Dr. Grove - How does "fueling" the body increase performance effectiveness?
There are two systems to consider when we talk fuel: the body and the brain. Both require energy to operate properly, and of course, we get this energy through our food and nutrition. Aside from considering nutrition for providing the building blocks of the body, food provides the necessary components to create the fuel for action of both systems.
The fuel for the body and the brain comes from fat (animal sources and oils), protein (meat, eggs, dairy, beans, etc), and carbohydrates (sugars from breads, fruit, and candy). Without fuel, neither can operate. Inadequate fuel causes a crisis in tissues and performance is significantly impacted. Thankfully, our body can shift between fuel sources and even to the extent of consuming its own tissues such as fat (often good) and muscle (usually bad) when needed. The brain is not so flexible, and this is where fueling becomes so important for the athlete.
Matt Fitzgerald wrote a wonderful summary of this situation in his book “Brain Training for Runners”, where he reviews the research and literature exploring the phenomenon of “bonking” or “hitting the wall” where an athlete can’t perform experiencing failure of efficient movement, decision making, and may even lead to the need medical attention. What is clear from the science is that the body rarely becomes the limiting factor in performance but instead is nearly exclusively the failure of fueling in the brain.
So, fueling is very important for performance, but the aspect we focus on increasingly is fuel for the brain and nervous system.
Basic nutrition should be the first concern of an athlete. Balancing the intake of fats, proteins, carbohydrates as well as fiber, and other nutrient is mandatory for good health and performance. Remember that an athlete is under special stresses that demand an increase of nutrition. These stresses require increased calories as well as materials needed for optimal recovery and repair of tissues.
As for fueling for activities, an athlete needs to be aware of their increased needs. Specifically, as we consider the needs of the nervous system and the brain, this means increased need for carbohydrates as well. The problem that the brain has is that it is slow to refuel. So, in higher stress demands, such as competition, the brain can experience a fuel crisis. The way to avoid this is to make sure that fuel is present before the beginning of demand (preloading), then that there is carbohydrate available during the event and used as the energy demands dictate.
A very simple activity based plan looks like this:
Water of >70-90oz depending on amount of activity
Breakfast: Eggs, toast, bacon, fruit, juice
Snack: 5-15g protein, 20-40g carbohydrates (>complex)
Lunch: Chef salad with bowl of fruit
15min - 5-15g protein, 20-40g carbohydrates (>complex)
During workout/competition every 15-20min depending on intensity:
5-15g protein, 20-40g carbohydrates (>complex)
Dinner: 2 Chicken breasts, broccoli, sweet potato
Just like a Formula One race car depends on the right fuel to propel it to the highest speeds, our bodies require the right fuel to propel them to the best performance. Do yourself a favor and create a fueling plan with your workouts and competitions in mind, with the principle of the "right fuel at the right time" in mind.
Another youth concussion case came in our office this week: a player with a headache, looking more than a little “drunk” standing the reception area. After a collision on the field, the athlete was identified as having possible issues but was allowed to go back into play where he got hit again, and then hit a third time. A pediatrician finally diagnosed the concussion and he and his parents received the standard sheet of paper that outlines the “Return-to-Play Guidelines”. The parents of the athlete are desperate for answers. Their response: “There has got to be something we can do!” In the meantime, the athlete is depressed and frustrated, and the coach is at the mercy of a diagnosis without a plan of action and recovery for the athlete.
The fact remains that the way we deal with concussion in America is asinine. The process is passive and symptom-based, with no way to allow for a systematic, graduated protocol for a healthy recovery. It continues to be a dangerous head-in-the-sand approach that is leaving us with at-risk kids to the tune of billions of dollars a year as only <50% of concussions are correctly diagnosed .
There are seven steps given to return-to-play guidelines and each is based on increasing physical and cognitive demands based only on an absence of symptoms, particularly focused on headache, and a nebulous “return to baseline” determination. With the agreement of the “physical team” and “academic team” the player can then return to play. However, there are huge problems with this process!
Strike one: Baseless Baselines
When most medical professionals evaluate an athlete for concussion, they have no baseline study to compare against the athlete’s current condition. For those who have actually done a baseline analysis, almost all of the processes, including IMPACT and King-Devick, usually have their analyses conducted when the athlete is in an environment completely dissimilar to the environment he or she is in at the time of the potential concussion. It should be obvious that the variable of the testing environment is a major factor, yet this is generally ignored.
A baseline is only a baseline when all factors are taken into account and the student-athlete’s performance can be quantified as consistent with their “normal” performance within a similar environment. There is a popular approach where a baseline is determined immediately after a potential concussion. A baseline taken after the fact is only a comparison to “normal” statistics and says nothing about the student himself or herself. A quality baseline is one that measures the student’s true abilities and can result in identifying performances, deficits, and risk factors prior to injury. Instead, with the current processes, no one knows when the student returns to normal, including the medical professional conducting the analysis, and especially the athlete who needs the best care for protection and healing.
Score: Real Holistic Baselines
There are four qualities/factors of baselines MUST be taken into account for an athletic individual;
Beaumont, L., Theoret, H., Mongeon, D., Messier, J., Leclerc, S., Tremblay, S., Ellemberg, D., & Lassonde, M. (2009). Brain function decline in healthy retired athletes who sustained their last sports concussion in early adulthood. Brain, a Journal of Neurology, Vol. 132, pp. 695-708.