Fuel

Lose the lollies - why lollies should not be seen at kids’ sport

Jelly snakes.jpg

Lollies are for parties. 

They were when I was a kid anyway.

How confectionery has become part of post-game culture at junior sporting venues has me bewildered.  Somehow, the practice of elite endurance athletes, who are known to use simple forms of sugar as fuel during prolonged training and events, has transcended to kids’ being handed a bucket full of colourful jellies as primary recovery food following a 36-minute basketball game.  Why?  Or why not should be of greater concern for parents across Australia who are effectively the gatekeepers of the regular post-game sugar fest.

How did this happen?

Jelly lollies have become popular with endurance athletes as a convenient, portable and enjoyable carbohydrate source for lengthy training sessions.  Long rides or runs, where it may be difficult to consume adequate solid foods, make lollies an easy choice for a quick energy boost.

A typical junior sporting event usually takes less than 1 hour.  I am talking typical team sports here, in particular the ones I attend on a regular basis - basketball and footy.  Every time I attend a game, at any venue, I almost always spy lollies or chocolate in some form (ok, Saturday 8am basketball perhaps less likely, but not completely unexpected…).

This concerns me……a 10 year old does not need a quick acting carbohydrate immediately before, during or after a game, especially if they have eaten well beforehand.  Yes, kids do get hungry after sport, and recovery may also be a consideration for particularly active children.  Give the child some proper food to eat.   There is absolutely no need for lollies post-game. 

Why am I so angry!

Lollies and junior sport should not be used in the same sentence and here’s why:

-        Feeding children lollies after a game creates the perception that lollies are an everyday food, or even worse teaches kids that lollies and sweet foods are a reward for effort.

-        During and after sport a child’s saliva production is reduced and teeth are vulnerable to attack (so my wonderful dentist thoughtfully reminds me) – introducing a sticky, sugary sweet is asking for trouble.  Want a massive dental bill – keep giving your kids lollies (and sports drink) every time they run around a court.

-        There are SO many better choices out there to help kids recover, feel good and fill them up after sport. 

Sure, it may just be a jelly snake here and there and you may think I am over-reacting, but kids get enough opportunities to eat lollies at other times.  Keep the lollies where they belong – in beautifully packaged little bags handed to guests as a birthday celebration thank you.  Not in the sports bag.

Six of the best carbohydrate foods to improve your training and performance

Not all carbohydrate foods are equal.  For athletes, it’s not just about eating mounds of rice and pasta.  The quality of your carbs counts.  Smart carb choices can help athletes to feel great and perform at their best.  You can get more nutritional value from your fuel foods with selective choices.  It could be as simple as wild or brown rice sometimes instead of white all the time, or choosing a wholemeal pasta.  Or a wholegrain mix such as the one pictured above. 

Here are 6 of my favourite carbohydrate foods for athletes, to boost nutrition, health and performance.

Sweet potato

Sweet potato is a terrific carbohydrate source for training and energy levels.  Sweet potato has a lower glycemic index than white potato (remembering white potato is still good for you too!).  Sweet potato contains more carbohydrate than white potato, but lower in carbohydrate than rice, pasta, and many other grains (for example, the carbohydrate content of white potato is ~12g/100g cooked, sweet potato ~15g/100g cooked, brown rice ~30g/100g cooked). More benefits - fibre, vitamins such as Vitamins A (beta-carotene) and C, and taste!

Barley

Not a fancy expensive ancient grain, and when you think of barley you may be reminiscing about your grandmother’s lamb and barley soup!  But barley is now back in vogue and for good reason.  Barley is a low GI wholegrain, packed with vitamins, minerals and fibre.  Barley, like oats, contains beta-glucan, a soluble type of fibre applauded for its heart health benefits. 

Super versatile, barley goes well in soups, casseroles, breakfast dishes, cold in salads and great in risottos – there is a great Barley Risotto recipe in my book Eat Right for Your Life.

Sourdough rye bread

If you love to eat bread, make it sourdough.  Research is showing that sourdough bread, although it still contains gluten, can be more easily digested than regular wheat-based breads.  Try to select fresh baked sourdough from a local bakery and experiment with the different varieties to see what works for you – rye or spelt are terrific options for nutrition and low GI energy pre-training.

Bananas

A banana is the perfect portable pre-training snack – just enough carbs to fill that space in your tummy and give you an energy boost for the session ahead.  On their own, or part of a recovery smoothie or fruit/yoghurt/granola mix, bananas are a winner.

