Do you use caffeine as a supplement to your physical or mental performance? Check out SAPT’s analysis of whether you should consider it… or not… of if it depends.
Tournaments! Weekend-long (sometimes longer) events where athletes play multiple games in one day with very short breaks between games. Definitely not long enough to get a solid meal in before the beginning of the next match. All of our baseball and volleyball players have, seemingly, an endless stream of tournaments during the club seasons; it blows my mind a bit.
Anyway, this can pose a problem when it comes to being able to fuel properly before/after games. The aim for this post will be to provide tips how to eat leading up to the tournament, during the tournament (i.e. between games/matches), and sample snacks to bring. One can make this a complicated subject (eat 23.5 grams of protein, 15.8 grams of carbohydrates, eaten during the half-moon's light for optimum performance), but it's not really. It's easier than tracking orcs through the plains of Rohan.
If you glean nothing else out of the post, glean this: EAT. REAL. FOOD. There's no magic bullet supplement that will enhance your performance any more than eating solid, real food regularly.
Leading up to the tournament:
For (at least) the week prior, ensure that your meals consist of REAL foods, that is, plenty of vegetables and fruits, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Conveniently, the same rules that appeared in the post Eating for Strength and Performance, apply here. Craziness. As I've said before, if you fill your tank with crap, you're going to feel like crap, thus leading to performing like crap. Simple yes? We live in an age where technology makes our lives "easier" (though I would argue against a few of the more recent inventions) yet eating, the most basic human need, is over complicated. Our volleyball and baseball player (and all our athletes!) will take their training to the next level if if they just ate real food. Practical tips on how to achieve this below.
During the Tournament:
The length of the competitive day (6, 8, 10 hours?!!) will, to a degree, determine what types and how much food to bring. Obviously, longer tournament days will require more food than the shorter days. Here are three main points to remember when seeking foods for between games/matches.
1. EAT. REAL. FOOD. (notice a theme?) Don't go to 7-Eleven and pick up a Slurpee and whatever else they sell there. (You should NOT find body fuel at the same place you find car fuel.) Grab some fruit, make some sandwiches, and bring plenty of WATER. We'll go over a couple of beverages down below, but the number one liquid you should slurp: good ol' water. Divide your bodyweight in half... that's how many ounces (MINIMUM!) you should be drinking. If it's hot, and sweat is soaking your garments, drink your body weight in ounces.
2. Choose food that you know will sit well in your stomach. If you never eat peanut butter and pickle sandwiches (though if you don't, I don't know what's wrong with you. Try it. But not on tournament day.), don't pack them. The combination of nerves and high activity doesn't provide the best situation to try new foods. Pack food that you know you can handle (I also recommend staying away from a lot of dairy and highly acidic foods/drinks as both can lead to upset stomachs during intense activity).
3. Pack a cooler. I know it's extra work, but you'll be glad you did when you're able to chow down on healthy, delicious and filling foods while your friends are relegated to protein bars, candy, and who knows what other food they scrounge up.
What does all this look like? Fill in your preferred food choice utilizing this general template. Think of it as a nutritional MadLib.
1-2 fist-sized Protein source (eggs, cottage cheese, lean meat, Greek yogurt) + 1/2- 1 cup of Complex Carbohydrate source (fruit, oatmeal, whole grain toast, sweet potato, beans, any kind of vegetable) + 1-3 Tablespoons healthy fat (nut butter, real butter, olive oil, egg yolks, 1/2 avocado, nuts, pumpkin seeds) + at least 1-2 fist-sized serving of vegetables!
As an aside, I made cauliflower cream of "wheat" (and you know I love my cauliflower) the other day for breakfast. I tried this recipe and I just found this one. I think the second one would be a tastier option; the recipe I tried still had a cauliflower-y aftertaste. Maybe I needed riper banana or something. Anyway, this is an example a creative way to incorporate vegetables in tastier ways. And make them a DAILY part of your diet.
