Why a blog and a few thoughts on carbohydrate

February 15, 2017

Close Encounters of the Nutritional Kind

Number 1 – Why a blog and a few thoughts on carbohydrate

I must start my first blog with an apology – the name. Yes, it’s obvious (and a little/lot cheesy) but after lots of thought I could not move away from it. Why? Well this is exactly what I want the blog to be about, sharing some encounters from the ‘glamorous’ world of professional/international sport and from my laboratory and how I combine both worlds every day. I guess this is the reason I decided to write a blog. I feel very privileged that I am in a somewhat unique position of spending half of my life performing nutrition/physiology research in a world class research department (Liverpool John Moores University), and the other half working with some of the world’s best athletes. I am often asked if I can bring people on work placements into both worlds which is very hard to do but what I can do is share some of my experiences with you in this blog.

As an academic I spend a lot of my life writing and publishing research papers (GLC Research Gate). In this world a successful paper may get cited 50 times and perhaps read by 100-200 people – mainly other academics. Some less successful papers of mine have been cited less than 10 times and I hate to think how many people have read those ones. And with academic writing there is little room to add thoughts, feelings and dare I say reflections. There is of course the option of a book but these take time to write and longer to publish and to be honest by the time books are published in physiology/nutrition a lot of the contemporary literature is dated. So, a blog seemed a good answer. An opportunity to share some insights immediately that hopefully will be of interest to a wider audience than those who search ‘pubmed’. Don’t get me wrong I still want to publish research papers but this will be my chance to have more freedom in my writing. And for the fellow science geeks who may be reading this I will attach some hyperlinks to key research papers where possible that have helped to inform my opinion.

 

A few thoughts on carbs.

 I am currently sitting on the train travelling home from 2 successful days working with one of the rugby teams I provide nutrition support to. I must say my job is an absolute privilege and one I immensely enjoy. On the train I gave some thought as to what would be a good first topic for this blog – and a meeting with one of the players’ springs to mind. This player is making amazing progress with their diet (and body composition) and when I asked what the main change was the player stated “I am fuelling for the work required”. This of course made me smile with delight. My work colleague and close friend Dr James Morton (Head nutritionist to Team Sky) came up with this phrase and in fact published it in a recent paper he wrote on carbohydrate periodisation. This is fact the second rugby player that has quoted this back to me in the last 4 weeks.

So, what do we mean by fuel for the work required? In simple terms, we mean carbohydrate periodisation. There is huge debate at the moment if athletes should be high or low carbohydrate athletes, where in reality many of the world’s best athletes work in both worlds. They literally can have their “cake and eat it”. Well maybe not cake but you know what I mean. Let’s say they can have their jacket potato and eat it. The thing is athletes have very different demands day to day, much more so than the general public. Take a rugby player, on a rest day he may expend 2800Kcal and on a really hard training day closer to 6,500Kcal. It makes no sense that these days are treated the same but too often athletes are given diet plans that are the same day-to-day with no appreciation of the work required. So, on low intensity days, or rest days then why is there a need to eat a really high carbohydrate diet – answer there is not, but on hard training days when the body needs carbohydrate for the high intensity periods (yes in 2017 the body still does need carbohydrate for high intensity exercise despite what you may have read on twitter) then it is wise to “fuel for the work required”. And that’s it. That’s carbohydrate periodisation. This way we can work really hard on training days and perform well, we can reduce energy intake on lower intensity days so we don’t over eat, and it means we don’t need crazy diets that start banning certain food groups. And when this is done well we see really great results that are long term sustainable.

I guess as an academic practitioner it is amazing to see your groups research being used in the real world and being effective hence I wanted to share this story for my first blog. I have a few ideas for future ones including…

  • DXA versus skinfolds – what’s best in the real world
  • Is vitamin D assessment necessary?
  • How to engage a player that won’t engage?
  • The personality types of elite athletes – and how this changes the consultation
  • Why changing a diet is stressful – but what can we do to help?
  • Why I embraced SENr and why you should as well
  • A rugby player in a football world
  • Oxidants and antioxidants – separating fact from fiction

…but I also welcome suggestions. Either in the comments box or on twitter. I will also do my best to answer any questions you may have about this blog or future ones.

