Chocolate Nut & Oak Slice

Today’s recipe is another snack time treat and is a perfect option for a pre workout or rest day snack.

Almonds are one of the stand out ingredients in this recipe. They contain vitamin E, calcium, and iron. Vitamin E contains anti-oxidant properties and supports immune function. Calcium is important for maintaining the structure of teeth and bones and Iron helps in the production of certain hormones and getting oxygen to muscles.

There’s a good amount of healthy fats, some carbohydrate and protein.

Ingredients:

– 75g almond flour

– 120g oats

– 50g mixed nuts

– 3 tbsp unsweetened cacao powder

– 3 tbsp coconut oil

– 3 large eggs

– 3 tbsp of honey

Instructions:

– Preheat oven to 180 degrees

– Ground oats in processor and mix together with ground almonds and cacoa powder.

– Roughly chop nuts and add them to mixture.

– Combine coconut oil and honey in a bowel and place in microwave. Heat mixture until melted. Remove and whisk together.

– Crack and add eggs to honey and coconut oil mix. Whisk until the mixture is evenly combined and smooth with lumps.

– Add liquid mixture to dry mixture and mix thoroughly.

– Use small amount of coconut oil to grease the sides and bottom of a small cake or pie tray similar to that in the recipe picture.

– Place in the preheated oven for 45/50 minutes. Check the cake is cooked by piercing it with a knife, if it comes out clean, you’re good to go.

– Allow to cool for 5 minutes, slice and serve.

Dietary Nitrates for sports performance & why it may be a good choice for combat sports athletes

Today’s post is looking at another potent performance enhancing supplement. This one maybe doesn’t get the same recognition as other better known supplements but could certainly play a role in improving performance both in training and competition.

The supplement is dietary nitrates, often more commonly thought of as beetroot powder, pills and juice. Now although it’s not true beetroot is the only source of dietary nitrate, it’s derivatives are certainly the most well known for having an athletic enhancing effect.

Performance

As with the other supplements I’ve discussed and written about recently, it’s important to define what is meant by performance. Having done this, we can then determine whether the supplement can support improvements in your specific sporting event.

Historically, beetroot supplements have been better associated with endurance type events likely due to its association of being a vasodilator, meaning it works by expanding blood vessels and increasing blood flow.

Indeed, dietary nitrates have been seen to increase cerebral blood flow, (blood to the brain), Whilst also helping with lowering blood pressure. Interestingly with dietary nitrate supplementation, the higher blood pressure is seen at rest, the more it comes down by.

Dietary nitrates in forms such as concentrated beetroot juice, actually appear better for team sports than long lasting sub maximal endurance events. More specifically, the evidence suggests that impact is seen best in high intensity, intermittent exercises which involve repeated sprint efforts for exercise lasting 12-40 minutes in duration. These improvements are seen in regards to exercise time to exhaustion. The research is also equivalent for exercise tasks lasting under 12 minutes in duration.

Combat Sports

Although not usually the first supplement that springs to mind when talking with fighters or those training different combat sports, dietary nitrates could definitely be a good choice for heavy training sessions or indeed competition.

Dietary nitrate is proposed to work by enhancing the function of type 2 fast twitch muscle fibres, those essential for continued execution of striking and grappling techniques.

Dietary nitrates can work to change the oxygen cost of exercise and subsequently make muscles more efficient. This is achieved at a less ‘energy cost’ to the body. This basically means dietary nitrates are supporting the fast twitch muscle fibres to produce force with less impact to the your energy reserves, therefore going for longer till fatiguing.

If comparing two athletes where their lactate threshold & VO2 Max are the same, these being the two big markers for endurance exercise performance, a lower oxygen cost will mean you are running at a lower fraction of VO2 max so will fatigue less rapidly.

Some highly trained athletes may respond less favourably. Type 2 muscle fibres are fare more sensitive to nitrate than type 1 endurance fibres. Therefore a ‘non responder’ effect could be down to elite endurance based athlete’s muscles. This could be as Theo muscle fibres will be better oxygenated and their mitochondria better trained away from the requirements of more explosive effort requiring athletes.

