Caffeine and athletic performance

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Having a cup of coffee first thing in the morning or to push through the mid-afternoon slump is a pretty standard thing for most people. Caffeine is a stimulant. It will give you a bit of buzz.

It makes sense that using caffeine to supercharge athletic performance.

What is Caffeine
Caffeine is a naturally occurring stimulant found in leaves, nuts and seeds of numerous plants. Its widespread social acceptance means that many athletes consume caffeine regularly over the day in varying amounts from coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks and, increasingly, from pre-workout supplements or caffeinated sports products.

Caffeine-containing beverages typically contain between 30-120mg of caffeine but this varies widely between products and brands.

Caffeine is becoming increasingly popular in sport to help improve performance and various caffeinated supplements and sports products are now being marketed to and consumed exclusively by athletes.

Caffeine and performance
The main performance benefits of caffeine appear to come from its influence on the central nervous system and resulting reduced perception of effort (exercise feels easier) and/or reduced perception of fatigue. 

Some other ways that caffeine can help improve mental and physical performance are as follows:

  • Caffeine can increase the body’s ability to burn fat via lipolysis, or the breakdown of stored fatty acids within the fat cells;
  • Caffeine has been shown to increase thermogenesis, or heat production, which helps you burn more calories;
  • Caffeine can raise endorphins, which increase feelings of happiness, giving you the exercise “buzz” that people often experience after working out;
  • Caffeine may also spare glycogen stores (carbohydrate stored within the muscles), primarily due to increased fat burning. This can enhance endurance performance.

Endurace exercise
Most of exercise/caffeine research is based on endurance training and performance. Historically, the most often cited benefit to consuming caffeine before a race or training activity was that it would increase the oxidation of fat, thus sparing muscle glycogen for when you really needed it, such as the final sprint to the finish line.

Maybe the caffeine simply makes exercise more tolerable, makes muscles work harder and better, and allows those exercising to do so harder, and for longer. Caffeine generally will give you a bit of a buzz. When taken prior to a workout, this “buzz” equates to an increased endorphin response to exercise.

So, if endorphins are high, exercise is more tolerable, even enjoyable.

The bottom line is that caffeine seems to boost athletic performance in endurance events, maybe through enhancing energy partitioning or an increase exercise induced endorphin response, make the activity more enjoyable.

Strength exercise
The effects of caffeine in sport aren’t limited to improving endurance. Research also indicates the benefits of caffeine in strength performance.

Whilst the results of studies are varied, they generally suggest that supplementation may help trained strength and power athletes.

This meta analysis, comparing 27 studies found that caffeine may improve leg muscle power by up to 7%, but had little effect on smaller muscle groups

Caffeine may also improve muscular endurance, including the amount of repetitions performed at a certain weight.

To summarise, most research indicates that caffeine may provide the most benefits for power-based activities that use large muscle groups, repetitions or circuits.

How to use caffeine for performance
Although early research was conducted using high doses of caffeine (6+ mg caffeine / kg body weight), more recent research indicates that lower doses can provide similar performance benefits with less negative side effects.

Individual responses to caffeine vary but typically doses in the range 1-3 mg caffeine per kg body weight are sufficient to improve performance (e.g. 70-210mg for a 70kg athlete).

Some experimenting may need to be done to determine the most beneficial timing protocol, which may include taking caffeine:

  • Pre-competition or exercise;
  • During competition or exercise;
  • A combination of both.

Potential side effects
High levels of caffeine intake can cause declines in performance through:

  • Increased heart rate;
  • Impaired fine motor control;
  • Anxiety and over-arousal;
  • Sleep disturbances;
  • Gastrointestinal upset.

Like any other supplement, it is important to trial smaller doses first in training activities prior to race day to assess individual tolerance and responses.

In Summary
The incorporation of caffeine into an athlete’s nutrition plan should be considered on an individual basis.

Caffeine is one of the most effective exercise performance supplements available. It is also very cheap and relatively safe to use.

Many studies have shown that caffeine can benefit endurance performance, high-intensity exercise and power sports.

The recommended dose varies by body weight, but is typically about 200–400 mg, taken 30–60 minutes before a workout.