Sweetcorn

Sweetcorn is a sneaky source of nutritious carbohydrate, also packed with nutrients and fibre, and a similar carbohydrate content to white potato at ~13g/100g cooked.  Great in salads, soups, main meals or a cob of corn as a snack.

Oats

One of the cheapest and best carb options around are oats.  A small amount goes a long way and can keep your engine running for hours.  Rich in fibre and nutrients, and with a surprising protein content, you can find more detailed info in one of my more popular blog posts Oats vs quinoa for health, energy and performance.

Sorry if I’ve missed your favourite, there are plenty of great carbohydrate-rich foods out there!  Performance isn’t just about carbs though - plan your meals and snacks to meet your day-to-day, training and performance nutrition needs.

For more performance nutrition info, check out my blog page.  You can also leave your details at http://www.lisamiddleton.com.au/thoughts-index/ if you would like me to send you freeperformance nutrition updates and recipes, plus you can fllow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Do you really need carbohydrates to train and perform, and are some better than others?

Carbs are evil. Aren't they? We are regularly reminded of this by sensationalist headlines suggesting sugar is toxic and white refined sugar is positively poison. The rationale behind these accusations is perhaps not without merit.  Over time the availability and intake of sugar-filled foods and drinks has sky-rocketed. Excess consumption of overly processed, low-nutrient foods can have a negative impact on our health. But does this make refined sugars lethal on their own? And should we really be using the words ‘sugar’ and ‘carbohydrate’ interchangeably. 

What starts with a jump onto the anti-sugar bandwagon can progress into joining the anti-carb club. Working in sports nutrition I am increasingly concerned about the number of athletes who take these messages to the extreme. Sure, if your health and well-being would benefit from losing weight then reducing carbohydrate and sugar can help. But it still doesn’t mean you need to eliminate carbs, or sugar, completely. Nor does it mean that replacing refined sugar with 'natural' sugar is any better for you. It really comes down to working out the best amount and types of carbohydrate to suit your individual needs. If you are someone who likes to keep fit and active, then cutting out carbs is not likely to do you any favours when it comes to training results and performance.            

Here’s why…..                                                                                               

Fuel

Yes, you can train your body to use fat better as a fuel by eating more fat, but does this improve energy levels and performance? No. Fat is pretty useless at fueling higher intensity efforts. Carbohydrates are far more effective when you need to work hard. 

Brain function

Stable blood glucose levels help to keep your brain fueled, helping with concentration, co-ordination and judgement – all pretty important for most types of athletic pursuits.

Muscle gains

If you are training for improved muscle condition, strength and size, carbohydrate can provide the energy to help this happen, in conjunction with adequate protein. Well planned carbohydrate intake won’t just turn to fat, but will be used effectively by the body to enhance muscle mass gains. 

Gut health

By choosing nutrient-dense, fibre-rich carbohydrate sources you will be providing your digestive system with the nutrients to feed your good gut bugs and keep them active, plus fibre to promote healthy nutrient absorption and bowel habits.

Immune function

Carbohydrate has been shown to have a positive effect on immune system for those doing regular or heavy training.  Exercise creates stress, but stable blood glucose levels can reduce the body's stress response and carbohydrate has been found to be effective in counteracting immune depression following exercise.

 

If you like to train, carbohydrates are your friend (even bread!). Get the portions, type and timing of intake right and carbohydrate will help you to get the best out of your training and performance. Look out for my next post where I will discuss the best types of carbohydrate foods for an active lifestyle. In the meantime you might like to take a look at a previous post 'The 10 best wheat and gluten-free carbohydrate foods if you train a lot'.

 

For more info like this, please leave your details at http://www.lisamiddleton.com.au/thoughts-index/ for performance nutrition updates, and you can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Hydration is important, but what is the role of sports drinks and electrolytes and who needs them?

Summer in Australia can get hot!  Daily fluid intake is essential, but how much, and what type, do you really need for optimal energy levels, performance and health?  If you train regularly you need to drink regularly, but it’s not just about drinking as much water as you can.  Working out your individual needs can help you hydrate to train and perform at your best.

Why hydrate?

