sports symposium

Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend a one day symposium on one of my favourite subjects: Sport and Exercise Nutrition. I find the subject fascinating but unfortunately my under grad and post grad study did not include much on sports nutrition, so I have done a lot of my own reading in this area, and when I saw this advertised, I jumped at the chance at being able to attend.


It was a great day with some fantastic people speaking on a range of subjects from Caffeine to Carbohydrate to Iron to Weight Management. We even had Sarah Walker (BMX Silver Medalist) and the NZ Army Dietitian speak as well as two very experienced and knowledgeable dietitians from Australia.

I will attempt to summarise some of the most interesting points for you here.


Introduction to Nutrition for Exercise Performance 

Dr Helen O’ Connor 

Helen is a firm believer that we need carbohydrates in our diets to be able to perform maximally in sport. She highlighted some key studies that showed this by comparing high fat to high carbohydrate (CHO) diets. These tended to show that after 7 weeks on one diet or the other:

  • that the high CHO diet subjects performed better than the high fat diet subjects
  • the high fat diet subjects were better fat burners
  • when the high fat group switched to following a high CHO diet they increased their performance but still not to the same extent as those who had been following the high CHO diet for the 7 weeks


There may be some benefits from the ‘Train Low, Compete High’ approach. This hypothesis suggests that if you do some of your training in a low CHO state, then you learn to become an efficient fat burner. Come competition you reintroduce CHO and theoretically you are able to perform better as you are used to training in a CHO depleted state. There are some easy ways to try this:

  • train after an over night fast
  • train twice a day and limit consumption of CHO post your first workout
  • follow a low CHO diet

However there are some risks associated with training like this including, increased injury, illness, being unable to complete intense sessions and over training symptoms. Dr O’ Connor also warned against using this approach in certain population groups and it needs to be monitored closely.

For high intensity and high skill training, CHO is probably very important to include in the diet.

Systematic reviews showed that CHO consumption during intense, long exercise sessions can lead to improved performance.


Finding your Carbohydrate Sweet Spot for Endurance Athletes 

Dr Gregory Cox 

Hydration can be really tricky to get right in endurance events. There is a need to be careful of over hydration, which can lead to hyponatraemia and can be fatal. A good way to check for this is to weigh yourself pre and post event. If you weigh more or the same post event as you did pre event, you have probably over hydrated. You would expect some weight loss due to fat and CHO oxidation plus sweat loss.

A handy slide showing whether CHO is needed during your event or not, based on how long the event is.

CHO needs

In long events, where CHO requirements are likely to be high it is also important to provide CHO in different forms; not just glucose, for example, as there is only so much glucose the body can utilise at any one time.

When making a Nutrition Plan for endurance events, you have to consider the following things:

  • When can the athlete access fluid/ CHO

  • When is it easiest for the athlete to consume fluid/ CHO

  • slower vs. faster athletes (slower athletes have more opportunity to consume CHO/fluid)

  • environmental differences (humidity, temperature)

  • balance between solid and  liquid CHO sources

  • savoury vs sweet options to avoid taste fatigue

  • must be simple to execute on race day

Muscling in on Muscles: The latest on how dietary protein can support muscle gain with strength training 

Dr Cameron Mitchell 

All you muscle heads listen up!!! There is something called the ‘muscle full’ effect which means that ingesting around 20g protein (depends on your overall weight slightly) post resistance training will max out muscle synthesis, and having any more protein than this will just be oxidised for fuel.

Protein only rarely needs to be supplemented. If you were to analyse your diet for protein intake, most people who eat a ‘western diet’ would find that they more than meet their needs as outlined below.

General population requirements = 0.8g protein/kg

Strength athletes requirements = 1.3-1.8g protein/kg

And another revelation for you all if you have heard of the anabolic window?


(Flex Comics)

There is something called the ‘new anabolic window’ where science would suggest that you don’t necessarily need to consume protein immediately after your resistance training workout. In fact, the new anabolic window extends out to 24 hours and even to 48 hours post workout, meaning that there is no need to spend your money on expensive protein powders and bars, as you will still experience gains if you wait to consume your protein with your next scheduled meal. Plus we already eat plenty of protein from whole foods anyway…

The trained person probably would benefit from consuming ~20g protein closer to their resistance workout. However, there is no good evidence suggesting the need to consume protein during a workout.

Some evidence to suggest having 0.6g slow release protein/kg before going to bed after a resistance training session to aid muscle recovery whilst sleeping (the time the body naturally tries to regenerate, repair and reset as much as possible.)

Caffeine and sport: robbing Peter to pay Paul? 

Dr Ajmol Ali


Did you know that the World Anti Doping Agency banned the use of caffeine in sports from 1984-2004??! Imagine having to give up your daily cup of coffee in order to compete? No thanks!

Consider, are you a light, moderate or heavy user of caffeine? The answer will determine whether you are likely to benefit from caffeine to enhance your sports performance.

Several studies have shown that taking caffeine pre or during an event all increase performance including skill based performance. However if you are already a heavy user of caffeine you may need to decrease your consumption in order to maximise the ergogenic effects of the caffeine. Even if you are only a moderate user you may benefit from decreasing your use a little prior to race day, but it is definitely individual, and such needs to be tested for efficacy during training.

Caffeine peaks at around 2 hours post consumption, meaning that for sprint events it’s best consumed around 3 hours prior and for endurance events, it’s best to have one hour prior.

The Female Athlete Triad

During the day there was also a lot of discussion around the Female Athlete Triad.

Follow this link if you want to learn more about this condition that affects many of our recreational and professional female athletes. There are also some great videos included on body image from the International Olympic Committee which are well worth a look.

‘Satisfying your hunger for Gold requires satisfying your body’s need for fuel.’

If you want to know more, or get your own personalised plan, use the contact form on the ‘Contact Me’ page.


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