Comprised of over 200 competing nations, for a huge proportion of athletes and spectators the Olympics is the foremost sports competition. The physical capabilities of these athletes is part genetic lottery and part cumulative training hours. Even as an amateur I have found myself waking or going to bed at silly o’clock in order to fit training around my work schedule. The practice and skill-honing hours required to succeed is something the most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps, is all too familiar with and why he is the perfect choice for Under Armour’s ‘Rule Yourself’ advert. Adam Peake, executive vice president of marketing at Under Armour, explains “The concept of the ‘Rule Yourself’ campaign is simple — you are the sum of all of your training. It’s the only way to get better, and it’s the common thread that unites each of our all-star athletes around the globe…we also want to give [customers] that extra inspiration to improve every day, to keep building their inner army, and to stay focused on success even when the going gets tough.” The end credit “It is what you do in the dark…that puts you in the light” is poignant to those of us training to goals when we struggle out of bed or just aren’t having a good training day.
This campaign comes a year after both Nike and Sport England launched women target campaigns. For the former, the #BetterForIt campaign, is its biggest-ever women’s push aimed to encourage women to challenge themselves and expand beyond their comfort zone. For the latter, its much lauded campaign dubbed “This Girl Can,” showed women of all shapes, sizes, and abilities participating in sport to get fit. The need to channel mental strength, not physical, is at the core of all three of these campaigns.
In her book, ‘Dangerous When Wet’, marathon swimming icon Shelley Taylor-Smith attributes her heroic feats to her superior mental resilience. Taylor-Smith’s story has inspired me to not only train hard (as I always do) in each session but to my best, there is a difference. Taylor-Smith’s drive was inspired by the desire to be the best, woman or man, and also by her own knocks and that of others. Resilience is not a case of bouncing back to where you were before facing adversity but becoming stronger because of it and is a skill that can be well honed both in sport and in the workplace. As an engineer, advocate for women at work and mother in Abu Dhabi, Leila Hoteit’s TED Talk describes how setbacks and hindrances have only powered her to higher places as a mother and career woman.
Long hours of training are only well spent if attention is paid to pre and post fuel. In the past I have focused on the former but recently I have been concentrating on the latter. The key elements to fuelling recovering are:
- refuelling the muscle and liver glycogen (carbohydrate) stores
- replacing the fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat
- manufacturing new muscle protein, red blood cells and other cellular components as part of the repair and adaptation process
- allowing the immune system to handle the damage and challenges caused by the exercise bout
As well as this nutritional focus, my mind has been preoccupied with my forever meagre finances. That is why I was so pleased to stumble across a vegetarian kedgeree recipe in ‘Leith’s Vegetarian Bible’ which is composed of kitchen cupboard staples. For copyright reasons I cannot share the recipe from the book but here is very similar one from Waitrose.
Here is why (ingredient by ingredient) this recipe is great post-training food:
Brown rice: immediately after exercise, athletes are encouraged to consume a carbohydrate rich snack or meal that provides 1-1.2 g of carbohydrate per kg body weight within the first hour of finishing, as this is when rates of glycogen synthesis are greatest. This is especially important if the time between prolonged training sessions is less than 8 hrs, a common circumstance for serious amateur athletes who train multiple times a day. The immune system is suppressed during and after intensive training which may place athletes at risk of succumbing to an infectious illness. Illness at its minimal effect leads to reduce training or race performance but at its worst means missing both entirely. Vitamins C, E, glutamine, zinc and most recently probiotics have all been touted as immune boosters but this has yet to be widely proven. However, carbohydrates have been shown to reduce the stress hormone response to exercise, thus minimising its effect on the immune system.
Lentils, cashew nuts, sour cream, egg: prolonged and high-intensity exercise causes substantial breakdown of muscle protein. During recovery there is a reduction in catabolic (breakdown) processes and a gradual increase in anabolic (building) processes, which continues for at least 24 hours after exercise. Recent research shows that early intake after exercise (within the first hour) of essential amino acids from good quality protein foods promotes protein rebuilding. Research continues to debate what the optimal protein type is (e.g. casein Vs whey), timing and amount of protein needed to maximise the desired adaptation from the training stimulus, but most agree that both resistance and endurance athletes benefit from consuming 15-25g of high quality protein in the first hour after exercise. Adding a source of carbohydrate to this post exercise snack will further enhance the training adaptation by reducing the degree of muscle protein breakdown.
Peas: these can help you meet your iron needs. Inadequate intake of iron decreases oxygen delivery making you feel tired.
Mushrooms: choline, found in this vegetable, is an important nutrient that helps with sleep and muscle movement. Choline also assists in maintaining the structure of cellular membranes, aids in the transmission of nerve impulses, supports proper fat absorption and reduces chronic inflammation.
Watching the Brownlee brothers competing at London 2012 whilst receiving hospital treatment was a major influence in me taking up triathlon. Four years later, I have now qualified for the European Triathlon Union’s Age Group Championship 2017 in Kitzbuhl. As the campaigns from Under Armour, Nike and Sport England suggest, observers do not see all the toil behind success, not all of it is glory, in fact, much of it is gory. I hope the feats and dedication of the Rio 2016 athletes inspire you to persevere in striving for your personal, athletic and professional goals.