In recent years, the government is increasingly focused on healthy eating for children and young people and this is of course becoming even more important with the growing threat to their well-being from inactivity and obesity.
We are delighted to welcome Karl Cogan to this year’s Midlands Science Festival where he will address a Midlands school on the topic of Sports and Performance Nutrition. Karl is a PhD Researcher in the Exercise Metabolism and Nutrigenomics Research Group, at UCD Conway Institute of Biomolecular and Biomedical Research.
We caught up with Karl in advance of the festival for a chat…
Why is it important to drink plenty of fluids before, during and after playing sport?
A reduction in bodyweight of approximately 2% due to sweat loss can negatively impact both cognitive and physical performance. While loss of body fluid during exercise is inevitable, there is no reason why an athlete should commence exercise in a dehydrated state. Therefore, ingestion of fluid before and during physical activity can help to mitigate the effects of fluid loss on sporting performance. Ingestion of fluid after exercise is important to replace that lost during physical activity.
What advice would you give to teenagers around healthy eating at exam time?
This might seem very cliché, but eating a well-balanced diet, full of fruits, vegetables, and avoiding highly processed foods, will help maintain energy levels and concentration. Try to avoid taking highly caffeinated beverages late a night as this can significantly impact upon sleep quality, and as a result, cognitive function. Late night caffeine fuelled cram sessions are no guarantee of success and I’d certainly advocate a good nights rest instead.
Do we need sports supplements or are they a waste of money?
While this might seem like a simple question, unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer. For recreational athletes, again, a well balanced diet should provide all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals required for general health and recovery from exercise. However, sometimes it isn’t always possible to get the nutrients we require directly from whole food. For example, the quantity of food required to meet the nutritional needs of certain athletic populations is difficult to attain through whole food. As a result, supplementation is often required for athletic populations. Additionally, nutritional requirements change throughout our lifespan. Supplementation represents an important intervention that can be utilized to enhance different aspects of health. Consequently, we should avoid exclusively focusing on their use as a means of solely enhancing sporting performance.
We have heard that carbohydrates and fat are the two main fuels for exercising muscles. Is protein important too? If so what is important for?
Carbohydrate and fat are the two predominant sources of energy fuelling exercise. Their relative contributions to energy production are influenced by the intensity of exercise, individual fitness level and diet. There is, however, a modest increase over time in the amount of energy derived from protein during prolonged aerobic endurance exercise. While not as important for fuelling performance, protein is crucial for appropriate recovery from exercise with the type, timing and amount required important considerations.
There are many sports nutritional myths out there in the media, is saying its necessary to carbo-load before races or a big sports event one of them?
Similarly to hydration, it is important to avoid exercising in a carbohydrate depleted stated, if optimal performance is the desired goal. Generally, for events lasting 60 minutes or less, it is not necessary to carb-load, as carbohydrate availability is not the limiting factor in performance. For longer endurance based events of moderate to high intensity, however, a pre-event carbohydrate loading phase may improve performance. There is no one single answer to any given nutritional question. Like most things in nutritional and exercise science, answers are very much dependent on the individual context of a situation.
Apart from the one we all know, calcium is necessary for healthy bones, what else is it good for in the body?
In addition to maintaining healthy teeth and bones, calcium is an extremely important mineral for many different processes within our bodies. It plays an extremely important role during muscle contraction, blood clotting, facilitating nerve signal transmission and release of other hormones and chemical messages.
Are muscle cramps caused by dehydration?
There are many hypotheses as to why muscles cramp, for example, dehydration and metabolite imbalances. The short answer is, we don’t know, but it is most likely due to a combination of factors rather than any single cause.