1-2 fist-sized protein source + 1/2 cup/serving of carbohydrate* + 1-3 Tablespoons healthy fat + at least 1-2 fist-sized serving of vegetables!
You guessed it: 1-2 fist-sized protein source + 1/2 cup/serving of carbohydrate* + 1-3 Tablespoons healthy fat + (you guessed it) at least 1-2 fist-sized serving of vegetables!
The same composition as the meals, just take half the serving side. For example, a hard boiled egg and an apple would be perfect. If you want some ideas of various foods to try, check out my posts here and here for other, less publicized super foods that have a plethora of benefits to offer to the competitive athlete.
* the amount of carbohydrates will fluctuate depending on if you work out/practice that day or not (see linked post about performance nutrition for more information). Eat 1-2 extra cups of carbohydrates spread throughout the day if practice/workouts are on that day. The "carb-loading" tactic is not a good idea unless you're running an Iron Man. A huge pasta meal the day before a competition doesn't do much for you except make you feel really full and sick.
Here are some sample snack options that might do well during long tournament days:
- Fruits (always a great option) such as bananas, apples, oranges, kiwis, melon etc.
- Homemade granola (complex carbohydrate source)
- Trail mix- a healthy blend of nuts and seeds (to provide satiety) and dried fruit with maybe a little chocolate thrown in (because let's be honest, the M&Ms are the best part).
- Celery, carrots, sliced bell peppers, jicima slices (or any raw veggie) and hummus
- Hardboiled eggs (this is where the cooler becomes handy), deli meat, tuna fish, sardines (if you're ok with no one sitting near you while you eat)
- Sandwiches: meat/cheese or peanut butter variations
1. Water, water, and more water. Water is the oil that keeps the body's engine running smoothly. No water? The engine starts grinding and struggling, like Gimli over long distances, and eventually poops out entirely. Not a desirable result during a big showcase tournament.
2. Drinks like Gatorade and Powerade are ok, but don't make them the primary source of liquid. They're useful if there's copious amounts of sweating going on (to help replace electrolytes) but too often I see athletes downing multiple bottles, when really, 1 bottle should be plenty.
3. If there's a decent chunk of time between games/matches, chocolate milk is actually a pretty good option for providing carbohydrates and protein (both of which are needed after a workout). I don't recommend drinking if there's only 15-20 minutes between games as dairy can sometimes upset stomachs.
4. Soda = fail.
Do you see a pattern? By eating quality food throughout the week and during the tournament days ensures that your body has the proper fuel for competition. Matter of fact, eating this way ALL the time does wonders for your health and performance.
Think of it this way: leading up to the tournament, athletes practice and strength train to prepare their bodies to ensure they're ready to compete. Any coach would tell you that if you try to cram all those hours of practice in the day before the tournament, things won't work out so well. The exact same principle applies to nutrition. If eating nutritious food starts the night before, well, things won't work out so well. Be vigilant in your preparations and take care as to what goes in your body as diligently and enthusiastically as you practice for each tournament.
This is a common yet important question I receive all the time, so I thought it may interest many of you readers if to briefly discuss it here on SAPTstrength. Now, this topic can get pretty geeky pretty fast, so my goal here is to KISS, give you a quick n' dirty rundown, and avoid delving into the myriad metabolic consequences of resistance training (shifts in hormonal release, the acute and chronic shifts in protein balance, up- and down-regulation of androgen and other specific membrane-bound receptors, etc.), how your pre/peri/post-training nutrition can specifically enhance/attenuate these positive/negative consequences, and related topics that I'm sure the majority of you would rather swallow nuclear waste than read about.*
I realize that most of you only care about the "Okay, so what do I actually do?" question as opposed to all the fancy schmancy science, and "whys" of the issue. (At least I think this is an accurate statement.)
I'll cut right to the chase: The supplement industry will have you believe that you need a very specific formula of proteins, carbohydrates, and [insert X superduperawesome compound necessary to become a walking science experiment and stun your peers into submission]. They tell you that if you don't take their product, then you won't maximize the results of your workout (be it muscle building, fat loss, or athletic performance) and you won't recover as quickly/optimally betwixt training sessions.
