Increasing power and strength
You want to support performance.
You want to recover well from training.
You want to support muscle, joint and general health.
Power and strength makes you a winner
As an athlete your physical ability to perform is based upon your level of 'fitness' across a number of physical attributes such as co-ordination, accuracy, power, flexibility. Two attributes; strength and power are vital for many types of sport and competition. Strength is your ability to exert maximal muscular force over a short time or limited number of repetitions. Muscular endurance on the other hand is your ability to exert a less than maximal force over a longer duration or higher number of repetitions.
It's easy to see the contrast in these qualities and indeed many coaches say that they should be trained separately. Either way, better power and strength means more ability to move yourself, the opposition or an object over the short term, and as the research shows, it also means longer times to exhaustion as well. The qualities every athlete needs.
„In the last quarter of the game, when you need those last few yards to score a touchdown, the weeks training and nutrition make the difference. In team sports like football, basketball or American football, speed‚ power and strength make the difference."
The performance diet defined
Whilst carbohydrate is usually the main focus of sports diets it is important not to forget the other important nutritional factors. Proteins and fats are the structural materials that make up most of your body. In addition vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals (nutritious compounds produced by plants) are also essential to a huge number of biochemical process, forming the chemical cogs in the machine that is each and every cell in your body. To produce a top quality machine and get the best performance out of it you need the best building materials and fuels.
The performance diet is one that addresses these needs and does so in such a way that you’re better able to fuel performance and recovery from training and competition whilst safeguarding your health. Based upon whole food nutrition it may also incorporate some use of sportsfoods and supplements.
Athletes needs differ depending upon sport type and training volume etc, but the nutritional tools remain the same; plenty of plain water, multiple meals featuring good food choices, paying attention to ‘training nutrition’ and ways of making it all as easy as possible to do on a day-to-day basis.
Eating four or more smaller meals a day makes it easier to meet your energy and nutrient needs and also means you can avoid large meals that may leave you feeling uncomfortable and sluggish.
Consume breakfast, lunch and dinner, these form the basis of your intake. Add in a couple of snacks — mid morning and mid afternoon. These are easy convenient ways to increase your energy and nutrient intake. Pay attention to the periods before and after training supporting refuelling and recovery.
Varied and sufficient colourful vegetable matter
Eating a variety of vegetable matter helps ensure that the body gets sufficient quantities of a large variety of micronutrients. In addition there’s hundreds of classes of compounds found in plant foods that have an impact upon health, supporting the function of a variety of systems like the immune system, and as such the basis of physical performance.
The standard recommendations are for five portions a day but aim to double this. Look for different colours — these colours are actually different classes of phytochemicals. Find ways to incorporate more vegetables into meals and snacks. As the profile for different plants differs greatly there’s no one best choice but rather a great variety will mean your bases are covered.
Lean high quality proteins
Complete proteins, ones that contain all the essential amino acids, support muscle metabolism and recovery as well as every other physiological system in the body. This includes the immune system or as a raw material for neurotransmitters in the brain.
Aim for complete proteins such as animal proteins like meat, fish and dairy products as well as vegetable sources such as tofu and tempeh. Consuming lean protein sources ensures you get sufficient protein without consuming any excess fats. Have a portion of lean high quality protein at each meal and snack.
Good fat choices
Fatty acids are vital to health: fat surrounds every cell of the body and is a vital component in many body systems, like the nervous system. In addition it's an important fuel source especially for longer efforts.
Get your fats from the highest quality foods you can reasonably afford. Consume oily fish and walnuts regularly, 3-4 time per week — if vegetarian look into using flax or chia seed supplements. Consume a small portion of nuts daily e.g. walnuts, almonds, macadamia. Look for leaner cuts of meat. Use olive oils and avoid generic 'yellow' cooking oils.
Slowly released starchy carbohydrate
Carbohydrate is an incredibly important fuel source for the athlete but carbohydrate containing foods come in lots of shapes and sizes. Sugars and simple carbohydrates are easy energy and have their place, but when overeaten can adversely effect health. The great majority of your intake should be the slow releasing ‘low GI’ forms.
Include mostly lower GI starches such as vegetables and ‘brown’ or ‘whole grain’ grain based foods like bread and pasta. Minimise sugars by minimising sweets and fizzy drinks, most of the sugars you consume should come from your fruit intake. Prioritise carbohydrate intake around training in order to support recovery of energy stores.
Adding training nutrition
Training nutrition is the use of specialised products that are easily absorbed by the body such as proteins and carbohydrates. They come in a variety of forms to get the most out of the products they should be tailored to your needs and the needs of your sport.
Carbohydrate based drinks will support fuelling and recovery around training. Protein shakes and bars can be used to aid recovery after training and also as an easy and cost effective way to boost high quality lean protein intake between meals. Mixed protein and carbohydrate drinks improve recovery and can also be used between meals in the performance nutrition set-up where extra energy and nutrient intake is needed.
Sport specific factors
As with any training for sport, making it specific for the demands for your sport is the place to start, this means considering:
- Body parts trained: Where do you need this power and strength? Legs and torso, or possibly the whole body?
- Exercise choices: fundamental movement patterns that reflect the sport, generally hip extension with plenty of unilateral training but also other upper and lower body pushes and pulls.
- Sets, reps and rest periods: balanced to reflect the demands of the sport longer efforts or repeated higher intensity work.
There's three main groups of methods to train power and strength whilst all are valid and have a place in nearly all sports training the amounts and mixtures you would use depend upon your individual needs and those of your sport.
1) Moderate resistance, higher rep weights based gym work
High enough resistance to produce an adaptation increasing strength levels in most, but with longer sets developing the athlete’s ability to sustain effort. Especially good for individual sports like swimming and also the beginner or those that have not focused on strength training in a while.
Examples: Classic weight training, weights circuits, prowler pushes, e.g. barbell lunges 3 sets of 10-15 reps at 60-75% 1RM with 60-90 rest.
2) High resistance multiple set weights work
This utilises much higher loads in shorter sets but with much less rest. It develops high ‘limit strength’ and the ability to utilise this higher threshold strength repeatedly. Especially good for more experienced athletes needing high strength levels in repeated, high frequency but short bouts of work like boxing or rugby forwards.
Examples: Weight training, cluster sets, e.g. barbell dead lifts 12 sets of 2-3 reps at 85-90% 1RM with 20-30 rest.
3) Interval training and resistance running
Using intervals of higher power output interspersed with recovery periods, either jogs or static rests periods. Especially good for athletes in running based sports with periods of high acceleration and fast sprints with time out of direct play, for example football or rugby backs.
Examples: Interval or fartlek runs, interval rows, hill running, running in harness, prowler push, e.g. interval run 5-10 repetitions of max effort run 200m, light jog 200m.
Fitting this training into the bigger picture
As an athlete you'll be undertaking a variety of types of training, adding higher intensity work like the examples above will just add to the demands on your body. To get round this periods of focus on the different elements of your 'fitness game' where you work on say power and strength and put other types of training like cardio into a 'holding patter' doing less total work on it, just enough to maintain it.
In this way you can keep the total work you do a week about the same but change the balance of the mixture to reflect what you need to work on, improving weaknesses without overtaxing your body's ability to recover.