When we exercise we sweat, leading to higher fluid losses and increased fluid needs.  Starting training hydrated means setting yourself up to: 

- improve concentration and judgement

- improve co-ordination

- improve energy levels and delay fatigue

- make exercise feel easier, so you feel better and can work harder

Best fluids for training

For most exercise and sport, water is the drink of choice and totally adequate.  However many active people are turning to the wide range of sports and electrolyte drinks to help power their performance.  But are all the fancy formulations worth the effort and investment? 

Sports drinks vs electrolyte drinks

The key question to ask is whether you need fuel, fluid and/or electrolyte replacement.  Commercial sports drinks generally contain both carbohydrate and electrolytes and can be useful during prolonged training, hot and humid conditions and any time that sweat rates are high and when additional fuel in an easily consumed form is required. 

If your main priority is hydration, there are a number of pill and powder options that provide electrolytes without the carbohydrate and sugars.  The main electrolyte that drives hydration is sodium, so in essence you are purchasing a high salt solution to aid in fluid absorption and retention. 

If you don't do large amounts of prolonged training, enough sodium will likely be consumed through foods, and additional electrolytes may not be required.  However if you participate in long-duration exercise or have a high sweat rate with the potential to lose significant fluid and sodium, an electrolyte supplement could be pretty useful.  Salty carbohydrate-rich snacks can be handy too for those longer pursuits as a fuel and electrolyte source – just add water!  But if the event makes eating difficult, a sports and electrolyte drink or combination might work well (worth practicing in training to see what works, but for most shorter training sessions water may be fine).  Sports drink swishing is another strategy if you want the effects but not the fuel and carbs, might need to write a post on this down the track. 

When you are not exercising, other nutritious fluids such as milk, soup, blended fruit smoothies, juice, tea and coffee all help you to hydrate.  In fact milk can have a higher electrolyte content than many sports drinks!  Coffee can have a diuretic effect, so is not as effective in helping your body to hold onto the fluid you drink, but can still contribute to hydration goals. *For more hydration info, see my previous blog post Best Fluids for Hydration - Look No Further Than Soup.

Individual fluid needs vary significantly due to a number of factors.  Work out how much you need and the best fluids for you for different scenarios, and ask an accredited sports dietitian if you need some help working it all out.

For more nutrition updates I would love you to send you my free newsletter every month or two, please leave your details on my website Thoughts page.  I am now on Instagram too, and you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

High performance snacks you should be eating at 3.30pm to get the best out of your post-work workout

Do you sometimes feel like you are working super hard at the gym, but not seeing the results you are after?   If you head straight to training after work, you may not have eaten since lunchtime, or maybe since breakfast!  Your fuel stores will be low, and heading into your session hungry and depleted will make it difficult to get the best results from your training.

Even if you are trying to lose weight, it can still be useful to have some fuel on board for energy, so you can work harder during your session.   If you are trying to gain muscle then you also need energy to lift, pull, push and build.  Regardless of your specific goals and whether you work out at the local gym or train as an elite athlete, nutrition can make a difference to training results and performance.

What to include in your pre-exercise snack

Protein

Protein is often the neglected nutrient when it comes to snacking, as many of our typical snacks are carbohydrate based (think fruit, biscuits, bars, etc.).  Including protein in a snack will keep you full for longer, help keep blood glucose levels stable, and assist with muscle growth and repair.  You can read more about protein in another post of mine Back to Basics Protein.

Carbohydrate

Carbohydrate provides fuel for muscles to work hard and for your brain to focus and get you through your session. Low GI foods are sometimes recommended before exercise for sustained energy levels, however many low GI foods are rich in fibre which can cause gut problems pre-running for some people.  Play around with it to work out the best types of nutrient-dense carbohydrate foods that sit well for you. Amount is important too - if your goal is to get fit and lose weight you won’t need as much carbohydrate as someone in heavy training for a marathon. For more on carbohydrate for exercise please click here.

Healthy fats

It's important to include healthy fats in your diet, however fat takes a while to digest, so it may be best not to over-do it pre-workout.  

Snacks for pre-exercise

Below are some pre-exercise snack ideas that will help to keep your energy levels high and your muscles firing.

* Fruit salad with natural/Greek yoghurt and chopped almonds         

* Rye or corn based dry biscuits with cheese and sliced tomato

* Fruit smoothie, made with dairy or soy milk, yoghurt and fruit (note – rice, oat, almond, coconut milks are low in high quality protein)

* Sushi roll

* Mountain bread wrap with turkey and salad

* Natural muesli with Greek yoghurt

* Vegetable sticks and wholegrain crackers with hommus dip         

* Rice paper roll

* Soup eg. chicken and vegetable or minestrone

* Chia pudding made with milk and topped with fruit

* Banana and a handful of nuts

If you love reading about nutrition for exercise and performance, I would love to offer you free nutrition updates and recipes, just leave your details on my Thoughts page and feel free to have a read of some of my other articles while you are there.

