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blueberries

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

References

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://https://athletesanctuary.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/normatec-3-lower-body-system-thumb_720x-1.webp.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Seed-Cycle-Blends-scaled-1.jpg.com.au

References

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. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S147264832030225X

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. http://europepmc.org/article/med/23334113

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. https://obgyn.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ajo.12594 

Jean Hailes www.jeanhailes.org.au

Oregon State University (2022).Resveratrol www.https://lpi.oregonstate.edu

Endometriosis Australia www.endometriosisaustralia.org 

BBC Sport www.bbc.com/sport/56276626 

 

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://https://athletesanctuary.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/normatec-3-lower-body-system-thumb_720x-1.webp.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Seed-Cycle-Blends-scaled-1.jpg.com.au

 

References

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.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24225901/

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. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33348847/

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. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34136516/

Pagani, A., Nai, A., Silvestri, L., & Camaschella, C. (2019). Hepcidin and anemia: a tight relationship. Frontiers in physiology, 1294.  https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2019.01294/full

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.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24225901/[/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

*Nausea

*Bruising

*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

CAUSES OF IRON DEFICIENCY

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://https://athletesanctuary.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/normatec-3-lower-body-system-thumb_720x-1.webp.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Seed-Cycle-Blends-scaled-1.jpg.com.au

 

References

  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. https://doi.org/10.1177/00099228211059647
  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. https://doi.org/10.18786/2072-0505-2019-47-037
  4. Hinton P. S. (2014). Iron and the endurance athlete. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism = Physiologie appliquee, nutrition et metabolism, 39(9), 1012–1018. https://doi.org/10.1139/apnm-2014-0147
  5. Mayo Clinic (2022). Iron Deficiency anemia. https://www.mayoclinic.org
  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. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.2013-0067

 

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.

TOP 10 TIPS FOR OPTIMISING SPORTS PERFORMANCE IN THE HEAT

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.

IN SUMMARY

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://https://athletesanctuary.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/normatec-3-lower-body-system-thumb_720x-1.webp.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Seed-Cycle-Blends-scaled-1.jpg.com.au

relative energy deficiency

Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport – or RED-S as it is known – is caused when there’s a negative balance between dietary energy intake and the energy output needed to promote optimal health, performance, growth and daily life.

Up until 2014 RED-S was referred to as the female athlete triad – disordered eating, menstrual disturbances and low bone density. At this time the International Olympic Committee updated their position statement with the new term (RED-S) to be far more reflective of the wider-spread effects in both female and male athletes – on performance and throughout the body.

In 2018 the IOC published the RED-S Consensus Statement Update.

More than 10% of athletes experience RED-S throughout their career, yet despite its potential to have such adverse effects, RED-S is still only just becoming widely recognised and discussed within a majority of sports.

Symptoms of RED-S

There are many physical symptoms of RED-S, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Recurring illness
  • Difficulties staying warm in the winter and cool in summer months
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Stress fractures and low bone mineral density, and impaired accumulation of peak bone mass (PBM)
  • Weight loss, or below healthy weight
  • Growth restriction in junior and teenage athletes
  • Disordered eating or eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia, orthorexia, restrictive disorders or recurrent dieting/fasting
  • Digestion issues
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  • Metabolic disturbance
  • Menstrual disfunction

Relative Energy Deficiency in SportBut REDS can also have far-reaching behavioural and psychological effects as well, including:

  • Pre-occupation and constant discussion around food
  • Poor sleep patterns
  • Restricting or strict control over food intake
  • Overtraining or struggling to take rest days
  • Impaired judgement, coordination and concentration
  • Recurrent soft tissue injury
  • Irrational behaviour
  • Fear of food and weight gain
  • Severe anxiety
  • Withdrawing or becoming reclusive
  • Reduction in motivation
  • Depression

REDS can have an incredibly adverse long-term effect on athletic performance, including an increased risk of injury and decreased training and performance responses. These effects can include:

  • Decreased muscle strength
  • Decreased endurance performance
  • Impaired judgement
  • Decrease in coordination
  • Decrease in concentration
  • Decrease in glycogen stores
  • Negative impacts on muscle recovery
  • Poor muscle growth
  • Increased risk of injury

WHAT ARE THE LONG-TERM EFFECTS OF REDS?

