Photo of Kate Smyth naturopath, performing an examination on a patient.

Sports naturopathy, also known as sports focussed naturopathic medicine, uses natural healing approaches and offers many potential benefits for athletes.

Naturopathic practitioners (Naturopaths) aim to maintain optimal health through a balanced and yet comprehensive approach. Naturopathy complements other conventional medical and allied health practices.

Potential benefits of sports naturopathy for athletes include:

Holistic Approach: Sports naturopathy takes a holistic approach to health, considering the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of an individual. A naturopath is trained in nutritional medicine, biochemistry, herbal medicine, pharmacology and pathology. A scientific medicine and a complex holistic approach can be particularly beneficial for athletes as it addresses the whole person, rather than just isolated symptoms.

Individualised Treatment: Naturopaths create personalised treatment plans for athletes based on their specific nutritional needs, sporting goals, and health conditions. This facilitates targeted and effective interventions.

Nutrition and Dietary Guidance: Proper nutrition can enhance energy levels, prevent illness and nutrient deficiency, and overall sports performance. A food first approach focusses on using food as medicine. A naturopath will also provide balanced and nutritious guidelines to meet an athlete’s nutritional requirements.

Natural Solutions:  Heavily researched and synergistic natural solutions such as vitamins, minerals, and herbal medicines are used to support athlete’s health and performance. These supplements are chosen based on scientific evidence and matched to the individual’s needs. We draw on the vast number of published research papers on global medical databases and carefully assess the integrity quality and validity of papers and underlying research projects.

Stress Management: Athletes can experience high levels of physical and emotional stress as part of living a very full life.. Adaptogens are a category of natural medicines that modify stress hormones such as cortisol and support calming neurotransmitters like GABA. Adapatogens better equip the athlete to consistently perform well under pressure by adjusting the nervous system’s response to stress.

Injury Prevention and Repair: Naturopathic treatments promote healing of bone fractures, muscle, tendon and ligament damage and underlying inflammation. Naturopathic anti-inflammatory medications and nutrition have been shown to have similar effects as non-steroid anti-inflammatory medications with limited side effects.

Detoxification: Where appropriate gentle detoxification approaches can help athletes maintain optimal organ function and overall health.

Pain Management: Sports naturopathy offers various natural solutions that ease pain as part of injury management, neurological issues, painful periods and headaches. These approaches may help athletes manage pain without relying solely on pharmaceutical medications.

Enhance Recovery: Poor recovery can be a sign of underlying health imbalances. Minerals and herbal medicines promote muscle relaxation and reduce inflammation. Sports naturopathy complements other recovery techniques such as water running, anti gravity, Normatec recovery systems, cold water and sauna therapy. A naturopath may also refer to massage, kinesiology, bowen, osteopathy and myopathy.

Optimise Immune Function: Immune support is crucial for athletes who are prone to overexertion and increased susceptibility to illness. So often athletes get run down and sick right before competition and in the weeks following. A preventative approach including key immune boosting nutrients, wholefood medicines and herbs can be beneficial and well tolerated during times of high stress.

Digestive Health: Proper digestion and absorption of nutrients is key foundation in sports naturopathy. Naturopaths work to resolve digestive symptoms such as bloating, diarrhoea and urgency are common issues.

Long-Term Wellness:. By addressing the root causes of health issues and providing preventive strategies, athletes can aim for sustained peak performance over time and minimise health issues.

It’s important to remember that while sports naturopathy can offer these potential benefits, as with all medical interventions, individual responses may vary. Athletes should consult with a qualified sports focussed naturopath to create a comprehensive and well-rounded approach to their health and performance.

Photo of a female with long hair standing on a beach with her hands over her face.

Iron is well known for the transportation of oxygen throughout the body as previously discussed, however, the link between iron deficiency and ADHD is not as well understood.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition affecting 12% of school-aged children and a growing number of adults. Impulsive behaviour, hyperactivity and/or inattention are common issues with ADHD. The prevalence of ADHD in student and elite athletes is suggested to be as high as 8% in certain sports. Athletes with ADHD may naturally excel in sports that require quick movements and reactive decision-making such as basketball, netball and baseball due to these athletes’ inherent impulsivity. Physical activity through playing sports also improves the symptoms of ADHD such as inattention, depressive mood, anxiety and impaired cognition.

Managing ADHD

In most cases, psychosocial interventions are used to manage ADHD. Medications (methylphenidate and amphetamine compounds) may also be used to activate dopamine and noradrenergic neurotransmitter pathways in the brain. This activation may lead to improved attention and concentration but also often come with side effects including increased heart rate and blood pressure, abdominal pain, headache, anorexia, sleep impairment, weight loss, jitteriness and constipation. If not addressed these side effects can impair performance and/or threaten athlete safety.

As both iron and zinc deficiencies impact neurologic functions (poor memory, inattentiveness, and impulsiveness), finicky appetite, and mood changes (sadness and irritability), nutritional adequacy is especially important in ADHD patients. Altered levels of iron and zinc increase the susceptibility, aggravation and progression of ADHD. In children, the severity of iron deficiency has been linked to a 30% increase in inattentive, impulsive, and hyperactive behaviours.

Evidence suggests patients with ADHD may experience lower stores of iron (ferritin) in the liver. This is proposed to be due to higher levels of hepcidin in ADHD patients.  In our previous blog, we explain how Hepcidin is a peptide hormone that acts as the master regulator in iron metabolism and storage in the liver. Hepcidin also tightly influences red blood cell production.

Ferritin levels below 30ng/mL are related to sleep disturbances and a higher incidence of restless leg syndrome which may further compound behavioural issues in ADHD patients. Another mineral which shares the same carrier protein as iron is zinc. Zinc deficiency is also linked to inflammatory prostaglandins, essential enzymes and changes in melatonin and dopamine.

Whilst a food-first approach is preferred, individuals with high nutrient demands may benefit from targeted supplementation.  Iron-rich foods such as kangaroo, red meats, chicken, salmon and zinc-rich foods have been extensively discussed in relation to immunityanaemia and plant-based athletes.

Supplementation has been shown to be effective in individuals with iron deficiency, especially in the inattentive subtype of ADHD. Iron supplementation has also been shown to decrease the risk of cardiovascular events during treatment with ADHD drugs. A combination of iron and zinc supplements has been shown to be superior to iron alone in alleviating ADHD symptoms, as well as improvement in performance in IQ tests.

Hundreds of athletes have used our handy anaemia tool to help determine the likely risk of having low iron or anaemia. This short quiz is handy if you have experienced iron deficiency in the past and are unsure if your iron stores may be declining.

Want to know more? Contact the Athlete Sanctuary and learn how we can help you.