Need some help planning the best meals and snacks for you? Look up an Accredited Sports Dietitian near you at Sports Dietitians Australia.

Inside the world's most multi-cultural dining hall - feeding Olympians

Benefit of volunteering at the Olympics - watching the athletes in action!

Benefit of volunteering at the Olympics - watching the athletes in action!

Way back in the year 2000 I was one of a handful of very fortunate sports dietitians who had the amazing opportunity to volunteer at the Sydney Olympics, as part of the nutrition kiosk within the athlete village dining hall.  I had only graduated from dietetics a couple of years prior, and as a young professional with a passion for sports nutrition this was an event of a lifetime.  These days there are a host of dietitians who travel to Olympic Games and other major events throughout the world, but at that stage there were very few who ever got to set foot in the athlete's village, so for me it was pretty exciting!

The nutrition kiosk was created in conjunction with the catering group, and was co-ordinated by Fiona Pelly, an experienced accredited sports dietitian who is working with the catering in Rio this year and Dr Helen O'Connor from the University of Sydney.  Fiona and Helen are both fellows of Sports Dietitians Australia and Fiona was the chief nutrition advisor to the caterers, a mammoth job that Fiona did brilliantly.  The kiosk was a service for the athletes, coaches and support staff, where they could come and speak to a sports dietitian for information about the food items available, special dietary requests, allergies and intolerances, upcoming menus, and any other nutrition questions they may have.  The dietitians each day were provided with menus and a detailed breakdown of the nutrition composition and ingredients/allergens for each food item on offer.  Each dish was clearly labelled with nutrition and allergen information, and part of our role included quality checks to ensure all dishes and labels matched.  Most of us felt pretty comfortable with these roles, however what we didn't expect was the large number of athletes approaching us for training and competition nutrition advice.

Looking pretty happy with myself at the nutrition kiosk!

Looking pretty happy with myself at the nutrition kiosk!

In Australia at that point, sports dietitians were being sought by many sports for nutrition consulting and sports nutrition was growing (thanks to many passionate individual sports dietitians and organisations providing top-notch servicing and Sports Dietitians Australia working hard to promote the role of sports nutrition for athletes).  However many other countries, from all areas of the world, did not have the same access to sports nutrition services.  We had international boxers and rowers looking for making weight strategies (many who had over-consumed at the buffet), individuals with coeliac disease wanting nutrition education and even runners asking what to eat pre-, during and post-race.  Nutrition concerns that for many Australian athletes would have been addressed well before the Olympics.   It certainly opened my eyes to the bigger global picture, having never travelled too far at that point, and also the immense natural athletic talent concentrated at one sporting event.  So many athletes who didn't have access to high performance programs, sports science or sports nutrition support but were still out there competing and winning! 

One of my best memories from the Olympics, and the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne 2006 (where I was also lucky to be back in the dining hall, thanks to Karen Inge), was the genuine gratitude shown by these athletes towards all staff involved. They were just so thrilled to be there competing, having an amazing time and learning and absorbing as much as they could from the experience. 

When it came to the food, I had never seen anything quite like an Olympic dining hall.  If you love a good buffet, this is the stuff of fairytales.  Every athlete, cuisine, culture and taste preference is catered for.   Different buffets for different continents.  Pre-prepared dishes, plus dishes made-to-order.  Plus never-ending bain-maries and fridges and cupboards and shelves of everything and anything you could imagine.  Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photos, but I have included some links at the end of this post that include some dining hall pictures from previous Olympics and Rio! 

The buffet was open for most of the day, from very early in the morning until late at night to allow for early and evening competition times, and it was always busy.  Because athletes would enter the village well before competition for some of them, we spent a lot of time talking to those athletes about managing volumes when eating buffet-style every day.  You know when you are at a buffet and you want to try a bit of everything, at this buffet it would take weeks to give everything a go.  Plus the menu changed daily.  Athletes also need to take care to eat foods that sit well, for example if you weren't big on spicy foods and got stuck into the hot curries you may run into some less-desirable gut symptoms.  Buffet management was a big issue for some athletes, particularly those where weight and body composition are critical to performance, and those who needed to 'make-weight'.

