Primary Author: Eric Trexler, CSCS, CISSN

Co-authors: Chris Aydin, Kala Duncan, Lloyd Herford, Jordan Jansen, Matt Jansen, Brian Minor, Austin Stout, Nick Tong.

INTRODUCTION

The purpose of this document is to concisely describe the basic nutritional beliefs and practices of the INOV8 Elite Performance coaching staff. The science of nutrition and metabolism is complex, and the various nutritional strategies employed by athletes are numerous and diverse. The current position stand is not intended to be a comprehensive description of all facets of nutrition; rather, it outlines the basic principles jointly accepted and agreed upon by the INOV8 coaching staff.

SCOPE OF PRACTICE

For any INOV8 coach who does not hold the Registered Dietitian (RD) credential, it is beyond the scope of our services to practice dietetics. All INOV8 coaches are expected and required to practice in accordance with all laws and regulations regarding nutritional counseling and the distribution of nutrition information. The role of the INOV8 coach is to provide educational nutrition information aimed at supporting the athlete’s training goals. The information provided by an INOV8 coach is not intended to prevent, treat, or manage any medical condition, nor is it to be interpreted as a prescribed meal plan. Individuals seeking such services are encouraged to seek the services of a Registered Dietitian, physician, or other qualified medical personnel.

CALORIC INTAKE

For goals pertaining to exercise performance and body composition, caloric intake is the single most important factor of the diet. Energy balance is determined by the total amount of calories absorbed from the diet and burned throughout the day. When the primary goals are gaining weight and increasing strength, a positive energy balance is necessary (i.e., caloric intake is greater than caloric expenditure). Conversely, negative energy balance is imperative for weight reduction.

Caloric intake is of utmost importance, and must be monitored closely by the athlete. Athletes have increased caloric needs compared to sedentary individuals, and sufficient caloric intake is needed to support high training volumes and intensities. Further, metabolic rate is dynamic in nature [1]; in periods of weight reduction, the careful manipulation of caloric intake may serve to promote successful weight reduction and attenuate many unfavorable adaptations associated with weight loss [2].

MACRONUTRIENTS

The main macronutrients in the diet are fat, carbohydrate, and protein. While caloric intake is the most critical component of the diet, macronutrient distribution is also of great importance.

Fat

Fat is an essential macronutrient that must be included in the athlete’s diet in sufficient quantities. Fat has been shown to influence satiety and fullness [3], due largely to its high caloric density and slow rate of digestion. Fat is also necessary for a number of physiological functions, including the construction of cell membranes and the production of numerous important hormones. Further, dietary fat sources are not all identical.

Fats may be considered saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, or trans fats. These structural differences amongst dietary fats lead to distinct characteristics and influences on physiological functions in the human body. It is largely agreed upon that trans fats should be eliminated from the diet as much as possible. Most trans fats come from hydrogenated oils, but trace amounts of trans fats do occur naturally in some meats and dairy products. While evidence has shown hydrogenated oils to have detrimental health effects, there is some evidence to suggest that naturally occurring trans fats may not be associated with these deleterious effects. Currently, there is no unanimous consensus on recommendations regarding naturally occurring trans fats.

While saturated fats have long been associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, more current research has challenged this association [4]. Although research has shown that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats can improve blood lipid profiles [5, 6], more research is needed to determine ideal ratios of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats in the diet. Current recommendations tend to promote roughly equal intakes of all three [7].

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) cannot be created by the human body in sufficient quantities, and therefore must be obtained through dietary intake. While omega-6 EFAs are typically abundant in the modern diet, the athlete must be prudent in ensuring sufficient intake of omega-3 EFAs. Fatty fish are a particularly valuable source of omega-3s, as fish oil contains the fatty acids EPA and DHA. These fatty acids have been associated with a number of favorable outcomes, ranging from cardiovascular health and brain function to body composition [8-10].

Finally, medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) have become increasingly popular. Due to their distinct structure, MCTs differ from most other fat sources and can be digested and absorbed much more quickly [11]. Further, MCTs are more likely to yield ketone formation when compared to long-chain triglycerides (LCTs). Differences in the digestion, absorption, and metabolism of MCTs have prompted researchers to investigate the effects of MCTs on weight loss. While MCTs contribute fewer calories per gram and are associated with a higher thermic effect of feeding than LCTs, human studies on weight loss have reported modest results [11]. The populations most likely to obtain a benefit from incorporating MCTs into the diet are those with digestion/absorption issues or individuals on ketogenic diets.