About the Author: Kate Smyth is a Sports naturopath, nutritionist and female-centric running coach. She is the founder of the Athlete Sanctuary- a holistic healthcare clinic for athletes of all levels and sporting codes. Kate has a thirst for knowledge with two bachelor’s and a master’s degree under her belt. She has been involved in sports for many decades and competed for Australia in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games marathons with a personal best time of 2 hours 28 minutes. For more information visit www.https://



  1. Robberecht, H., Verlaet, A. A., Breynaert, A., De Bruyne, T., & Hermans, N. (2020). Magnesium, iron, zinc, copper and selenium status in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Molecules, 25(19), 4440.
  2. Han, D. H., McDuff, D., Thompson, D., Hitchcock, M. E., Reardon, C. L., & Hainline, B. (2019). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in elite athletes: a narrative review. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 53(12), 741-745.
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  4. Hamilton RM, Rosenthal E, Hulpke-Wette M, et al. Cardiovascular considerations of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder medications: a report of the European Network on hyperactivity disorders work group, European attention deficit hyperactivity disorder guidelines group on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder drug safety meeting. Cardiol Young 2012;22:63–70
  5. Konofal, E., Lecendreux, M., Arnulf, I., & Mouren, M. C. (2004). Iron deficiency in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine, 158(12), 1113-1115.
  6. Yazici, K.U.; Yazici, I.P.; Ustundag, B. Increased Serum Hepcidin Levels in Children and Adolescents with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Clinical Psychopharmacology Neuroscience. 2019, 17, 105–112.
  7. Abou-Khadra, M.K.; Amin, O.R.; Shaker, O.G.; Rabah, T.M. Parent-reported sleep problems, symptom ratings, and serum ferritin levels in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: A case control study. BMC Pediatrics 2013, 13, 217.
  8. Arnold, L.E.; DiSilvestro, R.A. Zinc in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. J. Child Adolesc. Psychopharmacol. 2005, 15, 619–627.
  9. Soto-Insuga, V.; Calleja, M.; Prados, M.; Castano, C.; Losada, R.; Ruiz-Falco, M. Role of iron in the treatment of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. An. Paediatrician . 2013, 79, 230–235.
  10. Parisi, P.; Villa, M.P.; Donfrancesco, R.; Miano, S.; Paolino, M.C.; Cortese, S. Could treatment of iron deficiency both improve ADHD and reduce cardiovascular risk during treatment with ADHD drugs? Hypotheses, 2012, 79, 246–249.
  11. El-Baz, F. M., Youssef, A. M., Ramadan, D., & Youssef, W. Y. (2019). Association between circulating zinc/ferritin levels and parent Conner’s scores in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. European Psychiatry, 62, 68-73.
  12. Tan, L.-N.; Wei, H.-Y.; Zhang, Y.-D.; Lu, A.-L.; Li, Y. (2011). Relationship between serum ferritin levels and susceptibility to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children: A Meta analysis. Zhongguo Dang Dai Er Ke Za Zhi. 13, 722–724.
  13. Öner, P.; Dirik, E.B.; Taner, Y.; Caykoylu, A.; Anlar, O. (2007). Association between low serum ferritin and restless legs syndrome in patients with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Tohoku J. Exp. Med. 213, 269–276

There are many benefits of blueberries for improving overall health. Of particular interest for our athletes is how blueberries reduce inflammation.

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can cause significant discomfort after a race or hard session. This discomfort and heaviness in the muscles are thought to be due to micro tears in muscles and exercise-induced inflammation. Increasing your nutritional intake of anthocyanin flavonoids the antiinflammatory agents found in berries may help to reduce inflammation.

How do you blueberry?

A blueberry smoothie is a convenient post-training choice. In a randomized crossover study, participants were asked to consume either a smoothie with 1.5 cups of frozen blueberries, a banana, and apple juice or a smoothie that substituted berries for dextrose and vitamin C powder to match the calorie and antioxidant content of the blueberry smoothie. The participants consuming the blueberry smoothie demonstrated significantly reduced exercise-induced oxidative stress over the next 24 hours. The consumption of the blueberry smoothie also resulted in a recovery of peak strength far exceeding that of the substitute smoothie. These findings are particularly relevant to athletes in multi-day events and endurance athletes with high mileage over successive days.  Cherries, spinach, ginger, turmeric, oily fish, and watermelon have all been shown to help reduce muscle soreness.

Quercetin is another anti-inflammatory flavonoid found in foods. Capers, dill, broccoli, tomato, asparagus, green capsicum, red onions, apple, and grapes all contain quercetin as highlighted in our previous blog here 

Regular intake of blueberries can also reduce period pain.

Improvements in cognitive function with the consumption of blueberries have also been well documented. The brain-enhancing metabolites of anthocyanins peak in the bloodstream within an hour and are accessed by the body as blueberries are digested by our gut microbiome and colon.

The natural prebiotic and probiotic action of blueberries occurs as the bacteria in the gut breaks down the berries and absorbs the active compounds back into the body.  Blueberry consumption may help our youngsters with brain development and also our mature athletes. The consumption of one cup of blueberries a day has been shown to delay cognitive decline by over two and a half years in middle age and in seniors, reduced artery stiffness, osteoarthritis, and improve immune defense against viral infections. In studies looking at children consuming blueberries, the improvement in cognitive performance was seen within hours of just a single meal with blueberries.  Now that is powerful stuff!

In the southern parts of Australia, fresh blueberries can become expensive and reduced in quality due to storage and seasonality. Frozen berries provide a good alternative. While fresh is typically best, there are exceptions to this rule.

Several studies have found that frozen berries contain the same nutritional elements as fresh berries that have just been harvested. According to studies conducted by John Hopkins University, recently harvested frozen berries maintain their optimal nutrition levels for several months. Freezing berries makes it possible to easily access these superfoods year round.

Otway chemical-free blueberries are a great choice. Their berries are plump, juicy, and always very fresh as they are locally grown, picked daily when in season, and frozen.  Their berries are superb in summer but you will always find a packet in my freezer as a backup supply.

If you find smoothies containing frozen berries too cold in winter, add warm milk or a teaspoon of ground turmeric or ginger to the smoothie. You can always thaw the berries and allow them to come up to room temperature before adding them to your smoothie.   For a creative way to enhance your recovery, check out our Beet berry smoothie bowl.

Sound nutritional advice is key to sports performance. Our holistic female-centric approach gets results! Find out how we can help you here


Connor, A. ,  Luby, J.,  Hancock, J, Berkheimer, S., and Eric J. Hanson, E..  (2002). Changes In Fruit Antioxidant Activity Among Blueberry Cultivars During Cold-Temperature Storage,.  Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 50(4), 893-898.