Is there any merit to consuming a beverage containing a specific carb:protein ratio (usually 3:1 or 4:1)? Yes.
Do these supplements "work"? Yes. (depending)
Have I ever taken them/recommended them to my athletes and clients? Yes. (minus the ridiculous over-the-top supplements)
Are they necessary to achieve your goals and are you a fool not to take them? NO.
Do I still take them? No. (unless you include fish oil or Vitamin D in this equation)
The bottom line is that nearly any combination of healthy proteins, carbohydrates, and fats pre- or post-training will be plenty sufficient in terms of supplying your body with the necessary nutrients to supply energy and boost recovery.
Here is what I am currently ingesting post training....
Example 1 (Homemade Shake)
- Almond Milk
- (Raw) Coconut Milk
- Protein Powder
- Mixed Berries
- Gatorade Powder (for some extra sugar)
- Brazil Nuts (sometimes)
- Kale (sometimes, although I should include it all the time)
Example 2 (A Meal)
- Chicken or Steak (any dead animal flesh will suffice)
- Potato (sweet or baked)
- Mixed Veggies
- Strawberries (or any other fruit)
Try to get your post-workout "feeding" in you within 30-45 minutes of your training session.
As for before training, consume something that is easy on your stomach. It might be similar to the shake I provided above, or something as simple as a banana (or apple) with peanut butter.
It really doesn't need to be more complicated than that.
I'll tell you what, I used to construct my own "optimal" workout drink containing 50g dextrose (simple sugar), 20g whey protein, 5g Leucine (the golden child of amino acids), 5g Glutamine, and even some Vitamin C and E for good measure.
This was the "pefect" post-workout beverage (if there is a such thing), yet am no longer worrying about ingesting that specific of a formula. And you know what? I'm still alive. I'm still getting stronger. I'm still building muscle. My body fat is still at a healthy level. And I recover just as quickly as before. What do you know.....
What do I believe is even more important than your pre/peri/post workout beverage?
Yes, ingesting a quality meal shortly after training will do wonders for your recovery and aiding you in your goals. But you know what? I feel that some of us get so caught up in the intricacies of workout shakes that we miss the big picture.**
Instead of worrying about how many simple sugars we're receiving pre/post training, why don't we concentrate on giving it our all during a set of squats, deadlifts, or chinups?
Instead of wondering if our shake will help us recover fast enough, why don't we make a wholehearted effort to get a full night's sleep and partake in other stress-reducing activity throughout the week?
Rather than stressing over whether or not we remembered to put extra leucine in our shake, why don't we focus on consuming quality foods throughout the remaining 15 waking hours of the day?
- Pre- and post-training nutrition is important, so do it! I don't really care what it is, just have SOMETHING.
- Water makes up roughly 70-80% of your muscle cell composition. So don't forget hydration!
- Supplements can be fantastic for convenience. For example, while traveling, it's much easier to fill a few ziplock bags with Surge Recoveryrather than bringing your blender with you.
- Yes, the "training window" is important for getting in a quality shake/meal, but it will never outshine dialing in your nutrition during the other 15 hours of the day.
- This post is geared toward the majority of the population. Yes, I realize there are outliers (bodybuilders two weeks out from a competition, for example) that will lead to exceptions for my recommendations. For the sake of brevity I omitted those here.
- Keep it simple. Ingest something with some sugar, protein, and even some healthy fats and make sure that it sits well with your stomach.
- From what I can judge from recent research, consuming fats will not significantly slow the absorption of other nutrients (thus hindering recovery) in the grand scheme of things.
- For athletes partaking in multiple training sessions a day: Yes, get in your post-training shakes, FOR THE LOVE!!
- Focus on quality training sessions, getting a full night's sleep, and reducing stress in your schedule. This will trump the potential benefits any workout shake.