The majority of our bone density is formed during our teenage years. If our bone density formation is impacted during our adolescence or early in our adult years, it can lead to issues with bone weakness and osteoporosis later on in life.

Longer-term, REDS can also have a negative impact on fertility, thyroid function, cardiovascular function, and mental health.

The good news is that most of the negative consequences of RED-S can be reversed if picked up early.

WHAT ARE THE COMMON MYTHS SURROUNDING REDS?

The common perception that athletes with RED-S have an eating disorder is false.  Although eating disorders are associated with RED-S not all athletes with eating disorders have RED-S and not all athletes with RED-S have an eating disorder.

It’s true to say that athletes with RED-S can present as underweight- but this is not true in all situations. RED-S can exist without the athlete appearing to be underweight.

RED-S is also not something that just female athletes suffer from. All athletes competing in sports with higher training volumes or weight category restrictions are at a higher risk of developing RED-S. This can include athletes competing in sports that can be judged by aesthetics including figure skating, gymnastics and synchronised swimming, and body weight-dependent sports including long-distance running, mountain biking, and cycling, and weight classed sports such as lightweight rowing and marshall arts.

In one study 44% of ultra-endurance runners were identified as being at risk of developing RED-S while 39% of elite female sprinters should signs of RED-S. 

“RED-S can occur in athletes of any competitive status. Among world-class endurance athletes, 37% of females presented with amenorrhea and 40% of males with testosterone in the lowest quartile range indicative of RED-S, which is similar to the reported 40% of Australian female athletes competing at the 2016 Rio Olympic games who were identified as at risk of RED-S.  Similarly, among recreational female exercisers, 45% had risk factors associated with RED-S.” (Sports Information Resource Centre).

WHAT SHOULD I LOOK OUT FOR?

The most important piece of advice when it comes to RED-S is – listen to your body. Don’t ignore niggles and definitely don’t skimp on sleep and recovery. You should also:

  • Monitor menstrual cycles
  • Think about your relationship with food and/or exercise
  • Be mindful of your eating patterns: disordered eating to eating disorder.
  • Notice your exercise dependence
  • Monitor your behaviour, mood and sleep patterns
  • Notice change in clothing fit
  • Be aware of growth and development
  • Note injuries, illness and gastrointestinal issues
  • Athletic performance (stagnation-deterioration)
  • Try to be flexible in your approach

WHERE TO GET HELP

We appreciate that talking about many of the symptoms associated with RED-S can be difficult.  Our Sports Naturopath and Holistic Coach Kate Smyth has extensive lived experience with REDS in elite sport and provides a discreet and confidential platform to share your concerns.

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://https://athletesanctuary.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/normatec-3-lower-body-system-thumb_720x-1.webp.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Seed-Cycle-Blends-scaled-1.jpg.com.au

 

Resources

Athletes in Balance 

Train Brave 

Butterfly Foundation 

Eating Disorders 

The Sport Information Resource Centre: SIRC,

Berg, S. E. (2021). The Relationship between Eating Disorders, Weight Control Methods, and Body Satisfaction in Elite Female Runners Competing at the 2020 US Olympic Marathon Trials.

Sygo, J., Coates, A. M., Sesbreno, E., Mountjoy, M. L., & Burr, J. F. (2018). Prevalence of indicators of low energy availability in elite female sprinters. International Journal of Sport nutrition and exercise metabolism28(5), 490-496.

 

 

Photo of seed products useful for seed cycling during the menstraul cycle for women

Before we get stuck into the detail, let’s do a quick recap on how seed cycling supports hormones.

Female hormones are regulated through complex signalling and feedback mechanisms. Signals are received and then transmitted by the hypothalamus part of the brain out to the pituitary gland, adrenal glands and then ovaries (the HPAO axis). In times of change or increase physical or emotional stress of any kind, the HPOA axis can become dysregulated.

Symptoms such as longer or irregular menstrual cycles, hot sweats, increased PMS, mood changes, fatigue, changes in bleeding and reduced ability to handle training intensity may appear. These symptoms frequently occur when there is no known structural or functional issue with the ovaries.

In order to reduce symptoms, some women reach for pharmaceutical medications without understanding or being aware they have the potential to further dysregulate long-term hormonal balance and deplete nutrients such as zinc and magnesium.