Du, C., Smith, A., Avalos, M., South, S., Crabtree, K., Wang, W., & Juma, S. (2019). Blueberries improve pain, gait performance, and inflammation in individuals with symptomatic knee osteoarthritis. Nutrients, 11(2), 290.

Hein, S., Whyte, A. R., Wood, E., Rodriguez-Mateos, A., & Williams, C. M. (2019). Systematic review of the effects of blueberry on cognitive performance as we age. The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, 74(7), 984-995.

Kalt, W., Cassidy, A., Howard, L. R., Krikorian, R., Stull, A. J., Tremblay, F., & Zamora-Ros, R. (2020). Recent research on the health benefits of blueberries and their anthocyanins. Advances in Nutrition, 11(2), 224-236.

Sucharita, G., Revathi, K., Venkatesh, P., Kalarini, D. H., & Prema, R. A Review on Benefits of Blue Berries.

Tarazona-Díaz, M. P., Alacid, F., Carrasco, M., Martínez, I., & Aguayo, E. (2013). Watermelon juice: potential functional drink for sore muscle relief in athletes. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 61(31), 7522-7528.

Whyte, A. R., Rahman, S., Bell, L., Edirisinghe, I., Krikorian, R., Williams, C. M., & Burton-Freeman, B. (2021). Improved metabolic function and cognitive performance in middle-aged adults following a single dose of wild blueberry. European Journal of Nutrition, 60(3), 1521-1536.

Benefits of Blueberries for Artery Function.

Lohachoompol, V., Srzednicki, G., & Craske, J. (2004). The change of total anthocyanins in blueberries and their antioxidant effect after drying and freezing. Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology, 2004(5), 248.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

10 symptoms of Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a painful condition impacting over 830,000 Australian women and girls and over 176 million women worldwide.  With endometriosis, inflammation and estrogen dominance impacts tissue similar to the uterine lining and encourage growth in other areas of the body outside the womb such as in the pelvic cavity, the ovaries, fallopian tubes, intestines, or bowel.

Treatment commonly consists of medical and surgical therapies to remove the endometrial-like tissue. Painkillers and hormonal treatments are frequently offered to sufferers, but unfortunately, up to 50% of women will experience a recurrence of symptoms within 5 years (2). Many find the years before diagnosis extremely frustrating as they seek validation for their symptoms.

The exact causes of endometriosis remain unknown, however, family history, retrograde menstruation, metaplasia (conversion of normal pelvic tissue into endometriosis), alcohol intake, and early onset of periods (prior to 11 years of age) may play a role.

A third of women will be diagnosed after being unable to fall pregnant or inadvertently during an operation.

10 symptoms of endometriosis:

  • Abdominal, lower back, or pelvic pain during periods
  • Pain during or after sex
  • Pain on going to the toilet
  • Ovulation pain, including pain in the thigh or leg
  • Heavy bleeding or bleeding longer than usual
  • Bleeding from the bladder or bowel
  • Increased abdominal bloating, constipation, and other digestion issues such as small intestine bacteria overgrowth
  • Tiredness or lack of energy
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Athletes and endometriosis

Endometriosis impacts athletes at all levels. Olympian Elinor Baker along with many women in sport are working to improve the awareness of endometriosis in sports. If you suffer from this condition it’s likely you may be able to relate to Elinor’s painful symptoms “as though someone was ringing out my organs as if they were a tea towel”. The fatigue, pain and heavy bleeding can severely impact athletes and their ability to compete and train.  It is not uncommon for athletes to miss competitions due to surgeries, muscle cramps, and debilitating pain.

Natural treatment options

Our understanding of endometriosis is deepening, and holistic treatment approaches are showing promising results. Symptom reduction and improvements in quality of life have been demonstrated through food first and a targeted treatment approach including herbal and nutritional medicines.

By reducing underlying inflammation, improving the immune response, and clearing excess estrogen, women can reduce the severity of symptoms, scarring, and formation of endometrium growths.

Dietary interventions alone have reported reductions in painful symptoms and bowel complaints in up to 75% of women. Increased consumption of essential fatty acids, antioxidants, and a combination of vitamins and minerals have also been shown to have positive effects on endometriosis-associated symptoms. Other nutraceuticals such as resveratrol may improve endothelial wound healing while phytochemicals such as Diindolylmethane (DIM) or calcium-D-glucarate may help support clearance of excess estrogen and relieve pain associated with periods in sufferers of endometriosis.

Our seed cycling blog describes the benefits of using seeds to maintain healthy hormones. purchase your seeds for your cycle here

It can be reassuring to know that with the right self-care and a holistic approach to health, you can continue to achieve life goals and sporting success.  An early diagnosis and understanding of your condition may result in better management of your symptoms.


About the Author: Kate Smyth is a Sports naturopath, nutritionist and female-centric running coach. She is the founder of the Athlete Sanctuary- a holistic healthcare clinic for athletes of all levels and sporting codes. Kate has a thirst for knowledge with two bachelor’s and a master’s degree under her belt. She has been involved in sports for many decades and competed for Australia in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games marathons with a personal best time of 2 hours 28 minutes. For more information visit www.https://


Endometriosis in Australia: prevalence and hospitalizations. VIEW

Hickey M, Ballard K, Farquhar C. Endometriosis BMJ 2014; 348:g1752 doi:10.1136/BMJ.g1752

Hui, E., & Nap, A. (2020). The effects of nutrients on symptoms in women with endometriosis: a systematic review. Reproductive BioMedicine Online, 41(2), 317-328.

Marziali M, Venza M, Lazzaro S, et al. Gluten-free diet: a new strategy for management of painful endometriosis related symptoms? Minerva Chirurgica. 2012 Dec;67(6):499-504.

Moore, J. S., Gibson, P. R., Perry, R. E., & Burgell, R. E. (2017). Endometriosis in patients with irritable bowel syndrome: the specific symptomatic and demographic profile, and response to the low FODMAP diet. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 57(2), 201-205. 

Jean Hailes

Oregon State University (2022).Resveratrol www.

Endometriosis Australia 

BBC Sport 


Best Protein powder

Kate Smyth- Sports Naturopath and Nutritionist

It can be difficult to know how to choose the best protein powder. Protein plays a vital role in any athlete’s eating plan. Irrespective of your chosen sport be that running, triathlon, swimming, team sports, cycling or lifting weights, athletes expend more energy than the average person. Athletes also need more nutrients to recover from intense training or competition.

Protein provides both structural and functional properties to all working cells in the body, making up approximately one sixth of your body weight. Protein helps strengthen muscle tissue, repair damage and is critical to building muscle mass. Protein and amino acids are also vital for healthy bones, cartilage, tendons, skin and blood as explained in our article on collagen and tendons.

But there are many more benefits to including adequate protein in your diet, especially as an athlete. Optimising protein intake as an athlete is vital and needs can vary significantly from that of a more sedentary person.