Dosage

As noted already, dietary nitrates are found in root vegetables and leafy greens such as lettuce, celery, rocket, spinach and beetroot. However, although eating these foods will without doubt positively effect health, especially for heavy training athletes, the amounts needed for the performance enhancing effects described are going to be difficult to achieve by eating them alone.

On a side note, dietary nitrate supports muscle function by enhancing nitric oxide bioavailability in the body. If you pair any nitric oxide interventions/boosters with antioxidants it can act to boost its impact, so don’t skip having the dark greens mentioned above!

The research indicates a 6-8 mmol dosage is needed for performance enhancing effects. You’ll find 5/6 mmol nitrate in 300g spinach, which is more than your average bag bought from the supermarket. Alternatively 3 medium high nitrate containing beetroots or 6 to 8 low containing smaller beetroot.

Aside from vegetable size obviously, nitrate strength can depend on where the veg is grown, how long it took to get on the supermarket shelf, the growing conditions and time of year.

The optimal strategy is using a beetroot juice or even more conveniently, concentrated beetroot shots. A 6-8mmol dose = 500ml natural beetroot juice. A one shot concentrated version, for example Beet-It 70ml, usually contains around 300ml equivalent to natural beat juice. Therefore ideally take two shots as opposed to one, as other studies indicate performance enhancing effects closer to 8 mmol.

There doesn’t appear to be an advantage in taking significantly more than the upper limit of 8 mmol for further training effect. However, bigger athletes may require more.

Timing

Timing of ingestion is crucial with dietary nitrates. To ensure you get get maximal effect, you’ll need to consume your dosage 2 – 3 hours before you start training or competing.

The biggest performance boost is when plasma nitrite ,(converted from nitrate), peaks in the blood stream, which is related to how much nitrate you take and when you take it. For example if you take 8 mmol of concentrated nitrate, (beetroot juice), nitrite plasma will boost 2/2.5 hours later. At 6 hours it is still seen to be fairly high but 12 to 24 hours later it is back to baseline.

Important

A loading strategy is also advisable if planning to use nitrates for a specific event, especially if competing and using for the first time to ensure your digestion tolerates it.

Research showed a daily dose of 0.5 L of beetroot for 6 days can reduce resting blood pressure, whilst lowering the oxygen cost of exercise ( measured on a treadmill)by 7% and increasing time to exhaustion by 15%.

A strategy to implement would be to try to take 2 shots a day in the morning and afternoon between 2 to 5 days out. Try this for a few days minimum prior to competing.

Be aware that bacteria in mouth converts the nitrate into nitrite which then works to increase plasma (blood) nitrite concentrations. This isn’t a science, but there may be a logic to mouth swilling your beetroot shot for 20 seconds prior to ingestion, similar to carbohydrate mouth rinsing.

Be aware also, commercial mouthwash stops you converting the nitrate in your diet by killing mouth bacteria, so avoid it if you can!

Lastly, huge shout out to Andrew Jones from Exeter University, (@andybeatroot), who I gleaned much of this information from!

Is it Shepherd’s or Cottage Pie

Today’s recipe is a dinner time speciality. Traditionally Shepard’s pie is made with lamb and Cottage pie with beef. You decide which meat to go with as both are pretty damn tasty and good sources of complete protein.

This meal is a great pre or post training meal. It’s got a nice healthy dose of carbohydrate, protein and various micronutrients. Try to get a lean cut when buying your mince beef or lamb.

Ingredients:

– 1 large potato

– 1 large sweet potato

– 2 large carrots

– 1/2 tbsp of butter

– 100ml of milk

– 1 tin of chopped tomato

– 500g of lean beef or lamb mince

– 1 medium onion

– 4 cloves of garlic

– 2 tbsp of sour cream/creme fresh

– 2 tbsp of dried mint

– 1 tbsp of oregano

– 1/2 tsp of sea salt

– 1/2 tsp of black pepper

Method:

– Chop the potatoes, carrots and sweet potato into rough chunks. Boil or steam until soft and ready to mash.

– Once cooked, drain the water from the root veg and add butter and milk. A pinch of salt & pepper can also be added. Mash until all the lumps are removed and set to one side.