McDonalds have presence in all Olympic dining halls, which originally I found a bit strange, but this aligned with sponsorship arrangements and the foods were thoroughly enjoyed by many athletes post-competition, and for some pre-event!   The range of dietary habits, and levels of interest and education in sports nutrition intrigued me.  I clearly remember seeing an athlete, who I assume was a thrower or lifter of some sort, sitting down to a breakfast of cheese, cold meats and bread (not a vegetable in sight) on a table next to a group of gymnasts with tiny bowls of fruit salad and yoghurt.  Athletes loved to meet athletes from other sports, and it was funny to see superstar athletes star-struck by other athletes in high-profile sports.  I certainly learnt a lot from observing and talking to athletes during my time in the dining hall!

These type of opportunities would not be possible if not for inclusive organisations like Sports Dietitians Australia and generous professionals like accredited sports dietitians Fiona Pelly, Helen O'Connor and Karen Inge who saw the opportunity to offer their colleagues an experience they would never forget and chose to create an initiative that allowed a team of dietitians to be involved rather than just one or two.  

I imagine that the dining hall in Rio will surpass anything that was previously provided for Olympic athletes.  Hygiene and food safety are a critical concern for every dining hall and controls are in place to ensure a positive food experience for all athletes and staff.  No doubt the athletes in Rio will be well-fuelled and hydrated with their favourite and usual foods to be able to perform at their best when their important competition day arrives. 

For more information about the catering and dining hall at Rio 2016, and some pictures of what the dining halls look like, here are some interesting articles and a link to the formal summary around the catering for these games:

So much yoghurt: what athletes in the Olympic village will be eating - interview with Fiona Pelly

http://www.cbc.ca/sports/olympics/summer/dining-room-athlete-village-1.3574905

https://www.rio2016.com/en/news/athletes-at-rio-2016-olympic-and-paralympic-village-to-be-offered-a-taste-of-brazil

Rio 2016 - Taste of the Games official booklet (pdf)

You can also read more about what Oympic athletes eat on my other two blog posts:

Marathon running nutrition - with Rio-bound Olympian Lisa Weightman:

Recover like a champion - what top Australian athletes eat after training and competition

Marathon running nutrition - with Rio-bound Olympian Lisa Weightman

Lisa and her family training for Run for the Kids earlier this year. Image courtesy of  Herald-Sun article.

Lisa and her family training for Run for the Kids earlier this year. Image courtesy of Herald-Sun article.

Lisa Weightman is one of Australia's best runners - an Olympic and Commonwealth Games marathon runner.  Lisa has been training hard over recent months in preparation for the Rio 2016 Olympics, after a break following Peter's birth.  You can learn more about Lisa at www.lisaweightman.com.

I first met Lisa when I was working at the VIS a number of years ago, when marathon training was relatively new for Lisa after much success at shorter distances.  I have loved hearing of Lisa's marathon achievements since, and her efforts to get back into training and competing at the elite level. 

I ran in the Run for the Kids this year with Lisa.  Well maybe not with her, she didn't actually know I was there, but I cheered her on as she was passing the other way towards the finish line as I was pretty much just starting (she did get a head start though as she would have had pole position while I started a little further back in the field)!

Lisa has been generous enough to take the time to share with us some of insights into nutrition and hydration for long-distance running:

What are your three top priorities when it comes to nutrition?

1. Balance.  I don't believe in fad diets or new products on the market that claim to be the fix for everything!  I believe that if we have a range of healthy food in our diet then we have a better chance of covering all the bases for great performance, recovery and general good health.

2. Chocolate isn't all bad.  A piece of chocolate or a slice of birthday cake because you are celebrating a milestone shouldn't be feared.  Keep the healthy balance going and don't sweat a small treat occasionally.

3. Don't forget to drink.  Hydrating is just as important and requires constant attention as the weather changes and your training loads and locations vary.  I don't use sports drinks on a regular basis now that I know what works for me in a marathon.  Water, some electrolytes and a good cup of tea works well for me.

How does your day-to-day nutrition vary compared to the days leading up to a marathon?