In addition to medicinal herbs such as Chaste Tree, Schisandra, Kudzu or Rhodiola, seed cycling may provide subtle hormonal support by boosting estrogen levels in the first part of the cycle and progesterone levels in the second part without the possible side effects of other medications.

THE PROCESS

Seed cycling supports hormones by providing nutrient rich foods in the form of seeds at different times of the menstrual cycle.

How to seed cycle
Preparation
Combine ¼ cup of each of the following seeds nominated to the two phases of your cycle. Take your seeds (according to which phase of your cycle you are in) and whiz them in a coffee grinder to break the seeds down into a meal-like consistency.  Make 2 separate jars of seeds.Seed cycling

Follicular phase day 1-14 of your cycle (or until ovulation)= flaxseed + pepitas  (pumpkin seeds)
Luteal phase day 15-28 of your cycle (or post ovulation) = sesame + sunflower seeds

Dose: 1-2 tablespoons of combined ground seeds daily.
How: Add seeds to smoothies, on top of breakfast oats, avocado toast, coconut yogurt or as a garnish on savoury soups, salads or scrambled eggs.  Seed cycling biscuits or brownie mixes are also a great option. Choose whole, organic seeds instead of pre-ground seeds where possible.
Storage: Store ground seeds in an air-tight jar in the fridge to preserve their essential fatty acids from oxidation.
Duration: Most women need to allow 3-4 cycles before expecting changes to occur.

An easy way to ensure you have the right seeds across the month is to purchase a seed cycling kit.

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://https://athletesanctuary.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/normatec-3-lower-body-system-thumb_720x-1.webp.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Seed-Cycle-Blends-scaled-1.jpg.com.au

PMS

Many women suffer from period pain and other PMS symptoms.  But what most women fail to realise is that it is NOT normal to have severe period pain, heavy bleeding, breast tenderness or discharge, debilitating drops in energy or significant mood swings as part of premenstraul symptoms. A healthy balanced woman can observe her period without experiencing symptoms that impact her quality of life and ability to function.  Pain is just one of the many issues women experience around their monthly cycle, however, it tends to be what prevents us from enjoying life the most.

In naturopathic medicine the overuse of NSAIDS (non-steroid anti-inflammatories) for menstrual cramping or period pain (dysmenorrhea) is cautioned as it may contribute to the erosion of the gut lining and contribute to a digestive condition called leaky gut where the tight junctions within the gut lumen come apart.

Commonly used NSAIDS such as Ibuprofen may provide temporary relief,  but they may also suppress some of the compounds that look after your gut lining. Once damaged, the tight junctions in your gut start to drift apart creating a “leaky gut”. This then allows toxins and larger particles to enter the bloodstream and trigger an immune response, inflammation and gastrointestinal distress. This may go on to contribute to a whole range of systemic issues such as food intolerances, skin issues and immune dysfunction. The good news is that there are lots of great natural solutions for period pain.

Ultimately getting your hormones balanced will assist with the symptoms, but while you are doing that here are a few options to make you more comfortable:

  • Athletes who are competing in their premenstrual phase may consider magnesium, zinc and fish oil at therapeutic doses for at least 5 days before their period is anticipated to reduce cramping and lower abdomen and back pain
  • A hot water bottle or heat pack on your abdomen and/ or lower back
  • Herbs such as cramp bark, turmeric and Black Cohosh may reduce PMS symptoms due to their anti-inflammatory actions and calming action on the uterus.
  • Consume more anti-inflammatory foods like cherries, blueberries, avocado and chia seeds. Fish such as salmon, cod, mackerel, sardines, bream, snapper or flathead high in omega-3 fatty acids, are also healthy choices. Consume more calcium-rich beans, almonds, and dark leafy greens. These foods contain compounds that combat inflammation.
  • Reduce coffee, refined foods and high sugar intake, bread, pasta and anything processed high in trans-fatty acids. These foods may contribute to inflammation and encourage period pain and tender breasts.
  • Sipping chamomile tea may inhibit the pain-causing prostaglandins associated with PMS without the side effects on your gut.
  • Seed cycling can help your body maintain a subtle balance and transition throughout your natural cycle.
  • Ginger and cinnamon are our favourite remedies for period pain. Studies demonstrated these two natural wonders provide the equivalent pain relief as ibuprofen when taken at therapeutic doses.
  • Fennel- Fennel extract can assist with severe menstrual cramps.
  • A combination of both 100mg of vitamin B1 and 500mgs of fish oil daily for 2 months has been shown to significantly reduced period pain.
  • Exercising-Most women find that exercising helps relieve menstrual cramps. Some women find yoga and tai chi are gentler forms of exercise that are more comfortable during the premenstrual phase.