Benefits of adequate protein

  1. Stable Blood Sugar – more energy and reduced fatigue
  2. Less Cravings for Sweet and Snack Foods- better weight management and reduced energy fluctuations
  3. Improved recovery after sessions and events
  4. Muscle growth and reduced risk of muscle loss, leading to greater powder to weight ratio
  5. Improved immune system, reduced downtime days and disruptions to training progress
  6. Healthy bone maintenance and reduced risk of osteoporosis
  7. Improved metabolism and fat burning capabilities- enabling of a lean physique
  8. Aids injury repair and improved recovery time
  9. Improved nerve function and muscle contraction
  10. Reduced hunger through reducing ghrelin (the hunger hormone) leading to greater satiety

Good sources of dietary protein

Ideally, sources of protein are coming from whole, fresh foods such as lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products such as yoghurt, milk and cheese, seeds and nuts, beans, legumes, tofu and some grains, such as quinoa or buckwheat.

While it is possible for elite athletes to reach their daily protein requirements through diet from unprocessed wholefood sources (and this is highly recommended for the majority of protein intake) athletes in high training loads, with requirements for lean muscle mass or when injured, may find protein powders (20-30 grams) beneficial when ingested straight after training. During this time the muscles are more receptive to uptake of amino acids. However, muscle repair continues for 24 hours and therefore regular protein intake throughout the day is important.

Protein supplements such as whey protein or vegan protein powders are practical, convenient when travelling, or in a smoothie as a mid-morning snack.

Best protein powders

A ‘complete protein’ refers to the building blocks of protein – amino acids. There are 20 amino acids that can form a protein, and 9 that the body cannot produce on its own. These are the essential amino acids and we need to be able to get them through diet, or supplementation. All amino acids are required for protein synthesis, and a lack of one or more amino acids may compromise the athlete’s ability to build muscle.

Leucine is the key amino acid linked to muscle building and recovery. Research suggests ingestion of 2.7 grams of leucine results in a robust stimulation of muscle protein synthesis.   Research suggests powders containing the optimal ratio for the branch chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine in a 2:1:1 ratio in addition to the full amino acid profile are optimal for sports recovery and performance.

What type of protein powder is best?

There isn’t one type of protein powder that is better than others however some powders may be more suited to athletes depending on food preferences and intolerances, and health goals.  Powders with minimal ingredients, natural flavors, a balanced and complete amino acid profile, and organic are suggested to be the healthiest. Some powders may provide added probiotics beneficial for gut health.

Popular protein powder options include:

Plant-based protein

Plant-based protein powders may include combinations of pea, hemp, soy, pumpkin seed, flax seed fava bean, potato, corn and brown rice protein. Plant based options are dairy, whey, casein and egg free.  Leucine, lysine, and/or methionine are key amino acids for muscle-building capacity which may be reduced in plant-based powders.

Plant-based proteins could provide the same amount of leucine by adjusting the amount of protein ingested. Due to the greater leucine content of corn, 20 g of protein needs to be ingested to provide 2.7 g leucine, while the dietary protein dose of the other plant-based proteins would need to be increased to 33 g (potato), 37 g (brown rice), 38 g (pea), 40 g (soy), and 54 g (hemp).

Plant-based proteins that do meet the requirements for essential amino acids include soy (27%), brown rice (28%), pea (30%), corn (32%), and potato (37%). When plant-based proteins are combined (e.g. rice and pea) the amino acid profile can be enhanced.

Microalgae has received considerable attention in recent years due to their high protein content (similar to meat, egg, soybean, and milk), presence of other beneficial nutrients, and production that requires less water and land than other crops or animal foods. 48 g of microalgae protein is required to provide 2.7 grams of leucine.  Plant-based options are often viewed as sustainable, easily digestible, and potentially cheaper.


Whey protein powder is dairy-derived and fairly quickly and easily digested and absorbed. When combined with resistance training, whey protein may help increase muscle mass, support growth, and speed so it’s a great choice for athletes. Whey is also high in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which can help speed muscle recovery.

Of the animal-based proteins, whey protein has the highest essential amino acid content of 43%. Whey protein is available in concentrate, isolate, or hydrolysate form, although many supplements contain a combination of the three. Typically 25g of whey protein provides 2.7 g of leucine.

Although whey concentrate and isolate offer similar benefits, whey protein isolate (WPI) undergoes processing methods that result in a higher concentration of protein and lower amounts of fat, carbs, and lactose. WPI may be a better option for those who are limiting their consumption of fat, carbs, or lactose. Hydrolyzed whey protein powders have been partially broken down to ease digestion and speed absorption.


Casein protein powders are dairy based and keep you feeling fuller for longer as they are digested and absorbed more slowly making them a good option for muscle growth and enhancing sleep when ingested before bed.  Casein has a slightly lower essential amino acid content (34%) than whey  (43%). Casein’s larger molecule size can make it more difficult to digest for some individuals and may be linked to digestive symptoms.


Egg white protein is suitable for those who have an allergy or intolerance to dairy products is paleo friendly and has a higher amino acid content (32%) than many of the plant-based proteins. It is not as easily manufactured and therefore not as widely distributed or found in health food shops.  Egg white typically provides 26 grams of protein in a 30-gram serve.


As mentioned in our blog, collagen is great for bone, joint, and ligament health, and a 20-gram serving of collagen peptides contains 18 grams of protein, no carbohydrates, and no fat.  Collagen has a different amino acid profile to protein powders and therefore can be added to your protein powder or taken before a workout for tissue repair.

If you would like to know how we can best support your sports nutrition goals. Make an appointment here. 

About the Author: Kate Smyth is a Sports naturopath, nutritionist and female centric running coach. She is the founder of the Athlete Sanctuary- a holistic healthcare clinic for athletes of all levels and sporting codes. Kate has a thirst for knowledge with two bachelor’s and a master’s degree under her belt. She has been involved in sports for many decades and competed for Australia in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games marathons with a personal best time of 2 hours 28 minutes. For more information visit www.https://


Athletic requirements for protein intake, Australian Institute of Sport- . While athlete’s requirements have been widely debated, the Australian Institute of Sports has published this fact sheet on the Athletic Requirements for Protein Intake.

Campbell, B., Kreider, R. B., Ziegenfuss, T., La Bounty, P., Roberts, M., Burke, D., … & Antonio, J. (2007). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. Journal of the international society of sports nutrition, 4(1), 1-7.

Witard, O. C., Garthe, I., & Phillips, S. M. (2019). Dietary protein for training adaptation and body composition manipulation in track and field athletes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 29(2), 165-174.

Vitale, K., & Getzin, A. (2019). Nutrition and supplement update for the endurance athlete: review and recommendations. Nutrients, 11(6), 1289.