It varies a great deal.  Day to day I eat a balanced diet that is pretty consistent.  Cereal, fruit, meat, lots of green vegies.  When I move into the final week before a marathon I change the amount of protein and carbohydrates I eat that week with the final 3 days leaning to almost a full carbohydrate intake.  This is necessary to ensure the muscles have enough glycogen to get me to the finish line.

What is your favourite recovery meal and why?

Post marathon it’s always a lean meat beef burger and hand cut chunky potato chips.  I assume that is because the body has seen enough energy gels and sports drink to last a lifetime and all it wants is a big chunk of protein and to replace the salt that is missing! 

Post training recovery I love my mum's salmon pattie recipe with a big plate of seasonal vegies (recipe to be posted on Thoughts page in the near future!).  The salmon patties contain rice, so they are a good combination of protein-carb-fats and the vegies fill you up ready for a good night sleep post session.

Do you have any special strategies to stay hydrated with your large volume of training?  Different from summer to winter?

I don't always get this right as I am a busy mum, working part time and training like an elite athlete (you ARE an elite athlete Lisa!).  At times I struggle to remember to drink I must be honest.  But it doesn't take much to spring me into action if I do get it wrong as your sessions give it away pretty quickly.

I think winter is harder than summer as you don’t have the same trigger of heat to remind you to drink.  So I try to have the same big favourite glass on my desk all the time to remind me to drink.  Water bottles go everywhere with me now.  My bright "Girl that runs" bottle and my little Pete's "Paw Patrol flask"!  Pick a good bottle that you want to take with you, an accessory! That will help!

Any final tips for distance runners?

You need to have a bit of an obsessive nature to be a distance runner, but don't let that take over your common sense.  It is ok to have a treat and it is also ok to have a rest day when you need it. 

Best wishes for a great run in Rio Lisa!!  Follow Lisa on Twitter for training and Olympic preparation updates.

 

 

AFL Grand Final nutrition - what and when the players will be eating and drinking

Game day nutrition plans are usually well practiced and refined by the time grand final day arrives, but on the big day these strategies are often challenged by a number of September factors.  I cannot claim to know the exact nutrition plans for the Hawthorn and Sydney FC players this week, but I can write from my previous experiences with finals football.  I have been fortunate enough to work with AFL teams in five grand finals, including the week leading up to the game, and at the ground as the players arrive for their last warm up for the year.  I have seen nutrition strategies work well but have also seen some on shaky ground due to factors which are largely difficult to control but need to be considered and planned for.

Grand final week is a week like no other for an AFL player.  In fact, it may be the only time they experience grand final week from a player perspective in their entire life.  During the season, nutrition plans are created and trialed to ensure optimal fuelling, recovery, health and body composition and most players have a fine-tuned pre-game nutrition routine that is flexible depending on game times and location but reasonably consistent week-to-week.  Players work with an accredited sports dietitian at most clubs to determine what works best for them the day before a game and then on game day.  Players will have different requirements in terms of the type of foods, nutrients and timing depending on a number of factors including playing position, body weight, individual hydration considerations, climate and travel.  By the end of the season it should all be pretty well rehearsed.  Often things do run pretty smoothly up to preliminary finals, but those 7-8 days prior to the grand final bring various challenges.  Of course the club tries to keep things as normal as possible and treat it as just another week and another game, but it obviously isn't.   In terms of nutrition, a grand final brings significant challenges that are not always controllable.  There are additional activities that are compulsory for the players and quite unlike a normal week, in particular  the Grand Final parade which is scheduled just over 24 hours pre-game.  Who came up with this concept I am not sure....it is great for building the excitement in the city, and for the wider community and supporters who can't get to the game because of all the corporates, plus a great activity for kids on school holidays, but in terms of preparation it is probably less than ideal for the players!  Players have to travel into the city, wait around for the parade to start, then sit in the trays of utes (often out in the blazing sun), all when they could be relaxing and preparing.  Considering that usually on the day before a game players have their own individual routine that might be quiet and low-key, with no restrictions on timing of meals and fluids, players need to be organized to ensure adequate nutrition and fluids during this time.   

Speaking of fluids, September in Melbourne is ridiculous when it comes to weather.  I recall one grand final I was involved with was hot and windy, another winter-like conditions and rain.  If it is hot, it can often be the hottest day for 6 months and players are not accustomed to playing, and drinking, in that type of heat.  At least players from both teams are subjected to the same conditions but how it is managed in terms of cooling and hydration strategies could become important.  So, the weather can impact on hydration but there is a bigger factor that can play havoc with the best laid nutrition plans, and this is not specific just to AFL football but any major sporting events - nerves (for want of a more technical description).

