It’s no exaggeration to state that when it comes to manipulating training, food and supplement intake for maximum fat burning, endurance performance and strength gains, we’ve learnt more in the two decades than in the last two centuries! Andrew Hamilton reveals 21 nutrition secrets uncovered by recent science and shows you how you can apply them to achieve lower levels of body fat, better endurance and greater strength gains.

Fat buming

Go into any gym and ask people why they started training. The overwhelming response without a doubt will be ‘fat loss’. Excess body fat is not just bad for your health – it also saps energy and blunts sport performance. Then of course there’s the aesthetics – let’s be blunt here, political correctness aside, most people prefer a trim and toned body…!

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Losing fat isn’t easy and anyone who claims it is, is either misguided or telling porkies (no pun intended!). However, the good news is that recent research has indicated how you can coax your body to get more of its energy from stored body fat. As ever, exercise is absolutely crucial to this process. Although it will help, no amount of supplementation or dietary tweaks will boost your fat burning capacity as much as regular exercise.

1 Intensity and type: For maximum fat burning during exercise, train aerobically (eg running, cycling, rowing, swimming etc) at the higher end of your fat burning zone (ie near ‘Fatmax’ – see box 1), which depending on your fitness will be around 6080% of your maximum heart rate.

2 Duration and frequency of training sessions: The key factor is total energy expenditure over any given time period and the goal therefore is to increase your total weekly training volume. For any given weekly volume however, evidence suggests that fewer, longer sessions may be preferable for maximum fat burning – eg 3 x 1hr sessions being better than 6 x 30min sessions.

Box 1: The concept of Fatmax

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Fat oxidation increases from low to moderate exercise intensities, peaks at Fatmax and decreases as the exercise intensity increases further. The grey area represents the Fatzone: a range of exercise intensities where fat burning is high.

3 Max your weight training gains: To maximise your weight training gains and the way your body responds to weight training don’t do any other form of exercise before (other than your warm up). However if you train aerobically and weight train on the same day do your aerobic work first – see page 24 for more information.

4 Pre-exercise: If you train in the afternoons or evenings, you can’t fast all day! But studies show that by sticking to low glycaemic index foods (low GI foods release their calories into the bloodstream slowly such as pasta, oats, beans, lentils and apples) beforehand, you can minimise blood sugar and insulin spikes, thereby increasing fat oxidation.

5 Energy drinks: Carbohydrate-energy drinks taken before or during exercise give you more energy, but they suppress fat oxidation and should therefore be avoided for maximum fat burning.

6 Environment: Very warm and very cold environments can inhibit fat burning during exercise. Temperatures of about 10-20C are most conducive for maximum fat oxidation. Dress appropriately and invest in a decent cooling fan to prevent overheating when training indoors.

7 Green tea extract (GTE): There are a number of nutritional supplements out there that claim to help increase fat burning but few actually work! However, GTE is causing quite a stir among sports scientists because studies show that taking it about 30 minutes before exercise seems to increase fat oxidation during workouts by as much as about 20%.

8 Caffeine: Caffeine may also help increase fat oxidation. Studies using caffeine alone have proved rather inconclusive, but there’s evidence that when combined with green tea, caffeine maybe somewhat more effective as a fat burner.

Endurance performance

“When your workouts become longer and more frequent, getting your fuelling right matters”

When your workouts become longer and more frequent, getting your fuelling right matters. That’s because your premium fuel for exercise (muscle carbohydrate aka glycogen) can only be stored in limited quantities. Once your glycogen stores begin to run low, you’ll feel tired, lethargic and sluggish.

The right fuelling can prevent/reduce fatigue, prolong endurance and speed recovery. Remember though, maximum performance on the day (for example, of your first half-marathon) and maximum fat burning during training are not necessarily the same thing, so don’t be surprised if some of these fuelling recommendations are at odds with those above. Here’s what the latest science says:

9 Carbohydrate drink timing: Brief workouts (under 30min): Not required; Moderate length workouts (30-90min): Take carbohydrate drinks during training and then take a carbohydrate drink/meal in the first hour after training; Long workouts (over 90min): Use carbohydrate drinks during training, consume/drink a generous helping of carbs within an hour after training then take several small feedings for the next four hours.

