Thursday, 27 January 2011

The Diet of an Elite Level 100m Runner - Part 5

Part 5 – Special Circumstances and Further Experimentation

In this, the final part of my blog series, I will look at what I have called “Special Circumstances”, but which, in reality, refers to competition nutrition. Nutrition around the competition period has to:

a)     Improve performance
b)    Improve recovery
c)     Keep weight as low as possible.

Lets start with the day before the race. From the moment I wake up on this day, until immediately after my last race, I will be following a low residue diet. This diet is designed to reduce the amount of food left in the bowel, and can reduce bodyweight by up to 1.5kgs, a not unsubstantial amount which may make all the difference in a race that can be decided by thousandths. From a food point of view, this means eating quickly digested foods, i.e. white bread, skimmed milk, white rice. It is very low fibre (so not much fruit or veg), and, as fat tends to slow digestive transit, is also low fat. My main protein sources during this phase tend to be low-fat milk and yoghurt, protein shakes, egg whites, and chicken. I generally go slightly higher protein on this day to improve my hormonal profile.

In addition to the low residue food aspect, I also tend to run slightly dehydrated, again to reduce weight as much as possible. I will usually drink pretty normally until about 4 hours pre-race, where I will start to cut down a bit. I monitor my urine colour until I am at about the correct level of hydration, and then just drink for maintenance from there.

In the hour pre-race, I tend to consume high levels of caffeine to stimulate me, and some carbohydrate gels and drinks to ensure that I have optimal levels of carbohydrate in my body for performance.

Post-race, to improve recovery, I immediately have a carb-protein drink, followed by a main meal as soon as possible. Again, this usually contains high levels of protein and carbohydrate, and as much fruit and vegetables as possible to get as many minerals as I can into my body. At this point I usually go higher on my immune supplements, and so will dose slightly higher for probiotics, vitamin C and glutamine. This will continue into the next day, as will the slightly elevated protein intake for recovery purposes.

In terms of further experimentation, I am very interested in looking more into specific amino acids, particularly ones that my boost GH naturally. I am also interested in performance enhancing herbs. Hopefully I will find out some interesting stuff with these, and I will endeavour to keep you posted if I do.

I hope you have enjoyed my 5-part series on my diet, if you have any questions please leave a comment and I will try to answer them as quickly as possible.

The Diet of an Elite Level 100m Runner - Part 4

Part 4  - Putting it all together, & Lifestyle factors

In the last three parts, I explored and explained my diet and supplement choice. Now I will put all of this together, and show you what my general supplement programme looks like. I will also discuss some lifestyle factors that are important to health and performance.

As I discussed in part one, diet has to provide the basis of any good programme, as it is impossible to reach top performance levels without being in really good health. Therefore, my diet is set up to ensure I have adequate fuel to train with, and take on sufficient healthful nutrients to be in good health. Also, please remember that this diet is an example if what I would have during a training stage where I would be looking to cut fat as well as train hard, so some macronutrient value may seem a bit low.

1)    Breakfast

50g Porridge oats with organic skimmed milk, omega seed mix, handful of mixed nuts, and 50g of berries, followed by 2-3-egg omelette (1 whole egg, the rest egg whites). Supplements – multivitamin, vitamin C, vitamin B, vitamin E, glucosamine and chrondritin, probiotic, omega-3, green tea extract.

Here, the porridge provides energy for my morning training session. The nuts and berries provide healthy fats and various vitamins and minerals, and the eggs provide some protein. I also use breakfast as the time to take the majority of my vitamins and minerals for the day.

2)    Pre-training

Exceed with 2 scoops of tyrosine, 1 scoop of ALCAR. Caffeine for hard sessions.

The BCAA from Exceed provides me with some fuel for the training session, with the tyrosine and caffeine providing some stimulation.

3)    Post-training

Protein shake, comprised of: 40g whey protein, 2 scoops Creatine, 2 scoops Leucine, 1 scoop glutamine, 2 scoops OKG, 1 scoop greens powder 30g dextrose.

This is just a standard protein-carb mix shake to enhance recovery from session one.

4)    Lunch

200g fish (Tuna 1xper week, Salmon 3xper week, mackerel 3xper week), whole-wheat pitta, unlimited salad. Supplements – Digestimax

I eat fish for my lunch everyday, as it is a good source of protein and healthy fats. The pitta gives me some low-GI carbohydrates to refuel from the morning session, and also provide some fuel for the afternoon session. The salad provides plenty of nutrients, and Digestimax enhances digestion.

5)    Pre-training

Exceed with tyrosine and ALCAR

6)    Post-session 2

Post-workout shake of 40g whey / casein protein mix

Slower release blend of protein to ensure recovery.