How to get more fat in your diet

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Most foods that we eat today have some amount of fat content. 

Fat is an amazing flavour enhancer. It makes everything taste better.

Many people are starting to accept that fat is not all bad and have started to make the shift into lower carbohydrate diets. The thing is, when you lower your carbohydrate intake, you will need to increase one of the other macro-nutrients, protein or fat.

From a nutritional perspective, humans have evolved eating mostly protein and fats. In fact, it was the shift into eating more fatty tissue and organ meats that made cognitive revolution occur. This is also known as the development of the human brain.

More recent times have led to the vilification of dietary fats, however it’s not all bad. Additional to providing flavour, dietary fat from whole food sources provides the necessary intake of valuable fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E & K.

More and more research is proving that the real enemy is excessive carbohydrate and processed “food” consumption, combined with an overstressed, sedentary lifestyle, that is causing the explosions in obesity and chronic “diseases of lifestyle” that are so common in present day populations.

Here is a bunch of ways to get more fat into your diet:

Use whole, full-fat ingredients
It’s time to remove all of the low-fat or lite food products from the pantry and refrigerator.

Look for full-fat dairy products. Milk (if tolerant), butter, cream, yoghurt and cheeses. Add in avocados and some pastured eggs. Try to add natural fats rather than avoid them entirely.

Fatty cuts of meat can be more flavourful, and are often cheaper than leaner cuts. Wild salmon and sardines contain high amounts of important omega-3 fats and make valuable additions to the dinner plate.

Cook with fats
Cook your vegetables, meats, fish and eggs in natural fats like butter, ghee or coconut oil.

Use a variety of natural fats for flavour
Different fats can provide different flavours to your food. This will create variety to your meals without too much complication.

Try experimenting with these fats and oils:

  • Butter and ghee;
  • Lard, tallow, duck fat, or any other animal fat;
  • Coconut oil;
  • Olive oil;
  • Macadamia nut oil;
  • Avocado oil.

Top your dishes with butter or oils
A drizzle of oil. A dollop of sour cream. Melt some butter. You can top off almost any dish with some health promoting fats.

Garnish with high fat foods
Avocado. Cheese. Olives. Nuts and seeds. All of these high fat foods are packed with nutrients and important fat-soluble vitamins, so add these to your meals when available.

Eat more cheese
Cheese is a simple addition to any meal. It can even work as an appetizer. It goes with just about anything and can be eaten at anytime of the day. Packed with both protein and fat it makes a perfect addition to any meal or gathering.

If you are sensitive to dairy products, you may be able to tolerate hard cheeses such as Parmesan, Cheddar and Gouda as they have generally low amounts of lactose that most people will be able to manage small to moderate amounts.

Cheese is often served as dessert in my house.

Blend fats into your coffee or tea
Adding coconut or MCT oil to your morning coffee or tea is quick and easy. Full-fat cream works just as well and will give you that milky flavour with very little lactose content.

The combination of caffeine and MCT’s will provide you with some mental clarity, make you feel more alert and focused, as well as reduce the typical caffeine crash.

It will prime the body to shift from glucose to fat as a fuel source which will also keep your appetite suppressed for longer.

Why you should be eating Eggs

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Eggs are a versatile and highly nutritious food, though their precise nutritional content can vary greatly depending on how the chickens that produced them lived and what they  were fed. For example, chickens that have been able to feed on open pastures often have higher levels of important Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D.

Once considered a nutritional no-no due to dietary cholesterol, eggs have now been exonerated and have found their way to superfood status.

Why it’s a superfood?

  • A complete protein source;
  • High in vitamin B12, riboflavin, choline, phosphorus and selenium;
  • Good source of vitamin B6, folate, pantothenic acid and iron;
  • Good source of Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA (in pastured eggs);
  • One only a few foods that naturally contain vitamin D.

Healthy evidence
This review article published in 2009 discussed the health benefits of choline, a compound that was only added to the list of recommended nutrients in 1998. The authors noted that eggs are one of the best sources of choline, which is vital in numerous metabolic functions.

For example, choline may help prevent atherosclerosis, neurological disorders and liver disease.