Bleakley S, Hayes M. Algal proteins: extraction, application, and challenges concerning production. Foods. 2017;6(5):33. doi: 10.3390/foods6050033. 


Zinc deficiency and plant based athletes

Zinc deficiency is more common in plant-based athletes.  Fact is, zinc is the powerhouse that supports performance. And knowing how being deficient in zinc can affect your progress, is essential.

Most athletes understand zinc’s role in supporting the immune system and wound healing, and its requirement for a proper sense of taste and smell but few understand its role in muscle function. It is a nutrient that needs to be consumed every day as the body doesn’t naturally produce zinc.

In our blog Robust immunity in athletes we outline the common signs of zinc deficiency, including frequent and prolonged colds, acne, dermatitis, low stomach acid, poor digestion, fatigue, and white spots or bands on nails.

In our previous blog Am I Deficient in Zinc? we outline how the high demands of sports make the elite athlete more vulnerable to illness, meaning over 65% of athletes experience regular colds and infections that sideline them from events and consistent training.

Zinc’s homeostasis is tightly regulated by different transport and buffer protein systems. Exercise has been shown to modulate zinc blood serum and urinary levels and could directly affect zinc transport around the body. The oxidative stress induced by exercise may provide the basis for the mild zinc deficiency observed in athletes and could have severe consequences on health and sports performance.

Importantly for athletes, zinc has been found to affect protein and muscle formation and regeneration due to its effects on muscle cell activation, proliferation and differentiation.

Plant based athletes in particular need to be aware of zinc rich sources, and food containing inhibitors of zinc absorption.

For vegan and vegetarian athletes, wholegrain cereals and legumes provide the highest concentrations of zinc, generally in the range of 2.5–5.0 mg/100 g raw weight. As zinc is contained within the outer layer of grains, unrefined whole grains provide higher concentrations of zinc than refined grains (up to 5.0 mg/100 g, compared with 1.0 mg/100 g).

Wholegrain breads and cereals, rolled oats, brown rice, nuts, seeds, legumes, tofu, soy products and fortified breakfast cereals are important dietary sources of zinc for everyone, not just vegetarians.

Fruit and green leafy vegetables have much lower concentrations of zinc due to their high water content. The good news is there is no evidence of greater risk of being deficient if intake of plant based zinc sources are adequate.

Well-planned vegetarian diets can provide adequate amounts of zinc from plant sources. Vegetarians appear to adapt to lower zinc intakes by increased absorption and retention of zinc. The inhibitory effects of phytate on absorption of zinc can be minimised by soaking, heating, sprouting and fermenting. Absorption of zinc can be improved by using yeast-based breads and sourdough breads, sprouts, and presoaked legumes.

Studies on runners indicate a drop in serum zinc following exercise and a higher excretion of urinary zinc than in sedentary populations. Zinc is vital for skeletal muscle, a tissue whose main function is contraction, force and movement production. As your body actually secretes zinc through sweat, it is essential for athletes to monitor zinc levels often.

It is super important not to just rely on just supplements to increase levels of zinc in your body. The risks of long-term zinc supplementation can have other potentially detrimental effects such as displacing other minerals such as copper and iron needed to form hemoglobin, therefore, increasing the risk of developing anaemia.

Zinc requires a fine balance between adequacy and deficiency and therefore essential to seek advice from a qualified practitioner who can determine the best course of action to avoid issues.


About the Author: Kate Smyth is a Sports naturopath, nutritionist and female-centric running coach. She is the founder of the Athlete Sanctuary- a holistic healthcare clinic for athletes of all levels and sporting codes. Kate has a thirst for knowledge with two bachelor’s and a master’s degree under her belt. She has been involved in sports for many decades and competed for Australia in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games marathons with a personal best time of 2 hours 28 minutes. For more information visit www.https://


Walsh (2019).  Nutrition and Athlete Immune Health: New Perspectives on an Old Paradigm. Nov 6. doi: 10.1007/s40279-019-01160-3.

J.Hernández-Camacho, C. Vicente-García, D. Parsons, I. Navas-Enamorado (2020).  Zinc at the crossroads of exercise and proteostasis.  101529, ISSN 2213-2317. .

Woodbridge, P., Konstantaki, M., & Horgan, G. (2020). Nutritional deficiencies in vegan runners: A comparison of actual versus recommended nutritional intake and dietary recommendations. Journal of Exercise and Nutrition, 3(3).

DE, A. K. (2020). Zinc supplementation. A must for Athletes. Science and Culture.

McClung, J. P. (2019). Iron, zinc, and physical performance. Biological trace element research, 188(1), 135-139.

iron and energy production

Iron and energy production are integral to sports performance. When it comes to physical performance, many female athletes find themselves caught between balancing dietary preferences and ensuring that iron intake is adequate. This is particularly the case for plant-based athletes or athletes with limited intake of red meat.

Intense physical exertion increases the body’s need for iron, and repeated sessions that deplete the body may lead to iron deficiency anaemia with inadequate iron intake or poor absorption. As previously mentioned, iron deficiency may contribute to exhaustion and will likely have an adverse effect on training and competition.

Iron is an essential mineral that plays a vital role in metabolism and the transportation of oxygen through your body. Up to 65% of the body’s iron is found in haemoglobin. Haemoglobin is the substance found in red blood cells that delivers oxygen from your lungs to your body tissues via your bloodstream. This means that low haemoglobin levels lead to decreased oxygen delivery to the body’s tissues, working muscles and organs.

Iron is also essential for the formation of myoglobin in muscle cells, a protein that carries and stores oxygen in muscle tissue. As oxygen is needed for aerobic metabolism, it’s easy to understand how low myoglobin (oxygen transportation around the muscles) impairs your aerobic function and ultimately, physical performance. It is also essential for brain health, physical growth and the synthesis of several hormones in your body. If you aren’t sure of the common signs of iron deficiency, you may like to read our previous blog here.

Put simply, if you are suffering from anaemia or are iron deficient your muscles will receive less oxygen and produce more lactic acid during training sessions, and your health and wellbeing will be severely compromised and could lead to serious health issues.

Energy production takes place in the mitochondria as part of the electron transport chain. In this process, a charged gradient is created across the membrane, which in turn drives the synthesis of energy as adenosine triphosphate (ATP).  Both haem animal and plant-based forms of iron are important for the protein complexes within the electron transport chain.

Iron is found in mitochondria within skeletal muscles storing 10–15% of the body’s iron. Iron is particularly concentrated in type-1 slow-twitch muscle fibres. These fibres have high mitochondria concentrations, slow contraction rates and a reliance on aerobic metabolism and oxidative phosphorylation.

Endurance athletes typically have more slow twitch muscle fibres than type-2 fibres.

