Carbohydrate periodisation for improved performance

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Periodisation of carbohydrate intake in endurance sports – a possibility to efficiently enhance performance and to burn fat.

Several pieces of a puzzle contribute to your running performance as a whole. When you first start running, progress will come quickly. However, one day you will reach a point when it becomes difficult to set new and efficient stimuli. This does not only apply to competitive sports people. Everybody starts working on particular pieces of the puzzle in order to imporve general performance. Nutrition is one of them. In this contribution, sports and nutrition scientist Dr. sc. Nat. Joëlle Flück explains the influence of carbohydrate periodisation in endurance sports on performance and fat reduction.

Carbohydrates are necessary for maximum performance capacity

In endurance sports especially, competition weight is an evergreen. However, weight loss during competition season, in most cases, is not reasonable. The loss of performance due to lack in energy is too big. Another evergreen is the question of what the ideal nutrition looks like. The selection of different forms of nutrition such as, for example, the «ketogene», «low carb» or «paleo» diets is almost too exhaustive, which makes it difficult to keep the overview and to choose a suitable and sensible way for yourself. There is scientific evidence for the necessity of carbohydrates for maximal capacity under intense or maximal pressure or stress. Thus, a low carb diet during intense competition phases is probably not sensible.

Combining low carb and high carb diet

Sports scientists have engaged extensively with the topic of nutrition for optimal increase in performance. They have, amongst others, looked at the effects of a low-carb-high-fat diet on performance. A lot of studies have shown that, in the short term, this form of nutrition can increase fat burning. However, in the long run, it has shown to be rather unfavourable in terms of performing at the maximum of your capacity and to improve generally. Nevertheless, these exact short-term effects can be used in training in order to maximise endurance performance even more effectively. Scientists came up with the idea of combining the low carb and the high carb diet, using the advantages of both and to apply them the best possible way. This is how the concept of carbohydrate perodisation was introduced.

Results of studies on carbohydrate periodisation

Marquet et al. (2016) conducted a study with two groups of triathletes. One group ate according to the common guidelines for sports nutrition : enough carbohydrates before intense sessions/competitions, in order to improve maximum performance, and enough carbohydrates after interval sessions to support recovery processes. The other group ate according to the principle of carbohydrate periodisation : normal supply of carbohydrates before interval training, followed by a low-carb phase before bed time. The morning after, the second group conducted a low intensity session on empty stomach, while the first group only trained after a breakfast rich in carbohydrates. After having repeated the different patterns over three weeks the group testing the carbohydrate periodisation showed greater improvement in both a cycling test (+12% longer) and a 10km run (3% faster). Furthermore, the fat mass of this group was reduced by 0.8kg. The other group, however, showed no significant increase in performance after three weeks and both body weight and body composition remained unchanged.

Conclusion

This study shows that it is possible to improve performance as well as body composition through optimal combination of alternating phases of low and high supply of carbohydrates. Accurate planning of training, nutrition and recovery, as well as time of implementation, are crucial. It is also recommended not to repeat such low-carb phases too many times a week, as they also drain on body resources. Further, susceptibility of infections or risks of overtraining and overloading increase. Therefore, it would be sensible to talk to a specialist and to professionally tailor individual nutrition to training and competition plans, in order to eventually achieve optimal increase in performance capacity and fat reduction.

 

Joëlle FlückThis is a contribution by sports and nutrition scientist Dr. sc. nat. Joëlle Flück. She works in the sports medicine in Nottwil, where she coaches athletes of all levels, including high performance athletes. At the same time, she individually conducts studies in the area of sports nutrition and she is the vice president of the Swiss Sports Nutrition Society. Being a former middle distance runner, she has won inumerous medals at Swiss championships. Today, she runs longer distances.

Starting the day with power – the runner’s breakfast

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In our series #RUNNINGFOOD we give you practical tips for runners’ meals; we’d like to start with a few breakfast inputs. Proteins, carbohydrates and good fatty acids: a good breakfast includes all three main nutrients. Depending on the goal, point of time and taste, you can choose your favourite version. 

Two categories, two priorities

Breakfast is the most important meal oft the day. Thus, you should not skip it. It has even been shown in studies that people who skip breakfast eat more during the day than people who had had scrambled eggs for breakfast. Breakfast haters could for example prepare a shake instead.