Carbohydrate

Although dietary carbohydrate intake is not technically essential for survival, carbohydrates are a valuable component of the strength or physique athlete’s diet. While fat is the preferred fuel substrate at rest, carbohydrate utilization is preferred during high-intensity exercise. Carbohydrate consumption is also known to influence circulating levels of leptin [12] and insulin [13], with important implications for hunger, satiety, and body composition. Finally, fiber and a number of important micronutrients are found in many carbohydrate-rich food sources, making them a valuable energy source for the athlete.

Much emphasis has been placed on the glycemic index value of carbohydrate sources, a measurement intended to evaluate the rate at which individual foods raise blood glucose levels. In terms of practical application, glycemic index values are of comparatively little importance for the average strength and physique athlete. Glycemic index values are affected by a number of variables that limit the practical utility of the value. Glycemic index values may be of importance to athletes competing multiple glycogen-depleting exercise bouts with a given muscle group in the same day; in this context, the athlete would favor high-glycemic index carbohydrates in the immediate post-workout period to refill glycogen stores prior to the upcoming bout. In general, carbohydrates are better evaluated based on their fiber content, micronutrient content, and preference/palatability than their glycemic index value.

Protein

Protein has a profound influence on body composition and performance. Just like fats and carbohydrates, not all proteins are equivalent. Proteins are primarily categorized by their amino acid content. Those that contain an adequate proportion of all essential amino acids (EAAs) are considered “complete” or “high-quality” proteins; complete proteins typically come from animal sources such as meat, dairy, eggs, and fish. “Incomplete” or “low-quality” proteins lack at least one EAA, and typically come from plant sources. Vegetarians and vegans can make up for their lack of complete protein intake by utilizing complementary proteins, matching multiple incomplete proteins to compensate for each other’s EAA deficiencies.

Proteins may further be evaluated based on their digestion rate. While this is not a critical factor of the diet, there may be advantages to utilizing protein sources of various digestion rates. For instance, slow-digesting proteins may be ideal before bed or away from a workout, while faster-digesting proteins may be preferable in close proximity, or even during, a workout [14]. In general, the majority of protein intake throughout the day should consist of complete proteins, with each meal yielding roughly 3 grams of leucine [15].

MEAL DISTRIBUTION

Meal distribution refers to the timing of meals throughout the day. While many claim that more frequent meals increase metabolic rate, research has not demonstrated this to be true [16]. Another common myth is that nighttime eating should be avoided; again, this myth has not been demonstrated in research to date, and eating should not be restricted beyond a specific time of night. This is not to say, however, that meal frequency and timing are not important.

Research appears to indicate that protein should be spaced evenly throughout the day [16]. While more research on the topic is warranted, a general recommendation would be to consume roughly 3-6 meals of equal protein content throughout the day [17]. Ideally, each meal would contain at least 20 grams of complete proteins and yield roughly 3 grams of leucine [15, 16].

Peri-workout nutrition

Peri-workout nutrition refers to nutrient intake before, during, and after a workout. The primary considerations for peri-workout nutrition are providing adequate fuel for the workout, attenuating muscle breakdown, and promoting growth and recovery.

Pre-workout 

The pre-workout meal should include sufficient carbohydrate and protein to provide energy and attenuate muscle breakdown. Ideally, this meal would contain at least 20 grams of complete protein; daily macronutrient targets heavily influence the carbohydrate and fat content of this meal. An important consideration for the pre-workout meal is digestion rate and gastrointestinal (GI) tolerance. Inadequate digestion of the pre-workout meal may lead to an upset stomach and impeded exercise performance. For individuals with such GI issues, these problems may be alleviated by decreasing the fat and fiber content of the meal, switching from solid to liquid food sources, choosing foods that digest more rapidly, or allowing more time between the pre-workout meal and the workout.