Vegetarian or plant-based athletes are at a much higher risk of iron deficiency and may need significantly more iron in their diet,  due to the reduced bioavailability of iron from plant-based foods. Knowledge of sources of iron-rich foods and beneficial combinations of foods can be helpful. For example: pairing plant-based iron-rich foods with a source of vitamin C can increase iron absorption.

It is important to remember that your iron deficiency may have nothing to do with your iron intake and other physiological and environmental circumstances may be contributing to iron deficiency.

Tools such as our  Anaemia Quiz may help to identify if you are at risk of iron deficiency or anaemia.

Want to know more? Contact the Athlete Sanctuary and learn how we can help.

About the Author: Kate Smyth is a Sports naturopath, nutritionist and female centric running coach. She is the founder of the Athlete Sanctuary- a holistic healthcare clinic for athletes of all levels and sporting codes. Kate has a thirst for knowledge with two bachelor’s and a master’s degree under her belt. She has been involved in sports for many decades and competed for Australia in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games marathons with a personal best time of 2 hours 28 minutes. For more information visit www.https://


Alaunyte I, Stojceska V, Plunkett A. (2015). Iron and the female athlete: a review of dietary treatment methods for improving iron status and exercise performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 12. doi:10.1186/s12970-015-0099-2

Halas M. (2009): Special Considerations for Vegans and Vegetarians. The Plant-Based Boost Nutrition Solutions for Athletes and Exercise Enthusiasts. Middletown, DE: Super Kids Nutrition Incorporated.

Semenova, E. A., Miyamoto-Mikami, E., Akimov, E. B., Al-Khelaifi, F., Murakami, H., Zempo, H., … & Ahmetov, I. I. (2020). The association of HFE gene H63D polymorphism with endurance athlete status and aerobic capacity: novel findings and a meta-analysis. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 120(3), 665-673.

Stugiewicz, M., Tkaczyszyn, M., Kasztura, M., Banasiak, W., Ponikowski, P., & Jankowska, E. A. (2016). The influence of iron deficiency on the functioning of skeletal muscles: experimental evidence and clinical implications. European Journal of heart failure18(7), 762-773. 


Hepcidin and iron regulation

Have you ever heard of hepcidin? It’s worth understanding mainly if you are a female athlete or someone who suffers from iron deficiency anaemia.

Iron is an essential element for many biological processes. Too little iron can have many detrimental effects on your health and sports performance. We have previously discussed the impact iron deficiency and anaemia has on thyroid health and poor immunity. Excess iron can be toxic, so regulating iron levels are vital to a healthy, balanced body.

Hepcidin is an iron-regulating peptide hormone that’s produced in your liver. It works to control the delivery of iron to your blood from food through the lining of the intestines. It is the master regulator in iron metabolism and the balance between iron storage and the absorption better known as iron homeostasis. Hepcidin also tightly influences red blood cell production.

When hepcidin levels are unusually high, it reduces intestinal iron absorption and red blood cell production. Low hepcidin levels stimulate iron absorption, and iron supply to bone marrow and promote hemoglobin and red blood cell production. Iron deficiency is common among female athletes, and is much higher than their male counterparts. It is often cited as being a result of the menstrual cycle during premenopausal years. Depleted iron stores can have many adverse effects, including poor performance, low energy levels, and general well-being.

Some research has shown that active females with compromised iron possess an inherent protective mechanism once iron deficient. This adaptation allows the body to adjust to a reduced iron supply. It is proposed iron depletion may be a combination of exercise-induced losses and hepcidin accumulation.

Running is known to acutely increase hepcidin levels (peaking three hours post-exercise), therefore reducing iron absorption and recycling.

Timing iron supplementation to correlate with low hepcidin levels may enhance absorption and positively impact iron levels in the blood. In practical terms, if you exercise in the morning, you might consider taking your iron supplement straight after you exercise, before hepcidin rises.

Hundreds of athletes have used our handy anaemia quiz to help determine the likely risk of having low iron or anaemia. we encourage you to use this free tool if you have a history of iron deficiency or you are unsure if your iron stores may be declining.

Want to know more? Contact the Athlete Sanctuary to learn how we can support you further. Book an appointment here.

About the Author: Kate Smyth is a Sports naturopath, nutritionist and female-centric running coach. She is the founder of the Athlete Sanctuary- a holistic healthcare clinic for athletes of all levels and sporting codes. Kate has a thirst for knowledge with two bachelor’s and a master’s degree under her belt. She has been involved in sports for many decades and competed for Australia in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games marathons with a personal best time of 2 hours 28 minutes. For more information visit www.https://



Ganz, T. (2016). Hepcidin. Rinsho Ketsueki57(10), 1913-1917. DOI: 10.11406/rinketsu.57.1913.

Sim, M., Dawson, B., Landers, G., Trinder, D., & Peeling, P. (2014). Iron regulation in athletes: exploring the menstrual cycle and effects of different exercise modalities on hepcidin production. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism24(2), 177-187.

Alfaro-Magallanes, V. M., Benito, P. J., Rael, B., Barba-Moreno, L., Romero-Parra, N., Cupeiro, R. FEMME Study Group. (2020). Menopause Delays the Typical Recovery of Pre-Exercise Hepcidin Levels after High-Intensity Interval Running Exercise in Endurance-Trained Women. Nutrients12(12), 3866.

Nirengi, S., Taniguchi, H., Ishibashi, A., Fujibayashi, M., Akiyama, N., Kotani, K., & Sakane, N. (2021). Comparisons between serum levels of hepcidin and leptin in male college-level endurance runners and sprinters. Frontiers in Nutrition8.

Pagani, A., Nai, A., Silvestri, L., & Camaschella, C. (2019). Hepcidin and anemia: a tight relationship. Frontiers in physiology, 1294.

Sim, M., Dawson, B., Landers, G., Trinder, D., & Peeling, P. (2014). Iron regulation in athletes: exploring the menstrual cycle and effects of different exercise modalities on hepcidin production. International journal of sports nutrition and exercise metabolism24(2), 177-187.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

unusual symptoms of iron deficiency

Anaemia caused by iron deficiency is a condition in which there is not enough iron to form enough healthy red blood cells of sufficient size to carry oxygen to the tissues of the body.

Iron plays a crucial physiological role in your body. But despite its importance, iron deficiency anaemia is still a common problem among female athletes. Iron deficiency can have major adverse effects on your well-being and your athletic capacity.

It’s not uncommon for iron deficiency anaemia to be quite mild and go unnoticed. But women – and especially active, athletic women – are very prone to this condition. If gone untreated, the anaemia will worsen, and the signs and symptoms will intensify.

Without enough iron, your body can’t produce enough hemoglobin – the substance in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen – and as a result iron deficiency anaemia can leave you short of breath, headachy, tired, and unable to complete a training session or event with your usual enthusiasm. Iron deficiency is missed in 47-82% of females and 95-100% of male adolescents and young adult patients.

