Fueling Your Passion

If you’re a regular reader of our blog or if you’ve listened to our podcast, you’ve probably picked up on our biggest value as a business, which is enjoying life outside the gym. We believe that pursuit of optimal athletic performance, especially for action sports enthusiasts, doesn’t have to mean 2 hours per day, 6 days per week in the gym. We structure many of our training programs around the idea that we are working with very active people who are spending at least 2 days per week doing some sort of recreational or competitive activity outside of the gym. We support that lifestyle and believe that our training protocols can actually help you maximize your time in those activities, rather than leave you fatigued, sore, and unable to perform to your potential. However, if you’re interested in making the most of your time on the bike/board/trail/slopes/mat there’s another aspect of performance that you have to pay attention to: nutrition.

At the risk of sounding like every other strength coach who’s ever written anything about nutrition, the first thing you should understand is that, like many things in life, what you put into your body is what you will get out. Now, that’s a very broad and simple statement to describe what is actually a very complex idea, so let’s unpack it. How does what you eat affect your athletic performance? How do you know what to eat to support better performance? What are some actionable steps you can take to start improving your nutrition today?

You probably already know that what you eat and drink has an impact on your athletic performance. What you might not know is just how much of an impact. One excellent example is water. As little as 2% dehydration can decrease aerobic endurance, increase heart rate and body temperature, and increase reliance on carbohydrate as an energy source during athletic activity. Basically, that means you’re going to become fatigued and feel fatigued faster. Not ideal. Another example has to do with your carbohydrate intake. Without going into too much detail regarding energy systems, suffice it to say that, if you do not consume enough carbohydrates between training sessions, you may not fully replenish your glycogen stores. That can lead to an inability to perform at your best, especially during intense activity, as your body is forced to rely on less efficient energy sources. Your overall protein intake is also an important factor. Insufficient protein deprives your body of the basic building blocks it need to repair muscle tissue damaged during intense exercise, potentially contributing to muscle soreness and jeopardizing strength gains from your training session.

Eating in a way that supports performance doesn’t have to be hard, but you do have to take the time to educate yourself on what foods you should be consuming (most of the time) and which ones you should avoid. Some of this is intuitive and aligns with what you’ve probably heard through mainstream media. For example, you shouldn’t be eating much of anything that comes out of a deep fryer. Partially because of the overall fat content that comes with anything cooked in oil, but also because of the quality and type of fat used in most commercial deep fryers. Another good general rule is to avoid highly processed foods. There are several mental shortcuts you can use to quickly figure out if a food is highly processed. The easiest might be to look at the ingredient list. The longer the list, the more likely that you are looking at a highly processed food. If the food’s not in a package, then you can apply the “caveman” test – if a caveman wouldn’t immediately recognize it as food, it’s probably highly processed. For example, an apple is a relatively unprocessed food. It can be directly picked off of a tree and eaten. An apple pie is processed. It contains apples, but they’ve been sliced and cooked, had sugar and spices added to them, and been encapsulated in a buttery, flaky crust…mmmmmm. There are a variety of reasons to avoid processed foods, but one the most important is that they typically contain refined sugars or other additives that, at best, do not support optimum athletic performance and, at worst, can seriously hinder it.

So, what are some good “rules of thumb” and actions you can take to start down a path towards eating habits that will support your athletic activity?

1) Hydrate.

This might be the most important and often-overlooked thing you can do to support better athletic performance. If you’re not adequately hydrated going into your training session or competition, you’re not going to perform to your potential, period. Hydration is all the more important because it’s so easy to do. Buy a reusable water bottle and just sip water all day during work, school, or whatever your daily activities may be. Make sure to continue drinking small amounts during training/competition and a little more than normal afterwards. Though it’s not a problem for most people, there IS such a thing as overhydration. Luckily, our natural “thirst” mechanism works very well at telling our body how much water we need. Don’t continue to drink past the point of quenching your thirst, and you should be OK.

2) Get Enough Protein.

There are several different schools of thought on what constitutes “enough” protein and specific recommendations for individual athletes are well outside the scope of this article. What we do know is that dietary protein is absolutely vital to proper recovery after intense physical activity. Training is a deliberately destructive process. We are reaching slightly past our body’s comfortable physical capacity in order to force it to adapt and become stronger/better conditioned. In order to ensure that adaptation takes place, we have to provide both the stimulus (training) and the tools for recovery. Adequate protein is part of the latter. Without getting into weighing and measuring your food (which will always be the optimal approach) you can start by just trying to eat some amount of protein at every meal. Protein sources vary in quality, so focus on things like lean meats, fish, eggs, legumes (beans), or yogurt (greek style, if possible). If you are concerned about your overall protein intake, you can try adding a protein shake after training. There are a variety of options available, including vegan, dairy-free, organic, etc. To get specific recommendations for how much protein you need, consult a nutritionist, particularly one who specializes in sports performance.

3) Refuel After Intense Activity.

This one is simple, but also often overlooked. While there are different viewpoints on which nutrients to consume and how long after training to consume them, it is safe to say that you need to eat after training. Try to get some protein (see #2) and a good dose of simple carbohydrates. After training, your body is primed to process carbohydrates, and the bulk of what you put in will likely go towards replenishing your glycogen stores to prepare you for your next session. Simple carbs are things with a higher glycemic index like white rice, oatmeal, potatoes, etc. If you are going to eat refined sugars, like candy or something (which we still don’t recommend) immediately post-workout is the time to do it.

4) If Can’t Kill It or Grow It, Don’t Eat It.