Intra-workout

The goals of any intra-workout (during the workout) nutrient intake are similar to those of the pre-workout meal. In this time period, digestion rate is of critical importance. For this reason, the intra-workout meal typically consists of rapidly-digesting, liquid food sources. Common carbohydrate sources are maltodextrin, commercial sports drinks, and highly branched cyclic dextrins, among others. Common protein/amino acid sources include rapidly digesting options such as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), EAAs, and hydrolyzed proteins. Of the carbohydrate and amino acid sources listed, more research is needed to determine if any product is superior in terms of performance or body composition. Further, it should be noted that the importance of intra-workout nutrition is often circumstantial, and that intra-workout nutrient ingestion may not be necessary depending on the pre-workout meal and the duration and rigor of the exercise bout. When the workout takes place long after the pre-workout meal, or if the post-workout meal will be delayed, intra-workout nutrition may be of elevated importance.

Post-workout

The post-workout meal is intended to facilitate recovery from exercise. This meal should contain at least 20 grams of complete protein, yielding roughly 3 grams of leucine. While post-workout carbohydrate is not essential for facilitating muscle growth, the post-exercise period may be an ideal time to consume carbohydrate due to exercise-induced GLUT-4 translocation in skeletal muscle. Glycogen replenishment is typically not a critical issue for the average bodybuilder or physique athlete. However, when performing glycogen-depleting bouts of exercise with the same muscle group, multiple times within the same day, it is recommended to consume a high-glycemic index carbohydrate immediately after exercise. While fat is not an essential component of the post-workout meal, it has no detrimental effect, and need not be avoided.

The timing of pre- and post-workout meals does not need to be calculated with precision. While the existence of a specific, finite “anabolic window” is not likely [18], the provision of nutrients before and after exercise is important nonetheless. A general recommendation is to allow no more than 3-6 hours to lapse between the pre- and post-workout meals, depending on the size and composition of these meals [18]. For solid meals with higher protein and caloric content, it is permissible to allow more time to lapse between the pre- and post-workout meals.

FOOD SOURCES

Bodybuilding and physique sports have long been associated with restrictive dieting and the avoidance of many individual foods. However, moderation and balance are key to long-term dieting success. The concept of flexible dieting promotes the idea that a wide variety of foods can be incorporated into the diet, as long as daily macronutrient and micronutrient goals are met. As such, it is not necessary to avoid individual foods or food groups, and almost any food can be successfully incorporated into a diet.

The coaches of INOV8 support the concept of flexible dieting in theory. However, simply meeting daily macronutrient goals does not constitute an optimal diet. As previously mentioned, various types of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins have distinct characteristics that may result in differential effects on health and physiological function.

Ultimately, decisions regarding food source selection are left to the athlete. It is the athlete’s responsibility to choose foods that are conducive to their health, physique, and performance-related goals. Athletes are encouraged to select foods that not only fit their daily macronutrient targets, but also provide sufficient fiber and micronutrients. Athletes must also factor in their own needs and preferences, including food preparation and cooking, GI tolerance and digestion, allergies or other sensitivities, taste, cost, and convenience, among others.

SUPPLEMENTATION

By definition, dietary supplements are intended to support a well-balanced diet, not to alleviate the need for balanced nutritional intakes. While many supplements lack research supporting their safety or efficacy, a number of supplements have some level of promising research to support their use.

When used as directed, creatine monohydrate has been shown to enhance strength and hypertrophy, especially when combined with resistance training [19, 20]. While many forms of creatine are available, creatine monohydrate has the most research supporting its safety and efficacy. Caffeine has been shown to consistently improve aerobic endurance performance; however, research in anaerobic sprint and resistance training performance is mixed [21].

β-Hydroxy β-Methylbutyrate (HMB) has been shown to have a modest effect on strength and lean body mass [22]; these effects may be particularly pronounced in previously untrained individuals beginning a rigorous exercise program, or during overreaching periods of high training volume and intensity. β-Alanine supplementation enhances the buffering capacity of skeletal muscle, resulting in a modest improvement in anaerobic exercise performance [23]. While more research is needed, preliminary results seem to indicate that betaine may enhance body composition in resistance-trained subjects [24].