10 signs of iron deficiency  

*Fatigue that starts even after a good night’s sleep

*Restless legs



*Pale or itchy skin

*Hair loss

*Shortness of breath

*Poor concentration and decision-making, “foggy brain”

*Rapid heartbeat or “fluttering feeling”

*Headache, dizziness or light-headedness

Keep in mind this is just a small number of the  75 known symptoms of iron deficiency. Unusual cravings for non-nutritive substances, such as ice and dirt


Low or little dietary intake of iron-rich foods is often blamed as the key factor contributing to iron deficiency. With plant-based eating increasing in popularity amongst the athlete community, this is a key factor for many athletes. Lack of awareness of how to consume foods that enhance iron absorption or knowledge on sources of plant-based iron-rich foods can render an athlete with symptoms in a matter of months.  Poor intake however is not the only cause of iron deficiency anaemia.

*Blood loss. Blood contains iron within red blood cells. If you lose blood, you lose some iron. Women with heavy periods are at risk of iron deficiency anaemia because they lose blood during menstruation. Athletes who are frequent blood donors are at increased risk for iron deficiency.1 Athletes who regularly use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories are likely to have increased gastrointestinal blood losses increasing their risk of iron deficiency3.

*An inability to absorb iron. Dietary iron is absorbed into the bloodstream through the small intestine. An intestinal disorder, such as celiac disease, stomach ulcers, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, which affects the intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients from digested food, can lead to iron-deficiency anaemia. If part of the small intestine has been bypassed or removed surgically, the ability to absorb iron and other nutrients will be reduced. Inflammation in the digestive tract is aligned with symptoms such as bloating, gas, diarrhoea or constipation, food intolerances, or loud gurgling, and may signal the integrity of the gut lining may be compromised. Without good integrity, absorption of nutrients is also reduced.

*Low stomach acid. Adequate stomach acid (hydrochloric acid- HCL) is required to break down minerals such as iron and extract them from the food we eat. Low stomach acid is a common issue following times of prolonged physical or emotional stress and can be found alongside iron deficiency.

*Iron stealers. Bacteria overgrowth, Helicobacter pylori, and parasites within the digestive tract can impact the way iron is absorbed and may contribute to blood loss, therefore, contributing to iron deficiency over time.

*Post natal– Without iron supplementation, iron deficiency anaemia occurs in many pregnant women due to the iron requirements of the mother and baby. Post-natal iron deficiency can occur as many women are naturally preoccupied with their new arrival and forget to have adequate medical checkups for themselves. Fatigue is often experienced by mother’s and therefore iron deficiency can go undetected for many months. This depletes not only the mother but also the baby’s supply of iron who depends on the mother for iron for the first 6 months of life until solids are introduced.

Hundreds of athletes have used our handy anaemia quiz to help determine the likely risk of having low iron or anaemia. Find out if you are getting low on iron here.

Want to know more? Contact the Athlete Sanctuary to learn how we can support you further.

About the Author: Kate Smyth is a Sports naturopath, nutritionist and female-centric running coach. She is the founder of the Athlete Sanctuary- a holistic healthcare clinic for athletes of all levels and sporting codes. Kate has a thirst for knowledge with two bachelor’s and a master’s degree under her belt. She has been involved in sports for many decades and competed for Australia in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games marathons with a personal best time of 2 hours 28 minutes. For more information visit www.https://



  1. Choe, Y. H., Kwon, Y. S., Jung, M. K., Kang, S. K., Hwang, T. S., & Hong, Y. C. (2001). Helicobacter pylori-associated iron-deficiency anemia in adolescent female athletes. The journal of Pediatrics, 139(1), 100-104.
  2. Eiduson, R., Heeney, M. M., Kao, P.-C., London, W. B., Fleming, M. D., & Shrier, L. A. (2022). Prevalence and Predictors of Iron Deficiency in Adolescent and Young Adult Outpatients: Implications for Screening. Clinical Pediatrics, 61(1), 66–75.
  3. Safarova, K. N., Dorogoykina, K. D., & Rebrov, A. P. (2019). Is anemia a clinical marker of NSAID-induced upper gastrointestinal lesions in patients with spondyloarthritis?. Almanac of Clinical Medicine, 47(5), 410-418.
  4. Hinton P. S. (2014). Iron and the endurance athlete. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism = Physiologie appliquee, nutrition et metabolism, 39(9), 1012–1018.
  5. Mayo Clinic (2022). Iron Deficiency anemia.
  6. Sim, M., Dawson, B., Landers, G., Trinder, D., & Peeling, P. (2014). Iron regulation in athletes: exploring the menstrual cycle and effects of different exercise modalities on hepcidin production. International journal of sports nutrition and exercise metabolism, 24(2), 177–187.


Heat training

As we start to experience our hottest months in Australia, some individuals are starting to feel the effects of heat and humidity. This article provides a summation of the latest evidence-based options for heat training and preparation for racing in the warmer months.

Most athletes can train in the heat over a normal summer but then find they come unstuck when it comes to competing in hot conditions, especially when there are seasonal differences between where they train and then compete.

As a classic example of an athlete who did not perform well in unexpected hot conditions, I learnt some brutal lessons from heat stroke in the 2006 Commonwealth Games and the not so delightful conditions of the Beijing 2008 Olympics.  Most of us have seen the horrific images televised during hot championships… the examples of athletes collapsing are endless, and the ill effects of heat are not limited to the marathon but extend to most endurance sports such as cycling, race walking, triathlon and ironman triathlons. Unfortunately, most major championships are held in warm conditions which are ideal for boosting attendance numbers, and sprint and power-based sports performances, but not so good for the endurance athlete.

Research to clearly define the “best way” to undertake heat preparation is lacking. Most recommendations are based on the lessons learned from athletes attending previous games (Olympics, Commonwealth, and IAAF World Championship Games) rather than large-scale studies.  We should see further progress in recommendations for sports performance in extreme conditions in the coming years, however, good suggestions are available to trial now. These suggestions will need to be adjusted to suit individual needs.

Although you may not be aiming to compete at a championship level, you can still draw on the techniques used by elite athletes to improve performance. If you plan to compete in hot conditions, give yourself every opportunity to perform at your best and enjoy your race by following some of these simple guidelines.


1. Know your predicted event conditions. Researching the average event conditions over the previous years can help you better understand what you are likely to face. Remember there are multiple factors to consider that influence body temperature and how well you will cope with the heat. Some of these factors include humidity, solar radiation from direct sunlight, clothing, diffused radiation off clouds and road surfaces, wind speed and expected outside temperatures. Outside temperatures are usually taken in the shade so the actual perception of how hot it is, can change significantly.