It has also been shown to help reduce the effects of short-term alcohol misuse, also known as a hangover. Choline is so important for alcohol metabolism that it can even protect fetuses against maternal alcohol ingestion (not that you should be consuming alcohol whilst pregnant).

Composition of an Egg
The composition of an egg is usually defined in two parts. The egg white and the yolk. The white is approximately 87% and 13% protein, and contains both vitamins and minerals.

The yolk is approximately 50% water, 33% fat and 17% protein. Similar to the egg white, it also contains both vitamins and minerals.

The nutrients available in an egg are distributed fairly evenly between the egg white and the yolk. This distribution of nutrients is a common characteristic of whole, natural foods and it is one of the main reasons why you should consume the entire egg.

How to choose your eggs
As stated above, the nutrient quality of an egg will depend largely on what living conditions and food available to the chickens that produced the eggs.

Just like all other animals, chickens that are able to express normal behavioural patterns, both socially and physically and are able to eat an optimal diet natural to the species will produce a higher quality egg.

Pastured eggs
Chickens roam freely outdoors, usually alongside cattle or llamas for protection and paddock sustainability. Constant access to sunlight, grass, seeds and bugs, which in turn leads to an excellent nutrient profile. The Gold Standard.

Free range eggs
Are produced by chickens that “may” be permitted outdoors, and have reasonable access to sunlight, grass and bugs resulting in a good nutrient profile.

The term “free range” may be used differently depending on the country and independent laws. In Australia, this means 10,000 hens per hectare in outdoor grazing areas where suitable.

Cage free eggs
Chickens that live indoors in large areas with some sun exposure and are often grain fed. However, the high stocking densities greatly restricts the chickens ability to move freely and conduct normal behavioural patterns, resulting in a lower nutrient profile.

Cage eggs
Chickens live en mass in what is known as battery cages with little to zero room to move about and conduct normal behavioural patterns causing massive amounts of stress. Nil outdoor access and commonly fed a grain based diet, resulting in the poorest nutrient profile.

The bottom line
Eggs are a nutrient dense, highly bio-available whole food. They’re relatively cheap, easy to prepare and can be combined with almost any other food.

Eat them often. Several studies have shown that eating three eggs per day is perfectly healthy. Is there an upper limit? There is no evidence to suggest that eating more is harmful to your health. It just hasn’t been studied enough.

In general, eggs are one of the healthiest and most nutritious foods you can eat. They are one of nature’s most complete foods.

The benefits of sled training

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Do you want to get leaner, build some muscle and improve overall physical conditioning? Try adding some sled training to your workouts.

Sled training is a highly effective and fun (sometimes) training modality that can be used in a variety of ways to improve general conditioning and non-specific athletic performance.

Here are some of the benefits of sled training.

Improved GPP
General Physical Preparedness (GPP), is the non-specific ability to be physically fit. Can you lift weight off the ground, push it overhead or carry it for distance? All of these things are GPP.

Improved body composition
Sled training is hard work. It’s also an awesome tool to build lean muscle mass and increase fat loss. There are many variations that can boost your metabolic rate and increase muscle mass. As you will be using you entire body as a machine, it can develop muscular density and hypertrophy, whilst also increasing fat loss.

Develops functional strength and acceleration
Sled training uses just about every muscle in the body whilst conducting real world movement patterns. It has to work as a complete machine in order to generate the force required to move the sled the required distances, developing overall strength and conditioning in the process.

Acceleration is a critical element in almost any sport, athletes are always working on developing their acceleration. Sled training can be programmed as a form of sprint conditioning, by forcing the body to move with speed against a controlled resistance, thus improving overall speed and power.

It’s simple, but hard work
Sled workouts are easy to program. Just load the weight and push, pull or drag. It will be hard work. It will elevate your heart rate to near max, it will leave you gasping for air and fatigue your entire body. It will make you better overall and generally harder to kill. Hard work pays off.

A lot of gyms are starting to add weighted sleds into their functional training areas, so if your gym has one, try giving it a shot for a few weeks. If your gym doesn’t have a sled or functional training area, then you should consider changing gyms.

The addition of sled training alone will make the move worth it.