– Pre heat Your oven to 180c. Chop garlic roughly and put into blender with chopped tomato, sour cream/creme fresh, mint, oregano, salt and pepper.

– Chop onion up into your desired size and heat in pan on low heat until translucent. Now add the mince and cook until brown. Once browned, add the tomato mix and allow to simmer on low heat for 15 minutes.

– Grease a pie dish and add mixture. Add mashed veg on top and smooth the mixture down using the back of a large serving spoon.

– Place in the preheated oven for 40 mins. Once done, remove and stand for 5 minutes before serving 👌.

Caffeine – The athletic performance enhancer

Following the recent post on creatine, today’s piece is going to look at another science backed means by which to improve your athletic performance.

There is a wide and wonderful selection of products promising to improve your athletic output, but very few supplements are actually evidence based to show consistent and robust improvements. One which does however demonstrate this across the board, is caffeine.

Why supplement?

For the athlete, at its very basic level, performance outside of technical competence means excelling in endurance, speed and strength. What is particularly appealing about caffeine is it actually has a pretty far reaching effect on each of these different qualities.

Caffeine is a stimulant that effects cognitive functioning. It improves neuromuscular function, vigilance and alertness, as well as reducing the perception of exertion during exercise. These improvements are seen across endurance based situations, (running, cycling, swimming,etc), and short term sub-maximal and/or repeated sprint tasks.

Timing

As in all posts, I do like to give a nod to combat sports performance. In a recent podcast, a well respected performance nutritionist working with pro boxers discussed using caffeine prior to a fight. He’ll give his fighters a coffee or caffeine shot, 30 minutes before the fight. Then the same 10 minutes before they enter the ring.

The above strategy appears logical when considering blood levels rise and peak approximately 60 minutes after ingesting. A men’s professional boxing match at the top level is between 10 and 12, 3 minute rounds with 1 minute breaks between. This strategy would allow for cognitive enhancing effects early on in the fight, whilst ensuring the significant ergogenic effects from peak caffeine blood levels will be realised towards the end of the fight. This should occur exactly around the point that glycogen levels and dehydration could all be taking a toll on the fighter’s performance

The above strategy can be adjusted in line with any other chosen disciple, by purely doing the calculations of 60 minutes being peak blood level presence and relate that to where in the competition the athlete will most benefit from a higher perceived level to exhaustion and greater cognitive functioning.

Dosing strategy

In regards to dosing, 3-9 mg of caffeine per kg of body weight (bw) has shown a ergogenic effect on endurance exercise of 1 to 2 hours and exercise around 100% of vo2 max that lasts approximately 1-5 minutes.

With sub maximal and repeated sprint tasks, look to initially work with the 3-6 mg per kg of bw range, 50/60 minutes prior to exercising. A more practical strategy for longer endurance events of 90 plus minutes maybe to work with lower doses closer to around 3mg per kg of bw. This should be consumed between 15 – 80 minutes during the event and keeping in-line with the research, taken alongside a carbohydrate solution beverage.

Doses above 9mg per kg of bw do not appear to increase performance benefits and could raise risks of negative side effects including nausea, anxiety and insomnia.

Caffeine Anhydrous

An effective method for ingestion is using caffeine anhydrous, a super charged alternative to a standard caffeine pill. After harvesting, caffeine is extracted from the plant matter and dehydrated. This produces a highly concentrated caffeine powder termed caffeine anhydrous. It will hit the bloodstream much faster than just a plain caffeine pill so consider this in regards to your timing of ingestion.

Final Thoughts

We’ve basically focused exclusively on taking caffeine pre exercise to enhance performance, Whilst also touching on taking during exercise. However, caffeine is also a powerful substance to include post workout and has been seen to support glycogen resynthesis in the muscle and liver post exercise. Therefore don’t be shy to add a coffee to your post workout shake.

Although contradicting evidence exists, on balance it dosnt appear necessary to practice caffeine withdrawal to get a better sport performance effect from supplementing pre exercise. With this in mind, do experiment to see what works best for you.

In closing, what’s important to note is that the effects of caffeine are highly individual due to your genetic makeup. As seen on the dosing strategies, the range is fairly significant in what represents the best “effective dose”. With this in mind, just be mindful of where start with your experimentation and probably best to air on the side of caution, your sleep could thank you for it.