7)    Snack

Piece of fruit and low fat yoghurt

8)    Dinner

200g chicken or 150g beef, 100g sweet potato or 40g brown rice, unlimited steamed vegetables. Supplements – omega-3 and Digestimax

Dinner is similar to lunch, with a protein source, car source, and plenty of veg!
9)    Pre – Bed

40g casein protein, 1 scoop glutamine, 2 scoop Leucine, 2 scoop OKG, 1 scoop greens powder, and 4 x ZMA tablets, multivitamin and vitamin C.

In addition to this diet, various lifestyle factors are important too. For example, there is no point having the best diet in the world if you only sleep for 4 hours a night. Sleep is incredibly important, as it is when the majority of recovery occurs, and hence a lot of anabolic processes too. It is also important to lower your exposure to harmful contaminants, such as cigarette smoke, heavy traffic, certain preservatives and additives.

This has just meant to provide a very brief, un-detailed look at my diet. If you want more information on nutrition, then the following books are the ones that I recommend:

1)    Optimum Sports Nutrition by Michael Colgan
2)    All New Sports Nutrition Guide by Michael Colgan
3)    The Optimum Nutrition Bible by Patrick Holford
4)    Power Eating by Susan Kleiner
5)    Advanced Sports Nutrition by Dan Benardot
6)    Amino Acids And Proteins For The Athlete by Mauro Di Pasquale

The Michael Colgan and Patrick Holford books in particular were real eye openers. If you are an elite athlete, and you are not thinking of nutrition in the way that these guys are, then you are not thinking about it enough!

Sunday, 23 January 2011

The Diet of an Elite Level 100m Runner - Part 3

Part 3 – Sports Specific Supplements

In this section, I will be mostly looking at supplements that I take because I take part in sport, as opposed to supplements that I take for general health. The main goals for my supplement protocol are to:

  • Reduce exercise-induced immunosuppression – You can’t reach your full potential if you are ill
  • Improve recovery from one session to another – This allows you to get better quality training sessions
  • Provide a fuel and stimulation for a training session – This improves session quality
  • Provide a good hormonal environment for recovery and/or muscle growth.

The most obvious supplement that I use here is some form of protein shake.  This is because it provides a convenient, low-fat and low-carbohydrate way of getting sufficient protein on a day-to-day basis. When I am going for very high protein numbers (e.g. 3g/kg bodyweight), I can have up to 4 shakes per day on top of meals. I like to vary the type of protein shake I have, from standard whey protein post-training, to a whey-casein mix mid-afternoon, to a casein only shake pre-bed. This is take advantage of the different absorption rates of each protein shake, with different situations requiring a different absorption rate.

On top of this I use Creatine. Creatine is required by the muscle to replenish ATP, and so it is advantageous to have high levels of Creatine within a muscle cell for this purpose. I generally take 5g per day, although in intense training periods I go slightly higher, maybe 7.5g per day. I don’t usually pay much attention to the recommended loading phase, and usually go for three weeks on, and one week off. I have never suffered from water retention or cramps that other users often report with Creatine, which might mean that I am lucky, or take a lesser dose than they did. I generally add Creatine to my post workout protein shake.

Also in my post workout shake, I add L-Glutamine, which is an amino acid shown to enhance immune function, and maintain lean body mass on a calorie-restricted diet. I generally add L-Leucine too, which is a branch chain amino acid (BCAA). There has been quite a bit of literature on BCAAs and Leucine, and their effects on exercise. On a calorie-restricted diet, BCAAs have been found to maintain lean body mass whilst increasing fat loss. In another study I came across, the addition of Leucine to a post workout protein shake resulted in a greater level of protein synthesis than with just the protein shake alone. Due to this evidence, I tend to add Leucine to all of my protein shakes. I also use L-Ornitine alpha-ketaglutarate (OKG). OKG is thought to help maintain muscle protein synthesis, and may also provide the body with a more anabolic environment within which to work.

Pre-training, I take a supplement called Exceed, which is manufactured by It contains L-Glutamine, BCAAs, citrulline malate, and beta alanine. Citrulline malate and beta alanine are substances that may increase workload capacity, and improve performance in repeated bout exercise. That’s why it is ideal for me to take before training, as it allows me to work harder in each training session. I also add Tyrosine to this pre-training mix. Tyrosine is an amino acid that might improve workout intensity, as it is a mild stimulant. Before sessions where I want to perform very well, or before competitions, I will also take some caffeine. I usually aim for somewhere between 240 and 320mgs of caffeine, which works out at between 2 and 3 mgs of caffeine per kilogram of body weight. Caffeine is a stronger stimulant than tyrosine, which is why I use it for important sessions. However, I try not to use it too much as it can lead to central nervous and adrenal fatigue, which is less than ideal.

On top of this, I also take both ZMA and Green Tea Extract in tablet form. ZMA is supposed to enhance sleep quality and increase anabolic conditions, and so I take this about 30 minutes before I go to bed. I use green tea extract to increase my metabolism, hopefully allowing me to loose some excess fat.

