Q & A with Titans Fitness Coogee
Can you please tell me a little bit about yourself, your current role and how your passion for nutrition developed?
Most people know me at Titans Fitness as a Group Exercise Instructor teaching Spin, BodyPump, GRIT and HIIT classes. As with most instructors, I also have a day job! For me that’s being a Sports Dietitian. My role involves practically applying nutritional science to help the everyday person and professional athletes train better, recover well and perform at their best. Athletes I work with include runners, triathletes, rugby players, bodybuilders and boxers. My passion for sports nutrition began after seeing a Sports Dietitian myself when training for middle distance running events. I was completely amazed by how applying simple nutritional strategies made such a difference to my health, energy levels and training.
Many people attend group fitness classes such as Spin and HIIT in order to build muscle and lean up, what’s the best pre and post workout nutrition strategy for high intensity exercise in order to achieve these goals?
Nutrition plays a critical role in exercise performance and recovery. Proper nutrition should allow you to complete high intensity exercise for a longer duration, decrease the amount of time spent in rest intervals and enhance recovery to train the next day.
During high intensity activity your body uses glucose (carbohydrate) as its primary energy source. Glucose is stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen. If following a general healthy diet, most of us should have enough glycogen stored in the muscles to complete 30-45min of high intensity exercise. As exercise duration increases muscle glycogen decreases, meaning your body needs additional fuel either before and/or during exercise as energy ‘top-up’.
Exercising without eating beforehand, results in a greater proportion of fat being used as fuel than if doing the same workout and having a snack. However, by eating a small carb based snack such as fruit or a piece of toast you may be able to exercise harder and longer resulting in greater overall calorie expenditure. If you are ‘hitting a wall’ at the 30min mark it may be worth experimenting whether a eating beforehand enhances your ability to complete the session. My favourite pre-spin snack is a banana and black coffee.
Once completing a HIIT workout, your body requires protein to repair muscle and carbohydrate to replace glycogen stores. Requirements differ with sex and lean muscle mass however you should aim for 10-35g of protein + a moderate intake of carbohydrate after intense exercise.
If looking to build muscle and lose fat I would recommend timing your workouts so that your recovery meal is also a main meal (breakfast, lunch or dinner). This eliminates the need for an additional snack. If this is not practical, nutritious snacks include high protein yogurt such as chobani, a couple of vita wheats with nut butter spread or a couple of boiled eggs with a handful of strawberries. Convenient option – choose whey protein on water and some fruit or grab a carmens protein bar.
Many fear that if they don’t eat within an hour post training, they may lose their gains. How important is it to eat protein and carbohydrates directly post weight training?
It’s certainly very important to consume quality protein and carbohydrate after a resistance training session to promote muscle protein synthesis and replace glycogen stores. It has been shown that the combo of carbohydrate and protein results in more favourable recovery outcomes than protein or carbohydrate in isolation.
Recovery nutrition should be individualised and based on body composition, intensity, duration and the period of time before the next training session. Muscle cells are primed to replace carbohydrate and use protein for muscle repair up to 24-48hrs after a workout. Latest research has shifted our post workout priority to high quality protein regularity and distribution for this reason. For example, having a number of evenly distributed protein serves over the day will enhance hypertrophy alongside resistance training more effectively than a protein shake in the morning and a massive steak at the end of the day. In short, if you are looking to achieve serious muscle mass gains your nutrition needs to be consistent outside the magic 1hr window.
While it is important to eat in a calorie deficit to facilitate weight loss, I’ve also heard that if you eat too little calories, you may in fact gain weight. Can you please elaborate on this? How do you find the fine line between calorie consumption and weight loss?
You’re correct in that we need to create an energy deficit to lose weight, however the reality is that everyone responds differently to low calorie diets. The concept of eating too few calories and gaining weight may be due to a few reasons:
- Too few calories = a state of physical and psychological stress. The body releases a hormone known as cortisol in response to stressful situations. High levels of cortisol over an extended period of time will raise sugar levels and eventually lead to weight gain.
- You feel deprived and suddenly that muffin on a Friday afternoon turns into 3. You’re not superman! Unless a calorie-restricted diet is sustainable it won’t work.
- You’re not eating to support exercise. If you are training hard whilst having a severe energy deficit, your body will start to break down muscle for fuel. Any decrease in muscle mass will decrease your metabolism and total energy requirements.
- Genetics. Our bodies are complex and individual. Nutrition research is showing that our genetic makeup plays a significant role in metabolism, hormone regulation and ultimately ones ability to lose weight.
With several factors to think about, it can be difficult to find the fine line between calorie intake and weight loss. Even though we have equations to estimate calorie intake and guidelines to decrease these calories, I can’t think of one time this math has been completely accurate. Nutrition science is an estimate.
I consider each of my clients as an individual and prioritise nutrient density, timing and macronutrient distribution of meals supporting health and activity rather than focusing on total energy intake.
Let’s end on a fun one, what’s the strangest nutrition strategy/philosophy you’ve seen used by an athlete you’ve worked with?
It’s something I wouldn’t recommend…and therefore probably shouldn’t give people any ideas! However the strangest would have to be taking the idea of flexible dieting to the extreme. One of my athletes (before being a regular client!) decided it was ok to consume his entire energy requirements for the day in alcohol. I’m pretty sure he only managed this once, as the hangover wasn’t worth it.
To get all our articles delivered straight to your inbox make sure you sign up to the newsletter.
Melanie is one of Sydney’s top Sports Dietitian’s. Commencing her career in hospitals, before specialising in Sports Nutrition and Personal Training, gives Mel the unique combination to understand the nutritional demands of exercise. Her approach is simplistic, backed by science and results based. Check out befitdietitian.com for more information or to book a consult.