All of the smartasses reading this right now are saying “Well, pizza is made from flour, which comes from wheat, which you can grow, so pizza must be ok!”. No. You have to apply a little common sense to make this one work. Don’t overthink it. You can’t go out into the woods and kill a pizza and you can’t plant a pizza seed and grow a slice. That Nick Offerman video is fake…sorry to crush your dreams. This is really just another mental shortcut to steer you away from processed foods and towards “whole” foods that are richer in micronutrients that support athletic performance.

5) Meal Prep.

If you want to stick to these rules and see a significant impact on your performance from these changes, you should start preparing your own meals. This helps you control and know exactly what is going into your meals, saves you money, and also ensures that your aren’t tempted to eat junk because “there was nothing else around”. If you prepare your meal beforehand, that excuse goes away.

If you’re looking to truly optimize your performance, you need to get a plan from a qualified nutritionist. These 5 best practices are just a good way to get started down the road to eating for better performance. If you don’t have a training plan yet, set up a free intro consultation to learn about what we offer and how we can help you make the most of your life outside the gym.

Are Your Asymmetries Holding You Back?

Asymmetry is an issue that is often painless, in and of itself, and can therefore be very easy to overlook.  However, to the trained coach or physical therapist, it is well-known as one of the most probable underlying causes of acute injury during physical activity.  In fact, it is the #2 risk factor for athletic injury, with previous injury coming in at #1.  What is asymmetry? How does it develop? What can be done to address it?

Asymmetry, in the physiological sense, is a condition in which a muscle on one side of the body is significantly stronger or weaker than the corresponding muscle on the other side.  It does not have to be, and usually isn’t, limited to one pair of muscles.  It is perfectly possible to have stronger glutes AND hamstrings AND spinal erectors on one side.  Furthermore, strength is not the only thing that can be “asymmetrical”.  It is also common to see athletes with greater (or lesser) mobility in a joint on one side than in the corresponding joint on the other side.  In short, asymmetry is an imbalance between the left and right side of the body.

Most people are asymmetrical to some degree, if only in the sense that they express a preference for doing things with their “dominant” hand or foot.  Almost everyone naturally feels more comfortable using one hand or the other to perform tasks that require fine motor control.  Baseball players throw with either their right or left hand – few can proficiently switch between them.  Hockey players are more comfortable with one hand lower on the stick than the other.  Downhill MTB racers have one foot ahead of the other in the “attack position”.  Over time, without some sort of training intervention, the dominant side and the non-dominant side begin to diverge in terms of mobility, flexibility, motor control, and/or strength.  As this divergence increases, the athlete unintentionally reinforces it, compensating for the weakness of one side by overusing the other.  Dysfunctional movement patterns eventually develop, which will ultimately cause injury, given enough time.  Injury can then actually create NEW asymmetries by causing the athlete to rely on the uninjured side to to the daily work of both sides.  This is likely one of the main reasons that previous injury is such a strong predictor of new injury.

So, asymmetry is natural, to some degree.  However, that doesn’t meant that there’s nothing we can do to fix or alleviate it.  While many sports and recreational activities will, by their very nature, encourage asymmetries to develop, a well-thought-out strength training program can counteract those imbalances, ensuring well-rounded development on both sides of the body, regardless of the demands of the sport.  There are landmines (the blow-you-up kind, not the exercise) in this approach, though. Training a certain movement with an external load (added weight), such as a squat or press, without first correcting any dysfunction in the current movement pattern can actually compound asymmetry and increase your risk of injury.  That’s why it’s important to have a coach, trainer, or therapist who can objectively assess your movement patterns, asymmetries, and other issues, and then correctly prioritize them to optimize your performance without increasing your risk for injury.

If you’re concerned about a strength or mobility imbalance that could be holding you back in your sport, set up a free intro consultation with us to talk about how a personalized strength training program can help fix those problems and get you firing on all cylinders.

Ski Season Prehab: Protecting the ACL

It’s a nightmare scenario for any skier:  an audible pop right after a quick change in direction, followed by a buckling sensation in the knee joint and, most likely, plenty of pain.

During intense athletic activity, the knee joint is often exposed to tremendous amounts of force, especially during directional changes and/or deceleration.  When that happens, the role of the ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) is to prevent the tibia (shin bone) from separating from the femur (thigh bone), which is generally not a good thing.   When the force absorbed by the joint exceeds the surrounding musculature’s ability to resist it, the  ACL becomes vulnerable and susceptible to injury.  You can read more about the kinesiological mechanisms of ACL injury here.   Skiers and snowboarders are at a particularly high risk for ACL injury because of the constant directional changes involved in these sports.

However, the good news is, there is a way to greatly reduce that risk.  We know that a combination of excessive shearing and rotational forces on the knee joint can cause an ACL injury, but what is the underlying issue that makes those forces “excessive”?  The answer is strength.  Weak hips, and weak hamstrings in particular, can lead to a general inability to stabilize the knee joint and safely absorb force during deceleration and directional changes.  Read more about that here.

The bottom line is (simply) this: the risk of ACL injury, on the slopes or anywhere else, can be greatly reduced by increasing strength in the hips and legs.   An ACL tear is almost always a very expensive, season-ending injury, and many athletes never fully recover from it.  If you aren’t working on improving your strength to help prevent this type of injury, you should be.

To learn more about how a well-planned strength training program can help protect your knees (and other joints) while also taking your training and performance to the next level, check out our website at sisustrong.com or sign up for a time to chat with us for free!