I have also recently started to use various “greens” powders. These are useful as they contain many important nutrients, and reduce some of the acidity of a high protein intake. I tend to add these to my protein shakes, as they don’t taste that great one their own!

In the next part of the blog, I will look at how I put all of these rules together to form my own diet and supplement protocol.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Diet of an Elite Level 100m Runner - Part Two

Part 2 – General Supplements

I use the term “general supplements” to apply to non-sports specific supplements, that I use to add specific vitamins and minerals to my diet. The general consensus among nutritionists seems to be that it is very hard for most people to get adequate intakes of some vitamins and minerals from their diets. If it is hard for a normal person, it will be even harder for a sports person, who places their body under greater levels of stress and wear and tear than your average person. Two books on this subject that really opened my eyes to the supplementation needed were “The Optimum Nutrition Bible” by Patrick Holford, and “The New Sports Nutrition Guide” by Michael Colgan.

To start with, I take a multivitamin twice each day, to ensure that I cover most of my bases. I also supplement this with 500mg of vitamin C in both the morning and evening. Vitamin C is useful as it can improve immune function, and also acts as an antioxidant. I used to take a higher dose, but after reading some research papers last summer, which found that continued high levels of Vitamin C supplementation (i.e. over 2000mg) might decrease mitochondrial changes to exercise. I also take 400iU of vitamin E, which again is an antioxidant, and acts as a cell membrane stabiliser. Some vitamin E studies have found no positive effect in athletes, whereas some have found that vitamin E can prevent DNA damage caused by oxidative stress, and improve glucose and insulin sensitivity. Overall, I couldn’t find a study that pointed to a negative effect of vitamin E supplementation, and so I decided to supplement. I also supplement with a B vitamin complex, which help immune function and energy production. From time to time, particularly in the winter, I also supplement with vitamin D. Quite a few studies are coming out regarding this vitamin and athletic performance, with a pretty consistent finding that low vitamin D levels affect type II muscle fibre contraction. I get my vitamin D levels tested regularly, and if they are low I go on a supplementation cycle.

So, that the vitamins covered, next up are the minerals. I take both Glucosamine and Chrondritin for bone/joint health. In 2007 I was diagnosed with some disc issues in my back, and I am aware that training puts quite a bit of load through my knees, so I began looking at joint health supplements. I came across quite a few studies on these minerals, which were mostly positive. One looked at US Navy SEALs with knee and back pain, and found that glucosamine / chrondritin supplementation alleviated the symptoms. Another study found that glucosamine supplementation alleviated spinal disc degeneration. Added to my bone/joint health stack is MSM, which I add to my protein shakes twice per day.

I also take a combined calcium and magnesium supplement. Both of these minerals play an important role in muscle fibre contraction. I looked at some studies regarding supplementation, and some found positive results, others found no change with supplementation. One study found that 8mg/kg/day of magnesium caused significantly greater gains in strength than a placebo, which made me take interest. From time to time my medical team also put me on a course of magnesium during times of hard training, and recommend that I have a higher intake than normal of calcium to protect my shins (which quite often get sore – calcium has been found to sometimes reduce this soreness).

I have also recently started to supplement with 100g of CoQ10 per day. CoQ10 is an involved in energy production within the cell. Various studies have found positive effects from CoQ10 supplementation, including an increased time to exhaustion, improved fatigue resistance in multiple bout exercise, and an increased performance in maximal exercise. Therefore, I considered CoQ10 to have enough evidence to be an effective training aid, and so I added it into my programme.

Another new supplement in my regime is Phosphatidyl Serine. I added this in as it is alleged to blunt cortisol. One of the nutritionists I spoke to recommended adding this to a post-training shake in order to keep the anabolic window open a bit longer. I also tend to carry fat around my mid-section, which is a sign of high cortisol according to Charles Polliquin, which further added to my interest in giving this a go. Finally, Patrick Holford believes that it is useful for stress reduction; I generally find I am quite prone to getting stressed, which, again, further added to my interest. I tend to cycle my PS supplementation, as I am not sure that long-term cortisol reduction is positive. I tend to use it most during really hard phases of training, and then back off when training levels drop a bit.

I also supplement with Omega-3, at quite a high dose. The benefits of omega-3 supplementation are well written about everywhere, but in a nutshell they may (or may not) improve insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, improve blood fatty acid profile, improve immune function, and reduce inflammation. The whole range of health benefits was enough to convince me to supplement with them.

I also use two types of gut health products. One is a probiotic, which I take with breakfast; the other is Digestimax from, which contains digestive enzymes. I believe that there is no point in eating good quality food if you are not digesting it properly, hence why I supplement with these products. It has also been shown that probiotics can improve immune function, which is an added bonus.