As women, we need to consider our periods as the scorecard for our greater health. If you would like to understand how you can balance your hormones through practical nutrition, and natural medicines we welcome the conversation.

 

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://https://athletesanctuary.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/normatec-3-lower-body-system-thumb_720x-1.webp.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Seed-Cycle-Blends-scaled-1.jpg.com.au

contraception options

We aim to equip women with a balanced perspective so they can make an informed choice about contraception options and what they put into their bodies. We in no way suggest women should come off their medications without due consideration. We also don’t shy away from the fact that there is a dark side to artificial hormones. It is important to consider all the pros and cons of any medication.

The most widely used contraceptive medications include the combined oral contraceptive pill (OCP) (containing synthetic estrogens and progesterone) such as Yasmin or Estelle, or injections, patch and vaginal ring. Progestin-only contraception includes the mini-pill (e.g. Noriday 28), implanon (progestogen) and hormonal IUDs (Mirena). Intrauterine devices such as the copper IUD are also a preferred option for some women.

Although contraceptive medications have similar names and molecular structures to female hormones, they have very different functions in the body. Artificial hormones mimic our natural hormone responses by “approximately” fitting into our hormone receptors but provide a different response. For example, progestin used in medications prevents pregnancy by inhibiting ovulation, changing cervical mucus making it unfriendly to sperm and by reducing the proliferation of uterine lining to inhibit implantation. Natural progesterone, on the other hand, thickens the uterus lining and helps with the implantation of an embryo. Contraceptives are metabolised differently between individuals due to the type, concentration, duration and timing of medication used. Although generally relied upon as contraceptives, they may also be used to manage issues such as acne, period pain, endometriosis and heavy bleeding.

Albeit highly effective as contraceptives, there is a dark side to long-term use of these pharmaceuticals such as toxicity and nutrient depletion through their impact on gut and vaginal microbiomes, liver function, oxidative stress and chemical accumulation.

Let’s now consider the drawbacks and benefits of contraceptive medication.

Pros

  • Up to 99.5% effective as a contraceptive (depending on type)
  • Easy to use (in pill form)
  • May manage symptoms such as period pain, acne, irregular or heavy bleeding
  • Improves predictability and regularity of bleeding
  • May reduce the risk of iron-deficiency anaemia if caused by heavy bleeding, some cancers (colorectal and ovarian) and ectopic pregnancy
  • Prevent bleeding or symptoms on race day or hard training days (if PMS is an issue)
  • Lighten bleeding

