for the training session ahead, as well as delivering a personalised approach, particularly for the older athlete.

The focus on complex, slower releasing, carbohydrates will support energy availability throughout training and avoid a pre-training spike in insulin associated with high glycaemic index (rapidly absorbed) sugars which has been associated with a fall in energy availability (and, with prolonged exposure, an exacerbation in insulin resistance). Furthermore, the addition of protein will improve satiety (reducing the drive to snack) and act as an early intervention in the recovery process.

Consuming your targeted nutrition in the form of fluid can also aid in optimising hydration status. Using cooled, flavoured fluid has the added bonus of improving palatability and helping with the consumption of fluids to aid hydration.

Whilst it is difficult to measure hydration, a simple ‘wee test’ can provide valuable feedback on hydration status. Your urine should be straw (light yellow) coloured and of normal volume. If urine output is low and dark in colour, it generally means you need to increase fluid intake.

Take Home Messages:

  1. Nutrition and hydration should be an integral part of any training plan.
  2. Periodised Nutrition can significantly improve performance in older athletes.
  3. Complex carbohydrates rather than simple sugars should be the aim for the older athlete.
  4. Pre-training fluid based nutrition can help with hydration as well as energy status.
  5. Planning pre-training nutrition and fluid intake is central to optimising training performance


Outdoor Fitness – London Marathon Fluid Tips

Fluids can be the make or break of marathon performance but it is not just about what you do on the day. Developing your optimal hydration strategy, what to drink and when to drink, starts in training and finishes with perfect execution on race day. Here are some tips for training and race day that will help you develop your perfect hydration strategy:

In Training

Train the gut: We now know that in order to optimise fluid uptake the gut needs to adapt to increased fluid availability during exercise; in other words, we can train the gut to improve fluid uptake. To that end, make sure your long training runs include fluids; not taking on fluid during training does not make you tough, it simply reduces your adaptation. This approach will also help you develop the optimal timing of fluid intake on race day.

Experiment:

In training you need to identify two key factors: (1) what drink composition works for you; and (2) what drinking strategy works for you. During your long runs experiment with different compositions and strategies to ensure you have the perfect approach for the day. Importantly, do not experiment on race day.

On Race Day

Don’t glug on the start line: For the London Marathon you will arrive at the start much earlier than you normally would for a race. Because of the early arrival the temptation is to continually drink which leads to the ever present endless line of runners at mile one stopping for a wee. Remember, you can not hyper-hydrate (i.e. increase the fluid content of your body), your target is to be euhydrated (normally hydrated).

Early, little and often: Don’t wait until you are thirsty to take on fluid. The best approach is to head off dehydration early so start taking on fluids early in the race. But, you don’t want to drink too much as it will simply sit in your gut and cause GI distress. Accordingly, you only need to take on a little fluid on each occasion. Because you are only taking on small amounts you should aim to hydrate often. Remember, you should have practiced and honed your strategy in training.


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