Can I finish by saying I certainly DO NOT have all the answers or even think I do. The day you think you know it all in this industry is the day you fall behind. This is such a fast world that what we think is true today may be proven wrong tomorrow – and it is OK to change your mind. In fact, we must change our mind when presented with better facts than we had when we first formulated our opinions. All I can do is present to you my interpretation of the literature at the time of writing and show how I try to use this in my applied practice. I promise you honesty, unique insights and a bit of fun along the way.

My crazy world. One day I can be working with the world’s best sportspeople and
the next day taking pieces of muscle out of participants to study molecular signalling of adaptions. Plus I do some teaching in between at LJMU. Crazy but fun and I wouldn’t swap it for the world.

Until the next Close Encounter of the Nutritional Kind…..

Take care,

Graeme

16 comments

  1. Comment by Nanci Guest

    Nanci Guest Reply February 16, 2017 at 12:16 am

    Blog 1 – Great job Graeme! Abit of science and a bit out in the field. You sound very dedicated and passionate about what you do! The way it should be, but few are that lucky. Great first topic. Carb periodization – really hope that finally takes hold in 2017! (despite what we may read on twitter lol)

  2. Comment by Steve Griff

    Steve Griff Reply February 16, 2017 at 1:44 am

    Nice heading Graeme.
    In a sport as complex mentally and physically it’s so tough to get it right in Triathlon. Throw in an age grouper of 52 years young and it gets even more complex.
    With next year’s World Championships here on the Gold Coast Australia I am looking at improving all aspects of my training. Starting with diet…..or “Close encounters of the dietitional kind” as you put it.

    So it’s great you can share your expertise with us all on here.

    Sportingly yours.

    Steve G.

  3. Comment by Dana

    Dana Reply February 16, 2017 at 5:29 am

    Great blog Graeme. Here’s a topic for you. I’d love to hear your thoughts outside of science. There is a large emotional intelligence part that is tied to your great success as a scientist and practitioner. I’d love to hear your thoughts on why a majority of the big players in sport nutrition (with a few exceptions) are male. If you look at the big hitting academics, highest profile sport nutrition positions, Gatorade Xpert panel etc. or combo of these positions, they are held by predominatly males. In recent experiences I have realized (personally) what elements may contribute to this. However, I’d love your thoughts on balancing (or not) research/practitioner life and why perhaps more of the heavy hitting positions are held by males.

  4. Comment by Andy Smith

    Andy Smith Reply February 16, 2017 at 7:57 am

    About bloody time Graeme! I enjoyed that. I had a debate on this very topic some weeks ago and this has reinforced my thoughts on carb periodisation. Question though…If an athlete consumes 6500Kcals on a really hard training day, how do you then drop them down to 2800Kcals if the next day is a rest day without over consuming calories? That’s a hell of a drop!

  5. Comment by Graeme

    Graeme Reply February 16, 2017 at 10:44 am

    Thanks for the question Andy. I have a very simple approach to my diet plans. I always clamp protein at about 2g per kg per day. So for a 100kg player this is about 800Kcal. On light days I keep fat about 1g per kg so another 900Kcal for the 100kg player. This now leaves about 1000 left in carbs for that light day, about 2.5g per kg. To keep athletes full I have loads of veg on these days to really fill up the plate. On the heavy days I utilise more fats (we would have fatty fish rather than white fish), oils, nuts, seeds, avocado etc plus would take the carbs higher like 6-8g per kg. It really comes down to educating the players so they can make those decisions themselves. Hope this helps.

  6. Comment by Jorn Trommelen

    Jorn Trommelen Reply February 16, 2017 at 10:45 am

    Congrats on the blog Graeme! I think there is a desperate need for more researchers who communicate with the public, to combat the marketing nonsense that seems to dominate the public opinion.

  7. Comment by Graeme

    Graeme Reply February 16, 2017 at 11:38 am

    Hi Dana. You raise a great question and I will try and tackle this in a later blog. I will also try and interview some great female dieticians / nutritionists working in this field and get their thoughts. There are some really great female sport nutritionists I have worked with who I would ask to work with anyone. People like Ruth Wood-Martin (IRFU), Wendy Martinson (Rowing), Emma Gardner (EIS), Jennie Carter (West Brom), Chris Cashin (Wales), Olivia Busby (Sport Wales) are all world class to name a few and don’t forget the person that started this whole discipline Louise Burke at the AIS. What are your thoughts Dana?