10 Carbohydrate drinks amount: Consume 60-80g per hour of carbohydrate when mixed as per manufacturer’s instructions.

11 Carbohydrate drink type: Conventional glucose (maltodextrin) drinks do the job, especially when combined with electrolyte minerals. However, a new breed of carbohydrate drink supplying 2 parts of glucose to 1 part of fructose has been shown to be superior, because it’s absorbed and transported to working muscles faster and produces enhanced endurance over glucose only drinks.

12 Carbohydrate type (food): Consume high GI foods immediately after training and combine with or follow up shortly afterwards with some slower releasing carbohydrates. At all other times away from training, lower GI carbohydrates are better!

13 Caffeine/green tea extract: Caffeine taken before a workout is a proven endurance enhancer because it helps offset the build-up of fatigue in the central nervous system enabling you to exercise harder for longer. And because GTE helps burn fat (sparing glycogen), studies show it can also help to prolong endurance. Taking a combination of caffeine and GTE before long workouts (over 1 hour) is therefore a win/win situation!

14 Magnesium and iron: Even a very mild shortfall in either of these two vital minerals can seriously dent endurance performance and both are all too often short in the British diet. So emphasise iron and magnesium-rich foods in your diet, such as wholegrains, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables, lean cuts of red meat, eggs and poultry. Strict vegetarians (especially women) should also consider iron supplementation.

Strength building

The advance of science over these past two decades, especially in genetics, has for the first time enabled us to understand muscle growth and strength building at the molecular level. In particular, scientists have recently discovered that an enzyme called ‘mTORC1’ controls muscle size and strength by regulating protein synthesis. Basically, the more you activate mTORC1, the more muscle growth and strength you’ll generate! This has led to some surprising conclusions, some of which overturn conventional thinking on strength building:

*Training

15 Endurance training first, strength last: Perform endurance training before you strength train. This is because the enzymes stimulated during aerobic training tend to ‘switch off’ mTORC1 and for best strength gains, you need mTORC1 levels in the body to be as high as possible for as long as possible. So, strength training at the end of the day (before a night’s rest) or before a day off is a good idea.

16 Short sets: Make sure each set doesn’t last more than 60 seconds (6-8 reps is ideal) and allow at least 2 minutes’ rest in between set. This keeps metabolic stress low, maximising mTORC1 (mTORC1 activity is lowered by metabolic stress).

17 Use negatives: Negatives (slow lengthening eccentric muscular contractions) put themaximal load on the muscle for the minimal metabolic stress. Adding negatives at the end of a set therefore translates into more mTORC1 activity and stronger muscles.

“Scientists have recently discovered that an enzyme called ‘mTORC1’ controls muscle size and strength by regulating protein synthesis”

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*Nutrition

18 Protein before training: Studies show that mTORC1 can be stimulated when training is accompanied by a rise in blood amino acids (from protein), leading to greater muscle gains. Whey is a quick releasing protein and is an ideal pre-strength training drink. Note: only small amounts are required (around 10g of protein).

19 Carbohydrate/ protein after training: Consume a recovery drink (approx. 2 parts of carbohydrate to 1 part of protein) immediately after training. This boosts the hormone insulin, which as well as further activating mTORC1, also supplies the nutrients for muscle growth.

20 Creatine: A proven ergogenic aid that does what it says on the tin! Taking creatine tops up your muscle stores of a high-energy compound called phosphocreatine. The result is that you can perform short bursts of exercise (for example, lifting weights) more intensely, which helps to maximally stimulate mTORC1 activity.

21 Beta-alanine: A less well-known supplement, beta-alanine is attracting increasing attention for its ability to combat fatiguing lactate during very intense exercise. Intriguingly, when taken with creatine, it seems to enhance creatine’s effects, leading to even greater strength gains!

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