Cons

  • They don’t prevent sexually transmitted diseases like other barrier forms of contraception.
  • Not all women will experience side effects, but some may have weight gain, depression, acne, hair growth, irregular bleeding, nausea, mood swings and headaches. Studies show that women on higher doses of OCP had 50% greater incidence of bloating, breast tenderness and nausea than those on low dose options.
  • May impact on the immune system and alter immune response, triggering autoimmune disorders. Studies show an increased risk of developing Lupus in women who take OCPs.
  • OCP use is linked to increased risk of cardiovascular issues, high blood pressure, blood clots, and thromboembolism. OCPs may be potentially contributing to an increased risk of cancer and liver tumours, and reproductive issues including premature menopause and reduced fertility.
  • May alter the intestinal microbiota and vaginal microbiome composition after just 6 months of use. Both IUDs and OCPs may increase the risk of bacterial vaginosis, trichomonas vaginalis and candida albicans infection in sexually active women. Studies suggest OCPs may also contribute to leaky gut through changing tight junction expression in the gut which can contribute to food intolerances and other immune reactions.
  • May indirectly contribute to body toxicity by adversely affecting the capacity of the gut to metabolise and excrete other xenobiotics (e.g. polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, pesticides, polychlorobiphenyls, heavy metals, benzene derivatives, dyes, artificial sweeteners) and metabolic by-products.
  • May reduce vital nutrients and contribute to excess accumulation of others. Studies show the OCP reduces zinc, selenium, vitamin E, Co-enzyme Q10 (a cofactor in energy production), B12, phosphorus and magnesium levels but contributes to higher copper and cadmium levels. OCP use may also increase ferritin levels, resulting in enhanced iron absorption, but potentially contributing to iron overload and oxidative damage. The toxic effects of potentially high copper and cadmium in the body deplete antioxidant (glutathione) levels, inhibit antioxidant enzyme activity, and increase the synthesis of harmful free radicals and may damage liver cells.
  • OCP use is also associated with environmental chemical accumulation in the body. An analysis from the Norwegian study of 1090 women over a 5-year period, found higher levels of the harmful chemical PFAF (Perfluorooctanesulfonate) in women who used the OCP for more than 12 months. Elevated PFAF levels have been associated with infertility, preclampsia, cancer and adverse effects on the liver, thyroid organs and endocrine system.
  • High environmental impact from oestrogen contraceptives. Over 700kg/year of synthetic oestrogens derived from contraceptives (OCPs, patches and vaginal rings) are released into the environment and contribute to 16% of the oestrogenic load present in waterways worldwide. Oestrogens and progestin are detrimentally impacting the physiology of fish and other aquatic animals. The impact extends to our water and soils.
  • Although the OCP is widely prescribed to prevent further bone fractures or as a protective measure, however the long-term effect of oral contraceptive use on risk of fracture remains unclear. A 2014 study from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, involving high school athletes concluded there was no difference in the frequency of musculoskeletal injury between athletes who used the OCP users and non-users. Another 2015 study reported there was no difference in fracture risk for women aged 38-49 years of age between OCP users and non-users. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Women’s Health suggested contraception injections such as DMPA have been shown to be associated with low bone mass and osteoporosis in women.

Minimise the downside to contraception 

  • If you choose to take the OCP or other contraceptive, read up on possible side effects and talk to your prescribing G.P about other options if you experience side effects.
  • Ensure your diet is high in nutrients that help with drug and hormone metabolism and detoxification such as the cruciferous family of vegetables ( broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, arugula, daikon, bok choy, horseradish, Chinese cabbage, Romanesco broccoli, kohlrabi, radish, turnip, wasabi, turnips and watercress). These vegetables are rich in indole-3-carbinol and glucaric acid which assists with oestrogen detoxification and healthy hormone metabolism. Glucaric acid is also found in many fruits and vegetables with the highest concentrations also in oranges, apples and grapefruit.
  • Speak to your naturopath about your current mineral status. Minerals tests can detect issues in nutrients such as copper, zinc, selenium and other nutrients affected by OCP use.
  • Improve your antioxidant status to counteract any side effects of OCP use by including brightly coloured fruits and vegetables in your diet daily.
  • Speak to a natural awareness fertility (FABM) educator who can explain other contraception options and methods of predicting or calculating the fertile phase of a woman’s cycle. Natural family planning is estimated to be around 85% effective when performed correctly.
  • Speak to your partner about other methods of contraception.
  • Reduce your overall toxin and chemical load by using organic skin and personal hair products and opting for non-toxic household chemicals.
  • Consider natural options (such as herbal medicines, nutritional medications and dietary intervention) for hormone balancing if you are using the OCP for symptom management. Consider natural options to manage PMS.

For further information on the suitability of these options for your particular situation, contact us for an individual assessment.

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://https://athletesanctuary.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/normatec-3-lower-body-system-thumb_720x-1.webp.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Seed-Cycle-Blends-scaled-1.jpg.com.au

Optimise recovery

The amino acid leucine is of particular importance to female athletes keen to optimise recovery across the menstrual cycle. Leucine is one of the nine essential amino acids the body needs to obtain through the diet. Leucine along with other amino acids, are required for protein synthesis, tissue repair and nutrient absorption.

The demand for protein changes throughout the menstrual cycle.  The fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone have a profound effect on muscle turnover and protein synthesis. Amino acids like leucine are harder to access during the high hormonal phase (day 12 to day 23 of a typical 28 day cycle).  It is suggested to be harder for females to build and maintain muscle during this hormonal phase making it even more important to ensure adequate intake of essential amino acids during this time.

Strength training including weights or resistance stimulates muscles to take up leucine (and other amino acids) and triggers muscular growth.  Leucine can help prevent the deterioration of muscle with age so it is super important for masters athletes to obtain adequate leucine in order to optimise recovery.