  8. Comment by Connor Davidson

    Connor Davidson Reply February 16, 2017 at 4:47 pm

    Hi Graeme love the blog! I have a quick question for confirmation. As an elite gymnast I’m very focussed on maximising my relative strength and making my body composition as lean as possible whilst still maintaining my energy to train hard. On my days off all I want to do is eat and eat to reduce DOMS and feel fit for the next session. Do you think on the days off it’s still best to minimise CHO and just eat a good amount of protein etc for recovery?

    best wishes,

    Connor

  9. Comment by Christopher Wilson

    Christopher Wilson Reply February 17, 2017 at 9:00 am

    This is a dangerous road my friend. Once you start to blog and enjoy the freedom it gives them soon you will be posting like a crazy man. Great work on your first one, it’s excellent.
    Like any Soap box story your blog should finish with everyone excited to read the next (leave a hint what will come next) and secondly shit down with a coffee and list your most frequently asked questions from your clients. This way you create a content list that is relevant to your audience.
    Have fun with it Graeme.

  10. Comment by Christopher Wilson

    Christopher Wilson Reply February 17, 2017 at 9:01 am

    ^^^^ some will tell you to proof read your work before you post ^^^^
    Don’t bother is overrated

  11. Comment by Anja

    Anja Reply February 17, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    Amazing post, Prof. Close! I am very grateful for you sharing your insights and opinions. There is much to be learned from your expertise. I am very much looking forward to read the next articles.

    best wishes from Austria,

    Anja

  12. Comment by Andy Smith

    Andy Smith Reply February 17, 2017 at 7:43 pm

    I was thinking more in terms of satiating factors. So if an athlete consumes 6500 kcals during a day where training is heavy and they do this for for a couple of days, surely the athlete has to have tremendous willpower not to over consume calories on a rest day or are they told what to eat and when to eat it and they stick to it?

    Really appreciate your comments 🙂

  13. Comment by Graeme Close

    Graeme Close Reply February 18, 2017 at 1:26 pm

    Hi Andy. The increased protein and veg help. But to be honest it’s mindful eating. It’s easy to go a day feeling slightly hungry if you know that’s not forever. I think education of the athlete is the key. They have to make the right decisions and know why they are doing it.

  14. Comment by Graeme Close

    Graeme Close Reply February 18, 2017 at 1:28 pm

    Hi Connor. As a gymnast carb periodisation will be very important for you. High protein and fish oils have decent evidence for DOMS as well as cherry active. Also remember it’s periodised carbs not none. Even on rest day you will be eating some.

  15. Comment by Sean Wilson

    Sean Wilson Reply February 18, 2017 at 8:43 pm

    Great little blog Graeme, thanks. I was curious to ask you about something that has been intriguing me of late (as an Exercise Scientist). Whilst I remain of the opinion myself that carbs are critical to most athletic endeavours, I have been surprised and interested (whilst only an n=1) by the performance of Shawn Baker and his recent exploits on the indoor rower (500m in world record time for his age) whilst adhering to a zero carb diet. Whilst completely at odds to my ideas of an optimal diet, I was wondering how this is possible given the reliance on anaerobic glycolysis/glycogen and the mismatch of a diet devoid in any carbs? Can gluconeogenesis synthesise sufficient glucose between exercise sessions to restore glycogen sufficiently so that there is enough skeletal muscle glycogen to ensure that performance (in this case 500m all-out row) is not compromised. Be interested in your take. Cheers Sean

  16. Comment by Lindsay (UTHFA)

    Lindsay (UTHFA) Reply May 6, 2017 at 10:44 pm

    Great blog Graeme! I completely agree with you that the amount of calories consumed should correlate with the amount of calories expended that day. Overeating is so common nowadays – I would say it is a huge contributor to increased weight gain (or lack of weight loss).

    I look forward to reading your other blog posts, especially on tips for changing your diet and making the transition easier. Also, what is your opinion on meal replacement and protein shakes?

    Thanks!

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