I used to add more antioxidant supplements to my regime, until I came across quite a wide body of research they states that excess antioxidants can blunt the training effect, as they mop up the free-radicals that the body requires to adapt. Due to this, I now keep all my vitamins to either first thing in the morning, or last thing at night, as far away from training as possible. I have also lowered my dosage of most vitamins.

So that’s a guide to my general supplements complete – next up will be my sports specific supplements. 

Monday, 17 January 2011

The Diet of an Elite Level 100m Runner

One of the first questions people ask me when they find out I am a professional athlete is “So, do you follow a special diet”. Whenever I hear this question, I let out a big sigh in my head, because I know that I am going to have to spend the next ten minutes explaining my diet to them. Which isn’t necessarily a problem, I enjoy talking about nutrition, and it just gets repetitive. Athletes in general are always looking at ways to increase their individual performance, particularly in the run up to London, and so interest in sports nutrition has increased dramatically. So I thought it might be a good idea to show what I do. Remember, what works for me, might not work for everyone else.

I start off by setting some basic guidelines for myself. These are:

1)    Diet is the most important. Before even considering supplements, my diet has to contain the correct amounts and ratios of macronutrients for me. It also has to contain other health giving foods.
2)    Once diet is correctly in place, I have to think about what I term “general supplements”. These are supplements such as vitamin tablets, which are necessary for complete health.
3)    Once I know that I am getting all the health benefits from my diet, I can then look at adding sports specific supplements to improve my performance.

So, lets start by talking about diet. For me and my goals, I have to make sure that I keep my body fat levels low, whilst maintaining or increasing muscle mass. At the start of my winter training, I am probably around about 12% body fat. My first goal is to get this down to around 7.5% by Christmas. The next step after that is to maintain this level of body fat throughout the competition season. To achieve this, I usually go for a low-carbohydrate diet approach, probably around about 3.5g of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight, so for me that is around 300g per day. I get this mostly in the form of low-GI carbohydrates, except directly after training. The low GI carbs that I base most of my diet around are porridge oats, fruits, wholemeal pitta bread, and sweet potato. Low-GI carbohydrates are useful as they disrupt blood sugar levels less than high sugar forms of carbohydrate.

I also try to include as many “healthy” foods in my diet as possible. This is to increase my exposure to phytochemicals, which are naturally occurring substances on foods that are good for health. This means eating a large variety of fruit and vegetables. I either eat these raw, or steamed, in order to preserve the natural substances. It is also important to eat a large amount of vegetables as these are mostly alkaline, and help offset the acidic effect of proteins.

Protein also plays a large part in my diet. It is important for growth and repair, as well as hormonal reasons. I try to get my protein in the form of low-fat produce, which I mostly eggs, chicken, fish, lean cuts of beef, and various protein powders. I try to eat at least one serving of fish every day, due to the health benefits of fish oils. I get quite a lot of my daily fat intake from these fish oils, along with various nuts that I snack on throughout the day.

I have recently switched to buying organic milk, as opposed to normal milk. I did this in an effort to reduce the levels of synthetic hormones and antibiotics that I was taking in from my diet. Where cost allows, I make an effort to buy other organic products, especially when it comes to meats and eggs.

The composition of my meals is as follows: 1 x protein source (this is around 30g of pure protein, i.e. 200g chicken or 150g beef), 1 x carb source (this is somewhere between 30g and 60g of carbs, e.g. 40g porridge, 100g sweet potato) plus “free foods” (vegetables, low-calorie fruits, etc.). I also have three snacks per day, which might be something simple like a protein shake, or a bit more substantial like fruit and a yoghurt.

If you are looking for further information on this subject, Patrick Holford's book “The Optimum Nutrition Bible” is very good, and has been a big influence on how I set up my diet. If you have any questions, please post them in the reply section and I will try to answer them all.

Part 2 of this blog will look at the general supplements that I take. Part 3 will look at the sport specific supplements, and Part 4 will put everything together, and I will show you my diet plan. Part 5 will look at special circumstances, such as race day nutrition, and areas where I want to experiment with my diet further.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Warm Weather Training

Yesterday I arrived in Stellenbosch, South Africa, for a 3 week period of warm weather training. I have been looking forward to this for ages - my coach will finally let me a) Start running quick, and b) have more recovery!

Interesting flight over, where I somehow got upgraded to Premium Economy. It was really nice, a lot more comfortable than normal economy. I even managed a good 5 hours sleep, and watched 3 good films.

Warm weather training is useful as it allows you to focus completely on training, without any distractions, such as washing up, cooking, seeing friends, household chores, etc. Its also really motivating, as it puts you in a high-performance environment with plenty of other like minded athletes. You can also get good quality rest, as again there are no distractions.

So, my plans for the next 3 weeks are to train hard, get some good quality physio, get some good quality rest, and have a really good quality diet, and hopefully that will stand me in good stead for the indoor season!