The richest sources of bio-available protein including leucine are in eggs, milk, fish, and meats. Milk contains both whey and casein protein.  Whey is more easily absorbed and is higher in leucine than casein.  Whey is also digested at a much faster rate than casein, ensuring blood leucine levels rise soon after ingestion and triggering protein synthesis responsible for building muscle. Hence why many athletes swear by chocolate milk as their preferred recovery drink. Female athletes need additional leucine to optimise recovery and would benefit from options such as a post-workout smoothie including yogurt, milk, protein powder or almond butter.

Recent research also suggests that the combination of other highly bio-available proteins rich in leucine results in more favourable muscle hypertrophy compared to other proteins such as whole milk protein, casein and soy protein.

Vegans and athletes with dairy intolerance

Athletes who choose to avoid dairy need not feel they are missing out. Interestingly, a recent study found both whey and rice protein isolate administration post-resistance exercise improved body composition and exercise performance with no differences between the two groups when taken in adequate amounts.

Leucine-rich foods

Leucine can also be found in plant-based proteins included including soy, lentils, kidney beans, tofu, quinoa, hummus, rice, and almonds. These plant proteins contain approximately 50% less leucine. Therefore vegan athletes need to pay attention to getting enough high-quality plant proteins that offer the optimal amount of leucine (about 2.5 grams per meal or snack).

Vegans want to consistently enjoy soy, beans, legumes, seeds and/or nuts regularly at every meal and snack. Don’t have just porridge for breakfast; add organic soy milk and walnuts.  Don’t snack on just an apple; slather apple slices with peanut butter.  A blend of rice and pea protein powders makes a good substitute for whey-based protein powders. Some plant-based protein powders also provide added amino acids, making them a good choice for dairy-intolerant or plant-based athletes.

As a general guide 2 grams of leucine can be found in 120 grams beef, 130 grams almonds, 400 grams tofu, 3 eggs, 600ml cow’s milk or 900ml soy milk, 380 grams lentils, 350 grams kidney beans, 70 grams cheddar cheese, 350 grams yogurt, 27 grams whey protein isolate,  50 grams rice protein powder.

Elite athletes with large volumes of training may struggle to obtain adequate leucine from their diet alone,  especially if vegan.  These athletes may consider using protein and collagen powders including leucine, isoleucine and valine 30 minutes pre and post-workouts in addition to a diet rich in leucine to optimise recovery.

This table compares the leucine content of plant and animal foods.

Animal food Plant food (swap) Leucine
(g) approx
Eggs, 1 large Peanut butter, 2 tablespoons 0.5
Milk, ½ cup Soy milk, low fat, 1 cup 0.5
Tuna, 25 grams Black beans, 1/2 cup 0.7
Chicken, 60 grams cooked Tofu, extra firm, 170 grams 1.4
Cheese, 14 grams Almonds, 21 grams 0.3
Beef, 40 grams Lentils, 1 cup 1.3

We recommend including a variety of leucine rich foods in your diet in order to optimise recovery.

Most women’s daily protein intake should account for 30% of their diet to optimise recovery. A gram of protein per kilogram of body weight is adequate for recreational athletes, while elite athletes may require up to 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, especially when competing in power and high-end endurance sports. On lighter recovery days protein intake can be reduced slightly keeping in mind other processes in the body require adequate protein intake (hormones and immune cells for example).

Consuming 20-25 grams of protein within 30 minutes of finishing a session is ideal for optimal recovery while having a protein-rich snack such as a high protein, low-fat yogurts such as YoPro or Chibani Fit at bedtime can boost protein synthesis by 22 %.

When you wake in the morning you are in a catabolic state after fasting for 10-12 hours during the night while sleeping. Having a protein-rich breakfast is really important to optimise recovery, restock your glycogen stores, fuel your daily activities and prevent overeating and sugar cravings later in the day. Great breakfast options to optimise recovery include scrambled eggs on toast or an omelette with sweet potato and veggies, a protein-rich smoothie, porridge with added yogurt or protein powder or scrambled tofu.

 

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://https://athletesanctuary.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/normatec-3-lower-body-system-thumb_720x-1.webp.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Seed-Cycle-Blends-scaled-1.jpg.com.au