*Although, for the record, I totally could. **I knew a guy that literally spent so much time and thought mixing and matching his chemicals for his bazillion shaker bottles, each and every day (while rarely focusing on his actual workouts), that we nicknamed him "Chemistry Set."
The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research published a paper entitled "The effect of pomegranate juice supplementation on strength and soreness after eccentric exercise" in July of 2011. Here is the abstract:
The purpose of this study was to determine if pomegranate juice supplementation improved the recovery of skeletal muscle strength after eccentric exercise in subjects who routinely performed resistance training. Resistance trained men (n = 17) were randomized into a crossover design with either pomegranate juice or placebo. To produce delayed onset muscle soreness, the subjects performed 3 sets of 20 unilateral eccentric elbow flexion and 6 sets of 10 unilateral eccentric knee extension exercises. Maximal isometric elbow flexion and knee extension strength and muscle soreness measurements were made at baseline and 2, 24, 48, 72, 96, and 168 hours postexercise. Elbow flexion strength was significantly higher during the 2- to 168-hour period postexercise with pomegranate juice compared with that of placebo (main treatment effect; p = 0.031). Elbow flexor muscle soreness was also significantly reduced with pomegranate juice compared with that of placebo (main treatment effect; p = 0.006) and at 48 and 72 hours postexercise (p = 0.003 and p = 0.038, respectively). Isometric strength and muscle soreness in the knee extensors were not significantly different with pomegranate juice compared with those using placebo. Supplementation with pomegranate juice attenuates weakness and reduces soreness of the elbow flexor but not of knee extensor muscles. These results indicate a mild, acute ergogenic effect of pomegranate juice in the elbow flexor muscles of resistance trained individuals after eccentric exercise.
Sometimes... okay, lots of times... I find strength and conditioning research to be quite limiting and, in the end, not that helpful. It's been well accepted and practiced for years that the best post-training meal to consume is a liquid meal with roughly a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbs:protein.
Pomegranate juice really has nothing more substantial in it (for exercise recovery) than any other fruit juice or a sports drink. It's ALL sugar.
Take this study for what it's worth: further proof that something is better that nothing after you train. I'm sure the study participants would have been better served and demonstrated recovery in the "knee extensor muscles" if they'd been given a pomegranate drink that also included the proper ratio of carbs:protein.
Here's a SUPER simple recipe for a recovery drink I make for myself:
3-4 tbsp Nestle Quick powder
1/2 scoop protein powder
Given that Nitric Oxide (or “N.O.”) boosters are one of the highest sellers in the supplement industry, I thought it may be a topic of poignant interest to some of our readers if I addressed the claims of this product, as well as its actual efficacy according to the most recent research. Given that “N.O. X-PLODE" appears to the most popular of the nitric oxide supplements out there, I'm going to briefly analyze this product in particular. This is by no means intended to be a comprehensive review, but to summarize some of the main points. Hopefully it proves useful to some of you reading who weigh the costs vs. benefits of purchasing certain supplements.
What does N.O.-XPLODE claim to do? (taken off the website)
- “maximizes training intensity, energy, and motivation for any athletic activity”
- “elevates blood flow and delivery of oxygen and nutrients”
- “increases resistance to muscular fatigue, power output, and overall work capacity”
- “enhances mental focus and acuity; helps establish mind-muscle connection during physical activity”
These claims may appear a bit over-the-top, but compared other supplement promises (ex. "become a walking human experiment!"), the ones put forth by the NO-XPLODE product are actually a bit mild. Supplements aren't regulated by the FDA and the companies are actually allowed to place any claim on the product as long as they don't claim to cure mitigate, or treat a disease. Supplements may also be sold if they don't present “a significant or unreasonable risk or illness or injury when used as directed on the label or under normal conditions of use (if there are no directions)”. So basically...regulations on supplements and their claims are pretty loose.
Now, diving into and critically analyzing each and every one of NO-XPLODE's ingredients is beyond the scope of this post. I will, however, quickly touch on three of the most prominent ingredients in this product.