Creatine – which kind of sporting performance it may help, how much to dose and considerations for combat and weight making athletes

Today’s short post will look at the performance enhancing effects of supplemental creatine. I’ll detail how it improves your performances and in what specific sporting contexts it’s best placed. I’ll detail a dosing strategy and lastly, touch on considerations for weight making athletes and also, how creatine can even support your brain health.

When I refer to creatine in this post I am referring specifically to creatine monohydrate. Although you will find other brand alternatives, all the research indicates creatine monohydrate will meet all your performance goals adequately. Of particular importance, it is also the most cost effective of the creatine products on the market.

Performance

Performance enhancing is a fairly generic term, so let’s define in what context creatine can actually help you perform better. Creatine can acutely enhance performance of sports that require repeated high intensity exercise. Such examples include football and other team sports, power lifting, short & middle distance running and many combat sports.

Creatine improves recovery in short recovery periods between repeated bouts of maximal exercise. It is speculated it can also act as a buffer within the muscle (from muscle acidity), therefore delaying fatigue. Research also indicates creatine leads to improvements in muscular strength, force production, (or torque) and can lead to greater gains in lean muscle mass.

Although there is some differing papers, generally research does not suggest an improvement for endurance performance from creatine supplementation.

Non meat eaters

In its natural form, creatine is found in meat, fish and poultry products. Therefore supplementing with it can be especially important for vegetarian and vegan athletes.

In fact the biggest performance benefit will be seen by those who don’t consume much creatine containing foods such meat and fish. Vegetable sources are low in comparison. Herring is highest at 0.65-1.10g per 100g with salmon & beef next highest at 0.45g per 100g.

Dosing

There is some discussion around when to best take your creatine, especially from gym bros! It seems that post workout though is the optimal timing. However, in reality creatine works only when muscle is saturated by it, therefore consistency is far more important than timing in order to get a training effect.

Here is a best practice strategy when starting creatine supplementation;

– Creatine loading phase of 20g a day split into 4 doses of 5g throughout the day, for 5 days.

– Maintenance dose of 2g daily.

– Maintenance does can increase from 3-5g but watch weight gain.

The research does not support concerns regarding long term use, so don’t feel a need to cycle off. It could also support maintaining your lean mass during off season or times of reduced training such as when injured.

Optimising

As noted, post workout seems the optimal time to consume creatine. Total muscle creatine can be increased when consumed in a solution with simple carbohydrate. Protein and carbohydrate solution also seen to enhance muscle take up via insulin stimulation.

Weight making

I have a particular interest in combat sports where reaching a predetermined competition weight is often essential for competing athletes. This though is relevant for a number weight category sports.

When consuming creatine, changes in body composition can result from an increases in intracellular water, stimulation of protein synthesis or decrease in protein breakdown. Although these ultimately have positive benefits, they bring an added layer to consider when ‘cutting weight’.

If the athlete has a minimum of six to seven weeks before competition, and a high amount of weight to loose, they can reduce their daily dosing from 5 to 2.5 g, two to three weeks out. This will ensure optimal benefit for the initial stage of camp and some additional water weight may be lost whilst a continued ,(all be it sub optimal), benefit can continued to be obtained.

If there is shorter notice and the athlete is really struggling with weight loss, stop creatine one to three weeks before the weigh in. It will take four weeks to get to base line levels but a sharp drop in creatine stores happen after just one week.

Regarding loosing weight however, the question is how much weight will cutting creatine actually result in? Potentially this could be around 1% though, which may be crucial for those with a lot to cut. One week cutting (creatine), is probably optimal in regards to cutting some excess fluid retention but not loosing performance enhancing effects.

Lastly, a consideration is using creatine post weigh in, especially when weighing in 24 hours plus, prior to competition. Such instances usually see the competing athlete loosing greater amounts of weight due to the additional time to recover.

Due to its water retention quantities, creatine should be used in the post weigh in phase if the athlete has been using it already. A combat athlete especially needs to consider the importance of fluid retention post weigh in. Try adding between 5 and 10g post weigh in in your hydration protocol. This can help cellular hydration.