What is GPP?

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Work capacity refers to the general ability of the body as a machine to produce work of varied intensity and duration using the appropriate energy systems of the body.

Everybody can benefit from an increased work capacity. Improved work capacity will allow you to perform better at higher intensities, whilst quickly recovering between workouts (or rounds). Basically, it will allow to perform better, for longer and more frequently.

Closely related to work capacity is General Physical Preparedness (GPP). GPP can be best described as a series of conditioning exercises designed to enhance the your general, non-specific work capacity.

GPP training develops a solid, well-rounded fitness base. It will enhance the athlete’s physical qualities that would otherwise be most likely underdeveloped through sports specific training alone.

When to conduct GPP training
As described earlier, GPP will enhance your general, non-specific work capacity. There are certain training periods where GPP can be extremely beneficial to an athlete. Here is a short, but not exhaustive list:

  • Pre-season training;
  • Post-injury;
  • Warm-up and recovery workouts.

Even if you don’t consider yourself an athlete, you can still benefit from GPP training throughout the year. Many people tend to take an extended break over the holiday season and entering the gym in the new year can sometimes be a daunting task. This would be the perfect time to add some GPP training to quickly condition the body for the training year ahead.

At a minimum, it will give you some variety to the standard bench press, squat and deadlift based workouts.

Some of the benefits of GPP training include:

  • Anaerobic endurance;
  • Aerobic endurance;
  • Strength;
  • Flexibility;
  • Coordination;
  • Mental toughness;
  • Overall body composition;
  • Recovery time between workouts.

Another critical benefit of GPP training that is often overlooked in any physical training program is that is can strengthen the ligaments and tendons. GPP will prepare the ligaments and tendons for the more intense training or competition that will follow.

Ligaments and tendons develop at a much slower rate than muscular strength. Many coaches often prescribe complex and explosive training techniques to athletes who are not physically prepared to execute properly.

For this reason, it is important to include some volume work, such as bodyweight GPP circuits to strengthen the ligaments and tendons.

If done correctly, GPP is nothing short of gut wrenching. It is however, highly effective. Workouts can be simple and brief, and can be performed with or without any equipment. As you begin to push through these workouts, you will develop the ability to fight through fatigue and perform at a higher level for an extended period of time.

As an athlete, whether professional or an amateur, it doesn’t matter how skilled you are. Everybody fatigues. It is at this point the body is most vulnerable. A reduction in performance or even injury can result. GPP training will develop the mental and physical capacity required to work through these periods of fatigue.

All athletes must ask themselves the following questions. Can you outwork your opponent? Will you be able to keep up during the final minutes or have the mental toughness to summon a final effort to push through to the finish line? If You have done your GPP work, you will be able to answer these questions confidently.

It is ok to lose, however losing due to poor physical conditioning is not.

Which exercises are best
Bodyweight exercises such as the burpee and jumping jacks are excellent choices, however, the variations are endless. Sleds, medicine balls and kettlebells can also make valuable additions to any GPP program.

Here are several of my favourite GPP workouts:

GPP #1

  • Burpees x 30 sec
  • Jumping Jacks x 30 sec
  • High Knee Alternating Dumbbell Press x 30 sec
  • Medicine Ball Slams x 30 sec

Repeat the circuit 5 times without rest for a total of 10 minutes work.

GPP #2

  • Sled Push x 50 m
  • Kettlebell Farmers Walk x 50 m
  • Jumping Jacks x 20

Complete as many circuits as possible in 20 minutes.

GPP #3

  • Kettlebell Swings x 20
  • Jumping Jacks x 10
  • Kettlebell Swings x 20
  • Burpees x 10
  • Kettlebell Swings x 20
  • Mountain Climbers x 10 (each leg)

Complete as many circuits as possible in 15 minutes.

GPP #4

  • Jump Rope (100 turns)
  • Burpees x 10
  • Push-ups 10
  • Air Squats x 10

Repeat circuit for 10 rounds as quickly as possible.

GPP #5

  • Burpees x 30 sec
  • Jumping Jacks x 30 sec

Repeat circuit for the time as listed below without rest. That is one round.