High-protein breakfast

A high-protein start of the day keeps you full in the long run and covers a good share of the daily protein requirements. Those versions are appropriate on rest days or after a run. Combine them with whole grain bread or cooked potatoes.

Breakfast shake

Ingredients:

150 g lowfat quark

100 ml milk/ soy milk/ natural joghurt

1 banana

100 g fresh or frozen berries, ex. raspberries, blueberries, strawberries

1 teaspoon of cocoa

3 tablespoons of oatmeal

1 tablespoon of flaxseed

2 teaspoons of chia seeds

Optionally: agave syrup to sweeten the shake and/or 1 teaspoon of cinnamon

Preparation:

Put the chia seeds and flaxseed into a glass, add triple the amount hot water, let it rest for 10min. Then, put all ingredients into a mixer, mix – done!

 

Mediterranean scrambled eggs

Ingredients:

2 eggs

a little bit of milk

½ onion

½ zucchini

50 g feta cheese

a handful of fresh herbs, like rosemary, chives, thyme, oregano, basil

sea salt, pepper

a bit of butter

Preparation:

Whisk the eggs with some of the milk. Chop up the onion and the zucchini. Heat up some butter in a pan. Brown the onion and the zucchini and then pour the egg/milk blend over it. Add the feta cheese. Season with the herbs, salt and pepper. Let it thicken at a low temperature. Turn over with a spatula and let it brown a little on both sides. Serve with a bit of whole grain bread, if required.

 

Breakfast quark base mixture

(can be prepared for several portions and then stored in the fridge)

Ingredients:

500 g lowfat quark

500 g natural joghurt, 1.5%

200 g grainy cream cheese

½ TL teaspoon of fresh vanilla powder

agave syrup to sweeten, if required

Preparation:

Blend all ingredients, sweeten if required and store in a bowl or jar in the fridge.

For a delicious breakfast, jazz up this blend with fresh fruit and grains/seeds, ex.

* flexseed

* pumpkin seeds

* hempseed

* buckwheat

* chia seeds

* almonds

* oatmeal

Carbo breakfast

Before a competition or an exhausting day: With carbohydrates you can start the day fully loaded. Before a competition or an intense training session, you should reduce the proteins or skip them completely, as they can cause an upset stomach. Porridge or bread with butter and honey are ideal in those cases. Either is a good choice, everyone has to decide for themselves which one they prefer. In all other cases, however, a combination out of carbohydrates and proteins is recommended, as it keeps you full longer. Furthermore, proteins provide you with an important dosis of amino acids needed for recovery and muscle building.

Porridge

Ingredients for 1 portion:

200 ml milk (or half milk/ half water)

ca. 50 g oatmeal

one pinch of salt

1 piece of fruit

Optionally: cinnamon, honey

Preparation:

Pour the milk into a pot, add the oatmeal, make it cook. Add a pinch of salt. Let it simmer for a little while, jazz it up with a piece of fruit of your choice, and a little cinnemon or honey, if required.

 

Spelt semolina with glazed apples and natural joghurt

Ingredients for 4 portions:

500 ml Spelt drink or milk

125 g Spelt/whole grain semolina or wholemeal spelt flour

2 tablespoons of cocoa

30-50 g agave syrup

2 pinches of vanille powder

2 apples chopped up in thin slices

2 tablespoons of raisins

2 tablespoons of chipped almonds

2 tablespoons of honey

Optionally: 2 tablespoons of cinnamon

500 g joghurt or soy joghurt (unsweetened)

Preparation:

Make the spelt drink boil in a pot. Add the semolina and the cocoa, stir with a whisk. Add the vanilla powder and sweeten with the agave syrup, if required.

Heat up some water in a pan. Sauté the apple slices in the pan for a little while. As soon as the water has evaporated a bit, add the raisins, almonds and honey and brown the mixture. Put it on top of the prepared semolina, add the natural joghurt to finish off with.

 

Whole grain bread with grainy cream cheese

Ingredients:

2 slices of whole grain bread (spelt or rye)

200 g grainy cream cheese

6 basil leaves

fresh chives

2 tomatoes

4 slices of cucumber

salt and pepper

Preparation:

Spice up the grainy cream cheese with salt, pepper and finely chopped herbs. Spread it on the bread, add cucumber and tomato on top.

This blog entry was written by Ingalena Schömburg-Heuck, running.COACH Gold prescription coach, sports scientist and German champion (2010) in half marathon.