Brain health

Lastly, and of significant interest to both combat athletes and those with historical family neuro disorders, there is research that champions creatine for its neurological benefits.

Creatine stores decline with age, but supplements can restore these levels and might even boost memory and intelligence in older people. Some research suggests supplemental creatine may boost memory and reasoning skills in those at risk of low creatine levels due to their diet. It also has potential to help heal from a concussion. When taken at the onset of head injury creatine can reduce the effects of the concussion.

Please let me know your thoughts with a comment! If there’s anything else you’d see to read or see, let me know.

Healthy Chocolate Chip Muffins

Another sweet treat for you today. These muffins are probably simpler to make than the ‘real’ ones. There’s a good mix of protein, unprocessed carbohydrates and healthy fats.

Give them a shot and let me know your thoughts!

Ingredients

– 2 medium bananas

– 2 large eggs

– 1 cup or peanut butter

– 2 tbsps of honey

– 3 tbsps of cacoa nibs

– 1/2 tsp of baking powder

Method

– Pre heat oven to 175c

– Simply blend all ingredients together, ensuring bananas are completely blended.

– Either grease muffin tray or put in cases

– Fill trays between 1/2 and 3/4 for each muffin

– Allow to cook for 12-15 minutes

– Remove from oven and let muffins stand for 5 minutes 👌

Energy density: 199kcal each muffin (12 muffins)

Chocolate Protein Fridge Cake

This little treat is a favourite of mine to have in the fridge. It’s a great post workout snack as is a good source of easily digestible carbs via the dates, as well as a great source of protein. The good protein content also makes it super satiating, so not a bad mid morning/late afternoon snack with a cup of your finest choice hot beverage.

The Standouts

A couple of ingredients standout. The unsweetened cocoa powder is a good source magnesium (which can help reduce stress), potassium, and iron. Additional to this, it’s also full of flavonoids. These are nutrients that display antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antiallergic properties. The flavanols in cocoa are thought to improve nitric oxide levels in the blood, which can enhance the function of your blood vessels and reduce blood pressure

Almonds are a good source of Vitamin E. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble, essential nutrient with anti-inflammatory properties. Vitamin E helps support the immune system, cell function, and skin health. It’s an antioxidant, making it effective at combating the effects of free radicals produced by the metabolism of food and toxins in the environment.

Lastly, protein. Protein is important for pretty much every function within your body. It’s far more than just muscle building that it’s important for, (although that’s pretty damn important, especially as you get older). Whey protein is a great source as it contains all the 9 essential amino acids, which the body can’t synthesise by itself.

Ingredients:

– 227g dates

– 80g ground almond

– 40g Cacao powder

– 80g Greek Yogurt

– 2tbsp coconut oil

– 40g/ 2 scoops of whey protein

– 2 tbsp of toasted unsweetened coconut flacks

Method:

– Melt The coconut oil and set aside.

– Place The ground almonds, cacao and melted coconut oil in blender. Blend contents, scraping down the sides if needed.

– Place blended contents in bowel and add the other ingredients, mixing thoroughly.

– Grease a backing tin and pack in The mixture, pressing into place firmly using a rolling pin or back of a large spoon/spatula.

– Place in The fridge for 1 hour, remove and cut into squares.

Calories

Dates – 600kcal

Almonds – 462kcal

Cacao – 160kcal

Yogurt (full fat) – 113kcal

Coconut oil – 234kcal

Whey protein- 160kcal

Coconut flakes 60kcal

Total: 1789kcal

9 slices = 199kcal per slice

Roasted Power Porridge

So here’s a recipe to give one of the world’s favourite breakfasts a little lift. You can get as creative as you want with your porridge but I like to add a minimum of these two staple additions; blueberries & plain Greek yogurt. The beauty of this porridge however, comes from the toasted flavour of the oats, a simple but super tasty way to cook them.

The Staples

Blueberries are a great source of vitamins and minerals such vitamin C, K and manganese. These can all play roles in immune function and bone development.

Greek yogurt is a staple as although porridge isn’t a bad source of protein, it’s doesn’t contain all 9 essential amino acids needed for your body needs to regenerate, repair and build. Greek yogurt contains leucine, a branch chain amino acid that’s optimal for muscle protein synthesis.