Beginner

  • Complete 4 x 2 minute rounds with 1 minute rest between rounds.

Intermediate

  • Complete 6 x 2 minute rounds with 1 minute rest between rounds; or
  • Complete 4 x 3 minute rounds with 1 minute rest between rounds.

Advanced

  • Complete 6 x 3 minute rounds with 1 minute rest between rounds.

Five… or seven basic human movement patterns

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Commonly, when you talk to somebody in the gym about programming or training they will always tell you how much they can bench or sometimes how often they squat.

A lot of people will tend to talk about the pushing or squatting movements. Sometimes they might say they do a few pull-ups here and there. The major focus is on the musculature that they can see. This not optimal for anybody, from the elite athlete to the occasional weekend warrior.

There are five basic human movement patterns.

You will always hear about the push, the pull, and the squat. Occasionally, you will hear about the hinge. The final basic movement is the loaded carry.

Some examples of the five basic movement patterns:

Push
Push-up, bench press, overhead press and dips.

Pull
Pull-up, cleans, rows and pull-downs.

Squat
Goblet squat, back squat, lunge and leg press.

Hinge
Deadlift and the kettlebell swing.

Loaded Carry
Farmers walk, suitcase walk, waiters walk, rack walks.

The five movement patterns in order of popularity:

  1. Push;
  2. Pull;
  3. Squat;
  4. Hinge;
  5. Loaded Carry.

Now, if you were place these movements in order of how they could impact you almost overnight, the order would look more like this:

  1. Loaded Carry;
  2. Squat;
  3. Hinge;
  4. Pull;
  5. Push.

Further to these movement patterns, you could add the following:

  1. Rotation;
  2. Counter-rotation.

This is basically creating, or eliminating force through the torso whilst the hips and/or shoulders move. It also helps the body stabilise the spine in the event of external forces being applied to the body.

Examples of these additional movements include:

Rotation
Russian twist, medicine ball rotational throw and sledgehammer swings.

Counter-rotation
Single-arm suitcase carry, single-arm swings, renegade rows and unilateral loaded deadlifts.

Programming workouts
When programming, just adding some form of loaded carry to you strength training can make huge impacts in just three or four weeks! Even if it is something simple like the farmers walk. I four weeks, you will be better. Your body will have improved posture and overall muscle density, which will transition across all of the other lifts.

A simple way to program is to choose an exercise from each of these basic movements and create a total body workout. Alternatively, you could combine two movements, such as a push / pull combination and squat / hinge combination and add the loaded carry to each workout.

Rotation and counter rotation exercises can be added to any workout for a more complete workout.

Training programs don’t need to be complex to work. Most of the time, the simple stuff works.

Tips for intermittent fasting

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People have chosen to fast intermittently for thousands of years. All historic societies have practiced fasting, either by choice or out of necessity.

Many of the benefits of fasting were known in ancient societies. Fasting periods were often called “cleanses or purifications”. The goal was always the same. To abstain from food for a prolonged period of time for health reasons. People often believed that this period of abstinence would cleanse the body or toxins and rejuvenate their bodies.

More recently however, with the advent of agriculture an industrialisation, food has become so readily available the society has basically forgotten all about fasting. Today people have a dependence on processed carbohydrates and sugars, which has contributed to the obesity and type-2 diabetes epidemics we see today.

Fasting can potentially deliver huge benefits such as, weight loss, increased energy and physical performance and even the reversal of type-2 diabetes.

Here are some tips for conducting fasts:

  • Drink water;
  • Drink black coffee and tea;
  • Keep yourself occupied;
  • Give yourself a month to assess if intermittent fasting is good for you;
  • Follow a low-carbohydrate diet in-between fasting periods. This will reduce hunger and makes fasting easier.
  • Don’t binge eat when breaking the fast. Ease back into eating with whole foods.

Remember, fasting isn’t for everybody. There is no real point in continuing an extended fast if you’re miserable. When starting out, it’s probably best to first condition your body to eating a lower carbohydrate, whole food diet. This will reduce the body’s dependence on glucose or sugars as an energy source.

Then begin to extend the duration between meals over time, before attempting a longer fasting periods.