How To Stay Healthy During Race Season

  • By Dr. Tamsin Lewis
  • Published June 19, 2014
Dr. Tamsin Lewis

With the winter months well and truly behind us, banked and stored, the summer race season is now well underway. The hard weeks of numbingly cold and dark days have long gone – replaced with the bright and warm days of early British summertime. But wait. Having put so many hours, days, weeks and months of hard graft and sacrifices to get here, the real question now, is; how do we actually stay healthy in race season?

Here we have an exclusive interview with Nordic Oil’s ambassador; Dr Tamsin Lewis, who is one of the top ranked Ironman 70.3 athletes in the world.

Tamsin studied Medicine & Surgery at Kings College London and also has a Bachelor of Science degree in NeuroScience and Anatomy.

Last year Tamsin co-created a business called ‘Curoseven’ alongside her colleague Claire Gillray; using their experiences as both ‘doctor’ and ‘athlete’ to help their clients understand more about their health and how to achieve optimal performance. Using a evidence based approach and feedback from client intervention, CuroSeven is helping active people around the world optimise their vitality.

We use blood and saliva testing to gather detailed physiological data and then prescribe specific dietary, supplement and lifestyle interventions.

So, taking advice from the very best, how do we keep healthy through the vigorous strains and stressors that come with the nature of racing?

A busy life such as activity with the family, work, life stressors all around training, often leaves the diet/nutritional element somewhat neglected.

We just burn through a lot more through increased cellular turnover.

Add that to the fact that the nutrient content of our diet has decreased due to changing farming and increased chemical use in manufacturing.

Three key micronutrients you want to include in the diet are;

Vitamin B: There are four types of ‘B’ vitamins; Thiamin (B1) which help keep nerves and muscle tissue healthy, which is important for the nature of training and racing, where we are constantly breaking down our muscle fibres and tissues. Foods that a high in B1 include fresh vegetables and fruit, eggs and liver. Riboflavin (B2) vitamin which allows us to keep our nervous system healthy, helping the body to release energy from carbohydrate. Foods that are rich in B2 include milk, eggs and rice. Niacin (vitamin B3) main function is to keep the digestive system healthy, allowing us to produce energy from the foods we eat. Foods that are rich in B3 are fish and meat.

B12 is the only B vitamin that is stored in the body – if you are vegan or vegetarian levels often run very low (as meat and dairy main sources).. deficiencies are very common in our testing and the result is fatigue, poor recovery and muscle pain and a sluggish nervous system.

Some people lack the ability to absorb B12 from the gut through diet so it is worth getting checked out if you are symptomatic.

Note that B Vitamin use by the body is accelerated if you are on the contraceptive pill.

Most people feel markedly better with B Vitamin supplementation, especially in heavy training blocks or in times of increased life stress.

Zinc: Is highly important in our diet. It allows our bodies to make new cells and enzymes therefore allowing our body to deal and recover with the stressors of racing and training. It also allows us to process protein, carbohydrates and fat within our food intake. Foods rich in zinc include meat, fish and diary products such as cheese.

Zinc deficiency is common in un-supplemented athletes through our blood testing.

I use Viridian Nutrition for my supplements other than Omega 3 (Nordic Oil).

Their Sports MultiVitamin – is high quality and superbly researched it supports me through the year.

(N.B I always have at least month of the year where I don’t take any supplements so I allow my body to reset and not get lazy at absorbing nutrients from food).

Know your Ferritin.

Ferritin is the measurement of the body’s total iron stores.

Your GP may tell you that your ferritin is normal but studies show that for women we should aim for a mimimim of 50 Ug/L and for men 70Ug/L. As athletes both male and female we burn through out iron stores at a higher rate as the mineral is lost in sweat, foot strike and increased cellular turnover.

This was a big one for me – improving my iron status – even though my GP said it was normal – made a huge difference to energy, recovery and esp. ability to push higher power numbers on the bike. If you feels sluggish or it takes a long time to warm up and get into the session, this may be you.