In many ways a grand final is just another game, but in other ways it is not.  If you play in a grand final and your team wins, you are a premiership player for life.  If your team loses, you are not, simple really. The winners will be recognized for life and earn a coveted medal that all AFL players crave.  I am certainly not a psychologist, but it is clear that there is both internal and external pressure created, and some players manage this better than others.  I have frequently heard athletes say that if they don't feel nervous they won't perform well, so butterflies in the stomach can be helpful, perhaps because if you feel anxious it means whatever you are nervous about means a lot to you and you really want to do well.  Some players thrive on the 'big-game' pressure and it brings out their best, others may be terribly nervous but can turn this around into a positive, and others can have a terrible time that interferes with them performing at their best.   These nervous feelings can have a psychological impact, but also a physical impact that can impact on nutrition and hydration strategies. 

A common side-effect is stomach upset, which can impact on appetite and make it difficult to consume regular pre-game intake both the night before and on game day itself.  This effect is not exclusive to AFL.  I see a lot of elite and recreational athletes who train for events such as a marathon or ironman triathlon, events difficult to simulate in training and that require extensive preparation for that one day, whose nutrition plans are severely impacted by nervousness on the day.  The type of foods that are usually consumed may need to be altered, for example a change from a dense oat-based cereal breakfast to a lighter toast option, lower-fibre options and avoidance of dairy for improved gastrointestinal comfort.  

Often nutrients are more easily tolerated via fluids rather than solid foods, so these can be a good option for athletes who struggle to eat pre-event.  But over-drinking can be another concern.  Fluid intake can easily be over-done pre-game when nerves are involved, with players taking sip after sip as they count down the minutes to game-time, so fluid intake should be monitored so players don't feel bloated and racing to the toilet all the time.   If gastrointestinal symptoms are severe, players may struggle to eat much at all.  I will always remember one grand final where we were providing regular small doses of lemonade, rice crackers and electrolytes throughout a game to one player who was really struggling and it was all he could manage.  Not quite the usual theoretical sports nutrition recommendations, but it worked for that player on that day, sometimes you have to compromise and be creative. 

Of course not all players experience disruptive physical symptoms, but they still have the challenge of timing their nutrition on the day.  Ideally it would be good to wake at the usual time and stick to the usual breakfast then snack and/or light lunch before heading to an afternoon game. But players always like to make sure they get to the ground in plenty of time on Grand Final day, so with a 2.30pm start it means that players are likely to be in transit in that 2-3 hours prior to the game, when theory indicates is an ideal time for pre-event nutrition.  With lots of things on a player's mind on the day, prior organization is paramount to ensure optimal fuelling in those critical hours.

As important as nutrition is, it is one of a number of factors that contribute to performance.  Never is this more evident than on grand final day.  Just think of those players who are injured and play out the game with a broken hand or finger, those who have ran and ran all day but still find that extra few metres of speed, and those who I have observed that you know would literally have no fuel left in the tank but still, somehow, manage to reach the contest and punch the ball away.  It's why we love sport and why we love Australian Football.  The psychological drive seems to be able to over-ride a lot of the physical aspects that would normally limit us (happy for any experts who may have research papers on this to chip in here!).  That quest for a premiership....an individual medal, but more importantly a win with your team who have worked so hard all year, and for your club, to be remembered in history for years to come.   A premiership win is the ultimate for AFL players, and although it may seem like I am over-dramatizing a little, for AFL players on grand final day, and many other athletes at their pinnacle events, they are playing for their lives.  Not playing to stay alive (well perhaps to keep their career alive), but playing to achieve something that to date they have dedicated their whole life to. 

Even if the parade and grand final day means nutrition is not always perfect in terms of sports nutrition strategies, any potential benefit that nutrition can still bring makes me feel happy!  We know that pre-game and during the game nutrition can often be slightly different for a grand final, but what about recovery on grand final day?  There are no specific recovery strategies on grand final day because there is nothing immediate to recover for.  But one thing is certain, after the siren sounds, half the players on the ground will be swallowing tears of utter joy and jubilation, and the other half will be stuck with tears of absolute disappointment and despair.  Let's hope all the players in this years Grand Final can manage their nerves and nutrition as best they can and play their best game for the year.

*Photo courtesy of www.sherrin.com.au