Interviewer: Mike Roberts, Ph.D. Q1: I had the opportunity to see you give a great presentation at Texas A&M this year on “power eating” for athletes. In a nutshell, could you define what “power eating” is?
In a nutshell, Power Eating is the evidence-based science and practice-based art of fueling for strength, power and speed.
With the kind of cross training that is required of both recreational and professional athletes, Power Eating supports the fundamental needs of all athletic individuals, yet targets the specifics of the periodized training regimes of athletes seeking strength, power and speed.
Q2: There has been a recent push for athletes to adopt ketogenic diets (KETO). However, you presented an excellent bar graph that summarized what scientists have found regarding KETO and sports performance. Can you summarize that data?
When we discuss athletically challenging exercise and sports performance, there are many modes of training. One mode that is absolutely essential to winning is high intensity exercise, defined as >70% VO2max. There have been 27 studies examining the impact of a ketogenic diet on exercise performance. To date, no study has ever shown enhanced high intensity exercise performance on a ketogenic diet. In fact, 17 studies have shown performance decrements on a ketogenic diet vs. carbohydrate-rich diet.
If your goal is to train moderately, then that is highly possible on a fat-adapted diet. However, if your goal is to increase power and speed, climb hills, or sprint to the finish, physiologically we can only do that when we have carbohydrate to fuel the high intensity demand of that exercise.
So I recommend fueling your goal. We are studying many different modes of diet strategies. In The New Power Eating, as in all four previous Power Eating editions, I have periodized plans that adjust macronutrients based on the athlete’s goals for that training period.
Don’t get carried away with dogma. Focus on goals and fuel them.
Q3: Which types of carbohydrates are best for sports performance? For example, as a runner should I only focus on consuming slow-absorbing carbohydrates that you’d get from consuming vegetables, should I time high glycemic sports drinks around workouts?
This answer is not brief, and requires touching on both the science and the art of practice of sports nutrition. The ultimate solution is whatever works best for the athlete. However, there are some important guidelines.
- I categorize sports nutrition into 2 silos: nourishing your body and fueling your training. Silo 1, nourishing your body, depends on wholesome, least processed food to nourish your body and feed your brain. Silo 2, fueling your training, focuses not on nourishing, but the right athletic fuel for the goal of the training session. If you are an endurance athlete training for distance at a moderate or moderately-high pace, then you depend more on fat to fuel those training sessions, but if you are not fat-adapted, you still need carbohydrate in your diet and along the way for multi-hour runs. You can certainly build your muscle-glycogen stores with plant foods like starchy vegetables, grains and beans.
- Once you are on the road, food is not a good refueling source because it will take hours to get from your stomach to your bloodstream, typically causing stomach upset (especially in a runner) and not available as fuel probably until you are done training. This is the role of sports fuels. When you choose an engineered supplement, you should expect to see peer-reviewed scientific manuscript research articles proving the claims of the product. Read the study and make sure that the claims are actually supported by the research evidence. Many products make claims, but very few have data to prove it.
- The scientific data, and my experience has led me to recommend Vitargo, a pure high molecular weight starch, as my favorite carbohydrate fuel and recovery product. From published research data, Vitargo empties from the stomach more than 2x faster and enters the bloodstream nearly 2x faster than any product (without any blood glucose crash) made from maltodextrin or maltodextrin plus sugars, which is most other sports drinks. It doesn’t cause stomach upset or bloating. Muscle glycogen recovery is nearly 2x faster and higher. Most importantly, Vitargo enhances exercise performance an average of 10% up to 23% over maltodextrin plus sugars.
- I find that stomach and gut comfort is one of the most critical factors for exercise performance. Glycemic index doesn’t tell us anything about comfort, the action of the product or the outcome of performance, and slow-absorbing carbs also need proof of their claims and are more likely to cause stomach upset during exercise, although this is not universal.
- Test and compare products on yourself. Pay attention to grams of carbohydrate per dose, so that you know that you are comparing apples to apples, so to speak. All products do not use the same gram dose, so you need to equilibrate your doses. Then use what feels and performs best for you.
- Timing of use is also quite personal, and depends on each training bout. A long slow run may not require much pre-exercise dosing if you are eating a carb-rich diet. You may benefit from refueling along the way, and you may want to use a supplement to recover if you can’t get to food within an hour or so. Faster and/or more intense runs that gain altitude will benefit from prefueling, during fueling, and post-workout recovery fueling, with a good recovery meal to round out your glycogen replenishment for your next run or training session.
Q4: You’ve worked with several professional athletes. For the up-and-comers (high school or collegiate athletes), how important is it to eat a well-structured diet? Alternatively stated, can these folks get away with eating fast food, chips, and soft drinks and expect to make it to the top tier level based upon good genetics?
Great question, and many out there will know that early in high school the genetically gifted student-athletes are often at the top no matter what. But once athletes begin to mature, everything changes. Those that are dedicated to hard work and details often shoot ahead of those that are gifted but not working as hard. They have more consistent training because they may stay healthier day to day. They may get better results from hard training because they are fully fueled at every workout and maximize their time in the gym and on the field. They recover better and get better rest because they have given their body what it needs. And certainly their academics benefit because their brain is more well fed. If you want to be at the top of your game, everything matters. Diet is not a careless detail. It is a critical factor that will make or break an athlete if not very early in their career, then certainly as the years progress and the competition becomes more stiff.
Q5: What are some of the current ventures that you and your company are embarking upon?
First, full disclosure. After independently including Vitargo as part of my fueling toolkit for clients for over a decade, in 2018 I began working for the company (Vitargo, Inc.) as Director of Science and Communication. My goal is to help to grow the brand and continue the scientific research and outreach that has been the foundation of the product.
As the founder and owner of High Performance Nutrition, LLC., I have just published my latest book, “The New Power Eating,” and I continue to be the High Performance Nutritionist for the Seattle Storm, the 2018 WNBA Champions! I will continue to work with individual, team and corporate clients, and guest lecture locally, nationally and internationally, as well as volunteer teach at Can Tho University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Can Tho, Vietnam with Medical Education Exchange Team – International. This new year I will be working on some new ventures focused on food.
Thanks so much for the time today Dr. Kleiner.
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