Fish oil supplementation has previously been recommended for a number of potential health benefits. While effects on body composition and performance are likely to be quite modest, research has reported a wide range of positive effects in response to fish oil supplementation, ranging from decreased inflammation to improved cognitive function and joint health [10, 25]. While research does not support excessive dosages, current research seems to indicate favorable results from daily ingestion of roughly 1-3 grams of combined EPA and DHA [8, 25]. In lieu of supplementation, fish oil can be obtained in sufficient quantities from regular consumption of fatty fish.

Supplementation with single vitamins or combined multivitamins is common. While this strategy may effectively compensate for inadequate dietary intake of a particular vitamin, it is advised to seek sufficient micronutrient intakes from food when possible. Vitamin supplementation is not likely to enhance health or performance in the absence of an underlying deficiency, and mega-dosing of single vitamins is generally not advised. Vitamin D aids in calcium absorption and may play a role in bone health, nerve signaling, and the size and function of muscle. More research is needed to determine what “ideal” serum levels of vitamin D are, and whether the correlations between vitamin D and health outcomes are causative in nature. Nonetheless, a recent review concluded that Vitamin D deficient athletes may benefit from increasing serum levels of vitamin D [26]. If individuals do not get enough vitamin D from sunlight exposure and food intake, supplementation may be an alternative option.

Some coaches and athletes in the world of physique sports advocate an extremely low ratio of dietary sodium to potassium; such a recommendation might involve severe restriction of sodium intake, and/or potassium supplementation. The coaches of INOV8 do not support these recommendations, as the relative balance of sodium and potassium in the body is crucial for a variety of physiological processes. Collectively, INOV8 believes that sufficient intakes of both sodium and potassium are necessary for optimal health, performance, and appearance on stage.

Finally, nitric oxide boosters are commonly included in pre-workout supplements. Such products may contain l-arginine, l-citrulline, citrulline malate, or nitrate. L-arginine is commonly shown to be ineffective in well-trained individuals [27]. L-citrulline has not been shown to consistently enhance performance [27], and has been shown on one occasion to impair exercise performance [28]. One study has shown citrulline malate to enhance resistance exercise performance [29]; it is not clear if this improvement is related to nitric oxide formation, or if these results will be consistently replicated in future research. Finally, supplements high in dietary nitrate have been shown to enhance aerobic exercise performance [30, 31] and recovery from eccentric exercise [32, 33]. More research is needed to determine if chronic nitrate supplementation will improve resistance exercise performance and recovery.

APPROACH TO DIETING

Consistency and long-term adherence are critical for ensuring success in dieting. As such, flexibility in food source selection and diligent tracking of macronutrient intake are therefore recommended.

Metabolic rate is dynamic in nature [1], and can be impacted by an individual’s training and dietary practices. Large caloric deficits and/or extremely low body fat may result in a number of adaptations that serve to minimize energy expenditure, threaten dietary adherence, attenuate further weight loss, and promote weight regain [1, 2].

While these adaptations are not entirely avoidable, the goal of the coach is to attenuate these adaptations and any unfavorable effects of weight reduction. A number of strategies are employed to accomplish this goal. Most notably, INOV8 coaches often recommend participation in a properly structured resistance training program, sufficient protein intake, regular carbohydrate refeeding, the utilization of reverse-dieting, and minimal caloric deficits [2, 17]. Drops in caloric intake, as well as increases in cardio, are approached in a conservative, step-wise, incremental fashion.

Further, the post-diet period is of critical importance for long-term success. INOV8 coaches work to promote a healthy psychological relationship with food, along with the implementation of reverse diets after periods of active weight loss or weight maintenance. This approach is intended to limit post-diet fat accretion and body fat overshooting [34], while allowing athletes to set themselves up for an enjoyable and productive improvement season and the maintenance of appropriate body weight and body composition.

CONCLUSION

Athletes have individualized needs, and no two coaches are perfectly alike in their approach to training or nutrition. However, the contents of this article describe the basic nutritional principles promoted and employed by the INOV8 coaching staff. While individual coaches may differ in their application of these principles, these guidelines represent the general views of INOV8 Elite Performance as a company. The staff at INOV8 ultimately seeks to provide the most up to date, research-based, and effective methods and recommendations available, aimed at supporting our top priorities: The health, success, and happiness of the client.

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