When Looking To Maximise The Performance
When looking to maximise the performance of your teams, you should be focusing on the importance of hydration, sports nutrition and training programs, as well as being aware of illegal drug use and practices and the consequences they have on performance.
First, we will focus on the importance of correct hydration and how to achieve it. A balanced diet includes drinking plenty of water to ensure optimal health and performance, as the body loses around 2L of fluid per day just from general living. Daily fluid requirements are impacted by exercise and the environmental conditions.
Sweat contains vital electrolytes, salt and water. The loss of these elements causes dehydration and can have a major impact on performance, such as skill production, coordination and endurance. Athletes should not wait until they are thirsty before having a drink, as by that time dehydration has already set in. It is therefore important to remain hydrated, especially during training and competition.
Possible physiological effects of dehydration include impaired performance, a declined capacity for muscular work, heat exhaustion, hallucinations, circulatory collapse and heat stroke. These can be avoided by drinking around 200ml of water every 15 minutes of activity. Sports drinks such as Gatorade also have a proven effect on performance in team games.
The team should start exercise sessions well hydrated and be aware of their increased fluid needs in hot weather. It is recommended that the athletes drink 400-600ml of water about 2 hours before exercise to top up fluid levels. They should also take advantage of breaks, and ensure drinks are available. After exercise, the team should rehydrate quickly as part of their immediate recovery plan. By weighing themselves, the athletes can determine how much fluid they have lost, and then drink 1.5 times what they lost.
Having a good knowledge of sports nutrition and using dietary guidelines for athletes to follow is very important to the team’s sporting performance. Not only is a balanced diet important for everyday health, but also for optimal athletic performance. This includes healthy amounts of carbohydrate, fat and protein – as well as a variety of minerals and vitamins.
Carbohydrates (carbs) generally account for 55% of total energy intake, however the carbohydrate intake of the endurance athletes in team sports may account for 70%. The glycaemic index (GI) is a measure of the speed at which glucose is released into the bloodstream after eating carbs. Dietary fat generally accounts for 30% of total energy intake (0.8g per kg body mass), however the fat intake of endurance athletes in team sports may account for only 15%.
The specific foods and drinks consumed before, during and after competition influence athletic performance. The pre-competition meal should focus on providing adequate carbohydrate and fluid for the commencement of exercise, as it is a final opportunity to top up fuel and fluid levels. It should be high in carbohydrate (low in fat and protein) and consumed 3-4 hours prior to the event, preferably ow GI foods to improve endurance.
The goal of nutritional strategies during exercise should be to minimise the depletion of carbohydrate stores and to replace fluid lost via sweat. Athletes should aim to consume 30-60g of carbohydrate for each hour of activity (best to consume it in a liquid form). Medium-high GI carbs are preferable to ensure rapid release of glucose into the bloodstream for use.
Post-exercise nutrition should focus on replacing fuel stores (predominantly carbohydrate) and body fluid losses. After exercise, high GI foods are again useful to increase the teams’ blood sugar level quickly so they can recover, for example by eating lollies such as jelly beans, and they should aim to consume 1.5 times the fluid they have lost. The two hours following exercise is known as the carbohydrate window where carbohydrate is converted to glycogen more quickly than normal because the muscles are ready to take up glucose. Waiting longer results in 50% less glycogen stored in the muscle. Eating protein is also important after exercise as it provides the amino acids necessary to rebuild muscle tissue and can also increase the absorption of water from the intestines and improve muscle hydration.
As coaches, you can use training principles to design a training program which will give your team the edge over your opposition. These principles include periodisation, tapering, peaking, maintenance and recovery.
A successful training program ensures an athlete’s best performances will be achieved at the right time of the season. This is achieved through periodisation where the training program is organised into different periods of time. The training program for an entire season is divided into three main phases. The preparatory phase (pre-season) has the goal of preparing the athletes for competition and is split into two sub phases – the general phase of the pre-season establishes high volume of moderate intensity fitness and skills, whereas the specific phase makes training more sport and competition skill specific, increasing intensity. The competition phase (in-season) is split into two separate phases – the pre-competition phase is the period leading up to competition with the goal of peaking as it involves focusing on intensity rather than volume, whereas the competition phase is when the athlete is ready to perform at their peak. The transition phase (off-season) follows the competitive season. Its aim is to maintain cardiorespiratory fitness, while recovering from the competitive season (active rest).
Each of the cycles of the training plan represent a period of planning time. They are broken down further into distinct phases known as macrocycles, mesocycles and microcycles. A macrocycle is usually the whole training year and is broken down into mesocycles. Mesocycles are generally the training months that vary in length according to what is to be achieved. The phases of competition are often thought of as distinct mesocycles. Athletes align their goals to each phase. Within each mesocycle are the training weeks known as microcycles. A microcycle consists of a number of training sessions in a week. By using these phases in a training program, coaches can achieve set goals at the right time to improve the team’s performance.
Tapering is the final phase of a training program prior to competition, involving a gradual reduction in training volume while maintaining intensity to minimise fatigue and ensure maximum recovery by allowing energy to be restored (topping up muscle glycogen), therefore decreasing stress on muscles and immune and nervous systems. Peaking for optimal performance then occurs so the best possible performance is achieved at the right time.
Maintenance refers to the fitness levels of athletes being maintained throughout the season with a training load allowing maximum performance – reduced volume and maintained intensity.
Recovery is needed between training sessions to allow a physiological training effect. Recovery strategies include cold/hot water immersion and stretching. Overtraining is caused by poor balance between training load and time allowed for recovery.
Many athletes try to cheat the system by using and abusing illegal drugs such as anabolic steroids, blood doping, peptides and stimulants. They are always looking for an edge that will gain them an advantage over their opponents.
Anabolic steroids simulate the male sex hormone testosterone which plays a role in muscular development. The perceived advantages include improved muscle strength, power, muscle development and rate of tissue repair, meaning athletes can train harder and longer with less recovery needed. However, disadvantages include increased levels of aggression, infertility, acne, decreased testicular volume for men, liver dysfunction, heart disease, dependence and depression, and possibly even death.
Blood doping is a procedure where the athlete removes blood from their body and then injects it back in prior to an event to increase the number of red blood cells and the amount of haemoglobin. The advantage is an increase in the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood, but the disadvantage is it increases the thickness of the blood (viscosity), which increases the risk of blood clotting, heart attack and stroke.
Peptides act in a similar way to anabolic steroids due to their influence on body function, but are less detectable and have fewer side effects. When injected, peptides can increase the amount of human growth hormone (HGH) in the body which is where the perceived physiological benefits derive, including promoted tissue repair and cell regeneration, the break down of fat and building of protein. The disadvantage is that the pituitary gland can become lazy and stop producing natural HGH when the injection regime ends.
Illegal stimulants such as amphetamines and cocaine act directly on the central nervous system to speed up parts of the brain/body. Some athletes use them to be more alert, reduce tiredness and improve competitiveness, as well as increasing the body’s tolerance to short-term intense exercise. The disadvantages include faster breathing, coordination issues and dehydration, as well as dependence and addiction.