Nutrition & Athletics – what the IAAF says…

The International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) is an international governing body to which a country’s track and field (including race walking, marathoning and road racing) national governing body belongs. The IAAF convened an international consensus conference for nutrition for athletes April, 2007 at its headquarters in Monaco. Expert scientific researchers from around the world convened to combine knowledge which resulted in an up-to-date, easy to read booklet for athletes and coaches. This is the best of the best giving advice on nutrition for the best of the best. From that publication, I will share some findings, advice and other tidbits. I know that I will be referencing this book often when your questions on nutrition and hydration come in.

There are some formulas that I will share from the booklet. The techie reader will love them, but if that’s not you – ignore them and get the main points from that topic.
Energy balance, body mass & body composition

Tidbit: Body weight is not a good indicator of energy balance. Monitoring skinfold body fat (done by trained professional) can be useful. During off-season or low training times you must reduce energy intake.

Protein is a key nutrient building block for tissue rebuilding as well as for hormones and enzymes. Only during heavy training (remember this is heavy training for Olympic level athletes) might some endurance and resistance-trained (weight lifters) athletes may need slightly more than the 0.8 g/kg of body weight – to 1.2-1.7 g/kg. But, here’s the rub. Western diets already contain far more than that! Unless you are on a very restricted diet (i.e. vegetarian, fad diet) you simple do not need added protein. There is no controlled scientific study that shows additional protein does anything to enhance muscle mass or strength!

Managing the timing of protein intake is something that may help. Some studies have found that eating a small amount of protein combined with carbohydrates after workouts may enhance protein synthesis. This does not mean additional protein, protein shakes, protein powders, amino acid supplements, etc. It means that you can space out some of the protein and carbohydrates you currently have in your diet and place it after workouts.

Carbohydrates are the energy source of choice for athletes. Decreasing carbohydrates often leads to weight gains. Carbohydrates are the first energy source your body uses. If your carb stores are low, your performance will suffer. You may not be able to complete specified workouts at specified intensities. You will feel run down. Your mental functions will be impaired since your brain also runs off carbs. If your event requires concentration, decision making or other mental intensity your performance will suffer.

In a 24-hour period during low or moderate intensity training days you should get 5-7 g/kg of body weight. During moderate to heavy endurance training or fueling up for an endurance event 7-10 g/kg is recommended. By the way, this is far more than the previously advised 3-4 g/kg for sedentary people and 4-5 g/kg for athletes. During immediate recovery you should take in .75-1.0 g/kg of body weight during the first half hour post-workout. Another 1.0 g/kg each hour should be ingested for the 4 hours post-workout. These are not in addition to the 24-hour recommendations. This is just saying that you have to time your intake and apportion that 24-hour allotment skewing energy intake just after working out. The optimal ratio for this carbohydrate-protein post-workout nutritional intake is 4:1. That is, four parts carbohydrates to one part protein.

It is now recommended that daily amounts of carbohydrates be expressed in g/kg body weight and not as a percentage of total energy intake as has been traditionally done. The reason for the change is that 50% of a low energy intake (low calorie diet) yields less carbohydrates than 50% of a higher energy intake. Therefore, the low calorie person gets less carbohydrates than necessary.

Here is a sample formula:
1 kg = 2.2 pounds; 170 pounds = 77.3 kg
Post- workout Carbohydrate Calculation: .75 g x 77.3 kg = 58 g OR; 1 g x 77.3 kg = 77.3 g
Daily Carbohydrate Calculation (moderate intensity training): 7 g x 77.3 kg = 541.1 g
Daily Protein Calculation: 1.2 g x 77.3 kg = 92.3 g
4:1 ratio Post-workout Calculation: 58 g carbs : 14.5 g protein OR; 77.3 g carbs : 19.3 g protein

Of course if you aren’t used to reading labels the first question that comes to mind is what the heck does 58-77 grams of carbohydrates look like? One typical grocery store granola bar (Quaker, Kellogg’s) has 17-18 g of carbohydrates and 2-3 g of protein. 30 g carbohydrate is provided by each of these: 1 large banana or, 400-500 ml (13-16 ounces) of sports drink or, 250 ml (8 ounces) defizzed soft drink.

Using energy bars, Gu or energy drinks (chocolate milk remains a perfect post-workout drink) are all fine. Remember to include those calories in your diet! Otherwise, you are only adding more calories to your diet and the result will be gained weight!

One key issue not addressed in the topic of carbohydrates in various sports drinks and energy bars is types of carbohydrates. Makers of these products point to various combinations and ratios of maltodextrin, fructose, galactose or “natural” sugars as being the key to performance improvement. The problem is that the only data appears to be research the vendors (or their sponsored entities) have conducted. Often, their research is without controls and sometimes not even with humans. As I have mentioned often here, I am skeptical of any research or assertion in which that entity has a vested interest in the outcome. So, until I get some good independent information on this, I’ll withhold comment. The current advice is to make every attempt to get your calories from your daily food intake because all the other minerals, vitamins and nutrients we require are contained in them.

I’ll continue the next section on what the IAAF Consensus Conference has to say on supplements and other dietary and hydration needs.


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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2 Responses to Nutrition & Athletics – what the IAAF says…

  1. Pingback: Nutrition for Recovery « The Running World According to Dean

  2. Rob N. says:

    I’ve been tracking my diet over the past couple of weeks. I eat pretty much the same stuff, so I believe my data are pretty representative.

    On average I eat about 1.5 g/kg of protein (that’s with no supplementation and a low meat diet) and 5.5 g/kg of carbs. This is well below the amount you note is recommended for heavy training. And I thought I was eating a lot of carbs! And to be honest, I’m not sure how much I can eat!

    Given my training, do you think I’m o.k.? Do you think nudging my carb intake up will positively impact performance?

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