Arginine is found in almost every N.O. supplement. It's an amino acid that is a precursor for nitric oxide formation in the body. The idea is that if one increases arginine supply in his or her body, then more nitric oxide will be formed. Why is this ideal during a period of strenuous exercise? Nitric oxide is a vasodilator (it widens the circumference of blood vessels), which would increase the rate of blood flow throughout the body. So if nitric oxide levels are increased in the bloodstream, then the hypothesis is there will be increased blood flow (and thus upregulated delivery of oxygen and nutrients) to the working skeletal muscles, enhancing the overall results of the workout (increasing muscular growth and strength).
Does it have any merit? From the studies I have observed, arginine supplementation does not correlate to improvements in strength gains or favorable changes in lean body mass when compared to placebo groups. Another important note is that arginine is found to increase insulin secretion, and insulin itself increases vasodilation and blood flow! So, if one wanted to increase blood flow during a workout (beyond executing muscular contractions which will increase blood flow to the working muscles anyway) could he or she ingest a carbohydrate to catalyze insulin release in the blood, leading to vasodilation? Yes.
I'm not going to delve into too much detail here. Creatine supplementation has been shown time and time again to augment muscular strength and delay fatigue during high-intensity exercise lasting roughly ten seconds or less (think 5-rep max on the bench or squat, or a 100m sprint). There has also yet to be demonstrated a risk of disease or kidney problems from supplementing with creatine (I've researched this quite a bit, as well as spoken to sports nutritionists about it). I can go into greater detail on creatine in a later post, but for now just understand: it works!
I don't think I need to cover this one in great detail either. Most people know that caffeine is a stimulant, and that it increases mental clarity in humans. It may also aid in muscular contraction via enhanced calcium mobilization in skeletal muscle, but this has primarily been demonstrated with regards to aerobic exercise/competition. A couple points worth noting though:
- Caffeine has vasoconstriction effects in blood vessels. Could the effect of constricting the blood vessels via caffeine cancel out the vasodilation effects of nitric oxide? Possibly.
- The company (BSN) refuses to display how much caffeine they place in their product (so others won't copy the “secret formula”). It's understandable that a company won't relay all of their ingredient ratios, but it can be a bit unnerving knowing that BSN may be placing absurd amounts of caffeine in their product. For those that are hypersensitive to caffeine, this poses an obvious concern. Also, how does one know whether or not ingesting extra caffeine via coffee/tea throughout the rest of the day will send him or her over the safe limit? (amounts exceeding 9mg/kg, or about 650mg for a 160lb person, have been shown to exhibit negative side effects)
- Consistently varying the circumference of blood vessels by elevating N.O. levels can place tremendous demands on the heart (as it would need to increase/decrease blood output to maintain optimal blood pressure). Our blood pressure varies throughout the day anyway (circadian rhythm, exercise, nutrient ingestion, etc. all effect blood flow throughout our body) but causing the heart to have to adjust more than usual (especially through “artificial” means) may prove harmful in the long run.
- The directions on the product label suggest one to consume a serving on off days! These directions are clearly a ploy to make people consume more of the product than necessary (thus using more powder each week and having to order the product more frequently), but be aware of this. If you decide to buy this product, don't consume it on an off day. It won't help.**
- Most of the energy and “increased mental focus” you'll experience from this product primarily stems from the caffeine in the product (and who knows how much is in there??).
- The strength gains and improvements in muscle mass that the product claims to elicit most likely does not stem from arginine supplementation.
- The product carries some validity to it, but for most people it's probably not worth the money. Spending less money on a quality creatine product (avoid the outrageously expensive creatine “formulas” and stick to plain creatine monohydrate powder) will provide your body with some extra fuel during high-intensity training sessions.
Bottom Line: You'll most likely experience some feelings of enhanced mental focus and energy while using this product, but it's not going to make or break your results in the gym. There are many cheaper alternatives that won't give you quite the hit to your wallet (or your bowel movements....).
**I may or may not know a reader of this website who takes a scoop of N.O. in the mornings in place of coffee. I'm not judging....