Lastly, I’m a huge fan of Ceylon cinnamon, primarily as I love the taste. However, it does have some reportedly impressive benefits on balancing blood sugars amongst other things. Have a read hear if you want to know more:https://nutrition4fighters.wordpress.com/2017/11/16/snack-hack-13-ceylon-cinnamon/ . A little pro tip for the British readers is to hit up your local Lidle who sell Ceylon as their standard product. It’s the cheapest spot I’ve found for it by far!

Ingredients:

– 1/2 to 1 full mug of oats (depending on how much exercise you planned that day)

– 1/2 a cup of milk

– 1/2 a cup of water

– Pinch or sea salt

– 1/2 a cup of blueberries (I tend to use frozen)

– 1 to 2 large tsps of (full or half fat) Greek yogurt

– tsp of Ceylon cinnamon

Method:

– Place oats in saucepan and gently heat them dry. Stir for around 4/5 minutes or until you start to smell a toasted aroma.

– Add the water, milk and sea salt, mixing thoroughly. If frozen, also add blueberries at this point.

– After continuing to stir 5 minutes, ensure the oats have fully absorbed the liquid (or at least to your desired consistency). Remove from heat and add blueberries if fresh.

– Empty oats into the bowel. Add another splay of milk if you desire. Add the Greek yogurt and sprinkle the Ceylon cinnamon.

Calorie Options

Heavier option:

1 cup of oats – 389kcal

1/2 cup full fat milk – 75kcal

1/2 cup blueberries – 43kcal

2 tbsp full fat Greek yogurt – 30kcal

Total 536kcal

Lighter option:

1/2 cup of oats – 195kcal

1/2 cup of semi skimmed milk – 58 kcal

1/2 cup blueberries – 43kcal

1 tbsp of 2% fat Greek yogurt – 11 kcal

Total 306kcal

Non Bake Peanut Butter Vanilla Slices

Here is an absolutely delicious little snack treat. These non bake peanut butter slices are just as good for the kids as it is for a pre or post post workout snack. They’re also a pretty healthy alternative.

Chickpeas are the ingredients that probably stick out a tad here. As well as being a good source of different micronutrients such as magnesium & potassium, they’re also a great source of fibre. A particularly good reason though to have them in your diet is that chickpeas are high in protein and make an excellent replacement for meat in vegetarian and vegan diets.

Ingredients

– 1 can of chickpeas

– 100g peanut butter

– 80g honey

– Tbsp of coconut/almond/cows milk

– 3/4 of a tsp baking soda

– 2 tsp vanilla extract

– 2 tbsp of cacoa nibs

– Pinch of sea salt

– 2 tbsp of cacoa nibs (optional)

Method

– Drain chick peas

– Blend all the ingredients together. Now stir in cacoa nibs if using.

– Grease a backing tray and layer in the blended ingredients, patting it down till smooth on top

– Place in preheated oven at 175c for 20 mins

– Remove and allow to cool. Once cooled, place in fridge for around an hour, (if you are able resist that long…).

– Slice into squares and tuck in 👌

Athlete’s Breakfast Loaf

Welcome back to a long overdue post! Today is a recipe that although perfect for the athlete, will also suit anyone in need of something on the go.

The athlete’s breakfast loaf has a healthy combination of carbohydrates, protein and fat. Although it may take a little time to prepare the day before, it’ll definitely save time in those morning rushes and ensure you get some nutrients in you first thing.

Ingredients:

350g oats

2 Bananas

2 Large eggs

200g Greek yogurt

2 tsp of baking soda

1 handful of walnuts

1 handful of dried fruit

1 handful of mixed seeds

Method:

– Blend the oats by themselves in a mixer

– Combine oats, baking soda, dried fruit, nuts & seeds in bowl and mix together

– Blend eggs, yogurt & bananas together and mix into the dry ingredients

– Place mixture in grease paper lined bread tray and pat out evenly

– Cover tray with grease proof paper

– Cook in oven at 175c for 60 minutes

– Remove, tun over and cook for another 15 minutes

– Remove, allow to cool For 5 odd minutes and enjoy!