It has been said that the average person doesn’t need supplements if they have 3 well balanced meals a day. Whilst this may be a debate for the ‘average’ person , it is extremely doubtful that the rational can be applied to the majority of club or ambitious runners and triathletes.

Where does it fall down? Firstly anyone who competes in running and triathlons has already ceased to be ‘average’. There are only around 100,000 registered runners, which in terms of a population of over 45 Million is not average.

Then there is the question of 3 well-balanced meals. For the majority of people ‘lunch’ has become something of a lottery with pies or sandwiches high on the ‘suspect’ list as a well-balanced meal.

Even if you are one of the few who gets 3 meals do they follow the ‘average South African diet’ which is typically around 40-45% Carbohydrate, 20-30% fat, and 20-30% protein. If it is it is probably too low in carbohydrate to replace the energy you used in endurance training.  The recommendation would be to aim for between 60-70% carbohydrate 15-20% protein and 15-20% fat.

One of the problems with trying to achieve this balance is that most carbohydrates, particularly the unrefined ones, are high in fibre. There is a limit to just how much you can each before feeling full. For instance lets say that with your training you require 2500 calories a day and 70% are to come from carbohydrate. That’s 1750 calories. As each gram of carbohydrate provides 4 calories, that would mean ensuring you get around 440 grams of carbohydrate. In ‘real’ terms that would mean the equivalent of 20 Bananas or 20 baked potatoes a day, and that’s before you have started to meet your needs in protein and fat. Clearly this is one area that high quality carbohydrate drinks can assist in providing an easily absorbed source of energy.

While it is generally well known that carbohydrate (such as fruit, cereal, vegetables, and sugars) are the foods we need to replace our fast energy, most people have forgotten the key role that protein (and fat) plays in nutrition. When we train we break down our muscles with micro tears and it is not actually the training that provides the benefit. The benefit comes from the recovery period where the muscles grow back stronger or with more fibres. This recovery can only occur if they are given both the time and the nutrients to allow the process to be completed. I like to compare it to a broken vehicle. If the radiator hose has gone on your car, you can only repair it when you have both the new hose and the time to fit it. If you have the hose, but not the time, or the time but not the hose, then the car wont be repaired. In the same way, its only when you have both the rest, (or recovery exercise) and the nutritional components that your body ‘repairs’ itself to allow you to benefit from the training. Without either the recovery is incomplete and your next training session will cause further breakdown. Continue in this fashion over a period of time and you will cease to perform even at the level you started off at, or worse you will enter a full blown over training syndrome.

The amount of protein required will vary depending on the type of exercise. The more intense or strength related the training the higher the requirements. An endurance athlete will normally fall in at about 1.2 to 1.6 grams of protein per Kg of body weight and even in the most ‘destructive’ Tour de France, the riders only require around 2.0 grams per kg.

The quality of protein also needs to be considered, as all are not equal. Whilst protein from foods have the advantage of being more filling, natural and combined with other nutrients, they tend also to be linked with some negatives such as saturated fats. By comparison, supplements can focus in on providing a foundation of a high quality protein in a drink.Eggs used to be classified as having a ‘biological value’ of 100 as a ranking of it’s protein quality. Nowadays if the same ranking was used with supplements the quality wheys and ionic wheys would rank just under 160, and without the negative fat.

The media pressure on ‘cleaning up’ our diet by reducing fat, has also worked against some endurance athletes, who have gone too far. Saturated fats need to be identified as the target for reduction as the group called the essential fats (such as flax and fish oils in Omega 3 and 6) are instrumental in a number of body functions including hormone production such as testosterone, a key to muscle repair.

From the above it will be clear that ensuring the correct balance of nutrients and the composition of a diet is not that complicated, but is not something that should be left to chance. For the training athlete maintaining the right proportions and quality of diet, particularly when also having to juggle the time-requirements, rigors and stresses of a normal work and family life, can be quite challenging.  A visit to a registered nutritionist will quickly identify what portion of your daily requirements you are achieving through your daily food intake. Likewise it will identify those nutrients that you are not managing to fulfill and this is where the use of quality sports supplementation can cover the deficit.

One of the immediate roles for supplementation will be the use of carbohydrate exercise and recovery drinks to ensure adequate fluid, and energy replacement during and immediately after exercise. Trying to achieve this with the same efficiency using solid food is virtually impossible, due apart from anything else, to digestion time.

Similarly, the use of a quality meal replacement drink (a combination of quality protein, carbohydrates, and normally augmented with specific amino acids, minerals and vitamins) can assist with overcoming the problem of inadequate lunches. They can also provide a good ‘rebuilding’ foundation for the port workout meal in the evening.

Hopefully your overall conclusion from the above is that there is a need to ensure you are getting the correct nutrition if you want to maximize the benefits of your training. The combination of your diet and the judicial use of sports supplements can satisfy these needs.

Matching the basic nutritional requirements should be the first and basic objective, and it will cover a number of aspects

Only once this has been achieved should you consider the other benefits that can be achieved from sports supplementation. However these benefits should not be overlooked.

Nutritional supplements can boost the immune system and act as prophylactic.- e.g. use of Glutamine, Zinc, Vitamin C¨      Nutrition can assist in injury treatment. – e.g. Joint protection with Chondroitin and Glucosomine ¨     Nutritional supplements can boost performance  – e.g. Creatine, ZMA (zinc magnesium asparate)

The question should not be whether you need to use sports supplements, but rather are you using them correctly to maximize your investment in training?

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