Coaching News June
In the same way that May Week is now in June, our recent monthly newsletters are making their appearance in what could technically be described as a month late, even though effectively they have just tripped the calendar by a day. And so, we therefore find ourselves in July with half the year now behind us and, for many athletes, crunch time is the weeks now ahead. The events are coming thick and fast with the world duathlon championships, the European standard triathlon championships and Ironman Bolton all taking place in July.
Whilst this is therefore no time for some athletes to be making substantial changes in their exercise regimes, we have received several questions of late concerning nutrition and, in particular, from athletes seeking guidance on how to set themselves up for the day. Therefore, Sarah has therefore given this some thought and presents her case for breakfast.
‘Breakfast cereal’ has become a modern paradox. There is now so much evidence for the benefits of eating a substantial and low GI meal at the start of the day and yet food manufacturers continue to market refined carbohydrate as the ideal breakfast. (GI = glycaemic index; a ranking of foods based on their immediate effect on blood sugar levels).
The idea of eating grains for breakfast dates back to the late 19th century when food reformers called for a cut back on excessive meat consumption, and explored vegetarian alternatives. Corn, oats and wheat were cheap to grow and methods were gradually found to make these grains palatable, with a certain amount of cooking involved.
With advances in food processing in the 20th century – hulling, rolling, puffing – breakfast cereals, which could now be eaten without cooking, became big business. The more sophisticated processing increased the shelf life of the cereal, but also robbed the grains of their nutritional value. The bran and germ were refined out – at the time, these were thought to interfere with digestion and nutrient absorption – but this process also removed important nutrients such as vitamin B and iron. To improve the flavour, sugar was added.
Nowadays, breakfast cereals are likely to be fortified with minerals and vitamins in an attempt to boost their nutrient value, but many are still the result of over-refined grains, and so don’t provide much in the way of fibre and tend to be relatively high GI.
Eating breakfast early in the morning kick-starts your metabolism, the energy production process, and starts fuelling for your muscles and brain. You should feel more alert following this first meal of the day and, by making it a substantial and low GI meal, you should feel more satiated for longer and avoid possible blood sugar and insulin spikes following your next meal.
Previous research has also shown that the thermic effect of food (calories burned due to digestion) is lower in the evening than in the morning, possibly due to slower emptying of the stomach. A review of this and related research has led to the creation of the Big Breakfast Study, funded by the Medical Research Council. Among other objectives, the study aims to assess the impact of meal times on the body’s energy expenditure processes. The outcomes will contribute to improved nutritional guidelines, based on optimising the timing of calorie consumption. The study will measure the effect of meal times on body weight, as well as blood pressure, blood glucose, insulin and cholesterol levels, and appetite.
I haven’t yet found out when this study is due to conclude but I’ll keep an eye on it and keep you posted.
In the meantime, I’d like to encourage you to do your own research. The cereal manufacturers have conditioned us into thinking that the first meal of the day must be based on refined grains, but why is this when, at other times of the day, we are more inclined to eat balanced meals containing a protein source such as meat or fish, vegetables and complex carbs. I want to challenge that thinking and ask you, would you eat casserole for breakfast? Or rice? Or salad? Put your social conditioning to one side for a while and consider what a substantial and low GI breakfast could look like. By front-loading your day (consuming most of your calories in the morning), you will also be less reliant on your evening meal for refuelling. Especially for those of you doing the bulk of your training in the evenings, this is surely worth a try.
As with any aspect of your training regime, please make sure you introduce changes gradually; radically changing your eating habits can risk gastric discomfort. But if you decide to give it a go, please let me know how you get on.
A final word on breakfast cereals – there is still a place for some of these in your food cupboard. Those made without added sugar such as Weetabix or Branflakes, when served with milk, make a nutritious snack or small pre-exercise meal when time is tight.
For more information on the Big Breakfast Study read https://www.insight.mrc.ac.uk/2018/06/19/do-meal-timings-matter/
Food for thought, as ever. It may also be speaking the obvious, however, please also give some thought to your hydration strategy at present. This is important, not only for racing but also before, during and after your training sessions. The more effective your hydration strategy, the more effective your training sessions will be and the sooner you will be able to recover and get out on your next session.