Even when not anaemic, a low ferritin can reduce endurance performance and recovery through iron effects on mitochondrial metabolism.

Sometimes a normal ferritin can be false reassurance as it is a protein of inflammation and when this is present – i.e post hard exercise/illness levels can be inaccurate. We use other measures of iron status @CuroSeven to assess absorption and assimilation.

Even athletes eating red meat regularly become iron deficient.

I use Floradix Liquid 2weeks of every month to boost my iron.

Avoid coffee, zinc and dairy when taking iron supplements or iron containing foods to maximise absorption.

Omega 3: In today’s diet, we tend to over-eat Omega 6.
However, omega 3 in the diet is essential to support racing and training demands; through lowering the inflammation process in our muscles. EPA and DHA are the essential fatty acids which the human body needs to function however the body is unable to produce them naturally by themselves. Omega 3 is primarily found in fish. However due to our busy lifestyle, this isn’t always realistic to gain through foods, so supplements are key to and sustain a healthy wellbeing, but also supporting the cognitive function.

Omega’s also support hormonal balance in the body which is increasingly important for athletes – male and female!

I take Nordic Oil omega 3 capsules daily to increase my intake of omega 3 on days when I am not able to eat oily fish.

Keep in the fridge where possible and out of sunlight to prevent the active compounds breaking down.

Sleep / hygiene
How often do you hear ‘I will squeeze in another session, get up extra early, seeing the alarm clock not even allowing 7-8hours sleep? It’s common in triathletes, that we think ‘more is key, so deprive ourselves from sleep over training. Sleep is essential as part of our recovery process and we must listen to the body and cut back from those early alarms and late nights to ensure our body repairs. Key tips; before bed time switch off from social media hype, (put down our computers – if you have to use – install a system called Flux which reduces blue light – and start relaxing.

It helps to sleep in a cool dark room too (or use earplugs and a sleep-mask to reduce sensory input)

Magnesium in the diet before bedtime/with your evening meal also helps, foods such as raw spinach, nuts, seeds, avocados and dark chocolate.

Occasional use of Magnesium Citrate like Natural Calm helps relaxation and deep sleep as does PassionFlower extract and Valerian root.

I also like L-Tryptophan – or foods rich in – before bed to enhance melatonin (the sleep hormone) production.

Women’s health
Its very popular right now to jump on the low carb bandwagon – and yes it is complicated.

Reducing carbs in training windows may make you burn more fat and become ‘fat adapted’ but recovery is often impaired and over time thyroid function is depleted and metabolic rate slows.

Some training sessions can be done low carb, but others need to be well fuelled. If the body perceives an energy deficit then your metabolic rate and ability to complete high intensity exercise will slow down. This means low thyroid function and low testosterone (male and female).
No fun.

Don’t deplete yourself of carbohydrates, just eat smart ones.

How often can you pass a day without seeing the word ‘paleo diet’ or ‘low-carb diet’. Not often. Carbohydrates are essential in the diet, and research suggests more so within the females diet. There is a key connection between women depleting themselves from carbohydrates which has adverse effects on their mood. This connection is all about tryptophan; a ‘nonessential’ amino acid. You can boost your tryptophan levels by eating more carbohydrates. We can make smart carb choices by eating carbs in training windows – I often ‘drip feed’ them during long endurance sessions so my body still doesn’t perceive a deficit… So use nuts, coconut oil as energy bases but having a few sweets to suck on, or a mouthful of a gel… especially as intensity increases.

Outside of training it makes sense to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, sweet potatoes, legumes and rice with good fats and moderate protein intake.

Protein wise – anything over 20g post exercise from whey or food sources has been proven to be unnecessary.

I generally avoid pasta and most processed breads as the high gluten content in sensitive individuals causes bloating and indigestion – contribute to the phenomenon of leaky gut – and we need to maximise our guts macro and micro absorption capacity as athletes.

Nordic Oil is proud to support Tamsin Lewis, for more information on Omega 3 and Vitamin D products visit Follow the team on twitter for news and offers.

FILED UNDER: Nutrition TAGS: / / / / / / / /