2. Know your sweat rate. Get your sweat and sodium rate loss checked properly. You can do this at a sweat lab for approximately $200 or with a home-based test kit costing around $99. It is recommended athletes test fluid and sodium levels before and after heat acclimatization. Another simple option that gives you a basic measure is completing a basic fluid loss count yourself. Weigh yourself before and after you do an exercise session of at least 60 minutes in warm conditions. Subtract the amount of any fluids taken during this session.  This gives you an estimate of how much fluid you lose per hour.

3. Keep your fluids up. If you are competing in the heat you will lose more fluid than in cooler months. Fluid losses of over 2% of your body weight reduce sports performance. When athletes reach this 2% threshold, increased fatigue, reduced endurance, reduced motor skills and mental function, and declining motivation can be observed. Studies also show heart rate increases by 3-5% for every 1% dehydration. Drinks including electrolytes such as sodium and magnesium are important and beneficial over water, especially in events with 90 minutes duration or more. Drinking to thirst is advised for shorter events under 90 minutes duration and events with low intensity in cooler climates. A general rule of thumb is to aim to sip 250ml of fluids every 20-30mins of an event of high intensity over 90 minutes.

Enter a race well hydrated and then remain as well hydrated as possible during a race. 

4. Replenish fluids. Drinking 150% of the fluid lost during an event within 2 hours is also key to a speedy recovery. This does not mean you should skull huge quantities of fluid. Imagine yourself as a plant. If you tip large amounts of water on a plant, the water just runs through but if you water the plant gradually, the roots have time to absorb the fluid and nourish the plant. Humans are the same, so ideally sip fluids slowly and continuously in combination with consuming high-water content foods such as watermelon in the 2 hours immediately after your event

5. Heat adaptation. Studies reveal it is not uncommon for core body temperatures of elite athletes to reach 41c during races. This naturally coincides with a drop in pace. In many situations, high core temperatures are unavoidable however the time at which athletes reach this level of temperature can be delayed, therefore minimising the time at which their pace will drop in a race and reduce the risk of unfavourable side effects such as heat stroke. Some of the most widely used protocols to help athletes prepare for performance in heat climates include heat acclimatisation and heat acclimation. Both of these techniques improve the athletes’ physical responses and overall ability to cope with heat exposure. Heat acclimatisation involves adaptations in response to heat stress in a controlled environment such as a heat chamber (typically under supervision) over the course of 7 to 14 days.

Heat acclimation is a similar process but in a natural environment such as training in a warm climate such as Cairns.  Some of the positive adaptations that occur to heat adaptation/ acclimation include reductions in heart rate, body and skin temperature, and perceived level of exertion/ effort. An increased sweat rate and sweat onset also help you to cool down more efficiently. Reduced sodium loss and blood pressure are also observed. These changes equate to an athlete’s increased ability to perform in the heat.

Undertaking 70-80 minute sessions in heat chambers a few times per week as part of a well-structured training plan can aid in heat adaptation.  This is great for those with access to heat chambers but what about everyone else?

Homebased options do exist like hot rooms, hot baths, and saunas. Athletes can also create a DIY heat chamber in a bathroom or laundry by switching on the heater and using a treadmill or stationary bike.

Using a humidifier in this room will also create humidity. Heat acclimatisation protocols are individualised and vary greatly. Some studies suggest completing 12 x 30 minute sessions in a hot sauna over a 3 week period while others with 10 continuous days of 1 x 90 minute heat session/ day showed increased VO2 max and endurance performance. Having a base level of fitness prior to starting heat exposure will help the process along as you will already have an increased sweat rate.

Following the heat acclimatisation phase, spending 10-14 days just prior to your event in a similar environment to the one you are competing in will facilitate heat acclimation. This will also help you adjust to a different time zone if applicable. Ensuring you have enough time to climatically adjust and have adequate support during this tapering phase, is really important.

6. Avoid altitude and heat in combination. If you are planning on doing altitude training, don’t forget to leave plenty of time between leaving altitude and commencing heat preparation to allow your body to recover. Ideally this window will be 21 days. Avoid combing altitude and heat training. Studies suggest mixing heat and hypoxia at the same time, does not provide beneficial outcomes.

7. Pre-cooling. Although your core temperature will rise during the course of the event, there are various methods that can be used to keep your core temperature lower for longer. Ice vests are used by elite athletes but you could make your own version using ice packs in towels or a Camelbak during the warm up.  Fans, cold towels and cold baths in a bucket are makeshift options.  One of the methods used in Beijing involving sipping an ice slurpy before the race as we warmed up. This is suggested to reduce the body’s core temperature by up to 5%. Mixed methods of a few of these options seem to be most effective. Trial what can be tolerated and what works for you prior to your event.

8. Keeping cool during the event. Some of the more widely used tricks to stay cool during the event include using facial spray, overhead mist sprays, and cold-water sponges to cover as much skin surface with cooling water. Cool packs tied around the neck or in socks can also be helpful. Sunglasses and wearing a visor rather than a hat can also help keep the glare down but allow the sweat on your head to evaporate and feel the cooling effects of cool water when tipped over the head.  If you have the luxury of putting out your own drinks, keeping them in some form of cooler or stubby holder can also keep them cooler for longer. Freezing the drinks that will be out in the sun for over an hour can also be helpful.

9. Adjust your race to the conditions. Planning for the heat in terms of running within your limits in the early stages, will certainly help you to remain strong throughout the later stages of the race. Heat is accumulative and can impact your pacing so always be conservative and factor in that your overall time may be slower no matter how fit you are.

10. Get help. To avoid “cooking yourself”, training during your heat adaptation needs to be carefully planned and moderated so the overall load on the body is well managed. A plan is best done under the supervision of a coach, sports-focused nutrition practitioner, and other specialists who have an understanding and access to the research behind heat protocols.


Athletes can undertake a variety of measures to influence their performance but changing weather conditions is beyond even the most talented athlete. If you’re competing in an event during hot weather undertaking some of the simple strategies listed above could assist your preparation and performance in the event.

Remember that we’re all individuals, so what may work for your training partner may not work for you. Develop a plan with your coach and incorporate some of the measures listed above into your training regime well before your event. In the final weeks before your event employ the strategies that worked best for you and adjust your race plan according to the conditions.


About the author: Kate Smyth is a Sports naturopath, nutritionist and female-centric running coach. She is the Founder of the Athlete Sanctuary- a holistic healthcare clinic for athletes of all levels and sporting codes. She has a thirst for knowledge with two bachelor’s and a master’s degree under her belt.  Kate has been involved in sports for many decades and competed in the Olympic and Commonwealth Games women’s marathon with a personal best time of 2 hours and 28 minutes. For more information visit www.https://