As all players want to turn up at Croke Park in perfect condition, Dr Crionna Tobin takes a scientific look at the increasing role nutrition plays in the daily routine of an inter-county hurler
1 Optimise body composition
A lean and lighter physique will assist the hurler in executing fast and agile movements while also allowing them to cover a significant distance during a match. However, recent observations in the last number of years have noted a reduction in body fat across players in general, despite player position in inter-county hurling. To achieve the optimal body composition players follow nutritional strategies emphasising protein intake, optimal fat intake and, in some cases, low carbohydrate intake.
2 Optimise Fuel For Training
It is recommended that hurlers consume a diet high in carbohydrate to enhance performance. However, the majority of studies in team sports athletes report eating a diet moderate in carbohydrates. This coincides with FIFA's 2006 guidelines. Therefore, moderate intakes of carbohydrate foods that cause a steady release of sugar into the bloodstream such as wholewheat pasta, brown basmati rice and porridge, maintaining energy levels are recommended prior to training. A variety of high-quality protein foods and fats are also essential for muscle repair, improving energy levels, reducing muscle soreness, reducing body fat and improving training adaptations.
3 Optimise Fuel to Enhance training adaptations
Although current sports nutrition guidelines for team sports recommend consuming adequate amounts of carbohydrate to meet the demands of training a relatively new phenomenon 'train low, compete high' argues otherwise. Recent scientific studies have found that training with reduced muscle carbohydrate concentrations (train low) can up-regulate the activity of certain genes involved in training adaptations which can subsequently boost performance when muscle carbohydrate stores are fully fuelled (compete high).
However, it should be noted that although reducing carbohydrate stores for training may promote certain adaptations, as of yet there are no studies that have translated this into an increase in performance in elite athletes.
4 Optimise Recovery Nutrition
Carbohydrate stored in the muscle is known as muscle glycogen and is significantly depleted after training and competition. For an inter-county hurler training five-six times weekly, rapid refuelling is advised. Carbohydrate foods which are converted to sugar quicker (high glycaemic index), such as white bread, white pasta, may have advantages over those that release sugar slower (low glycaemic index), such as wholegrain bread and brown basmati rice, in refilling glycogen stores.
Muscle glycogen replenishes faster during the first hour after exercise, consuming carbohydrate after this time will prolong the restoration of muscle glycogen. After high-intensity exercise the body is also in a catabolic state, which means that muscle tissue is being broken down. This can lead to inflammation, delayed onset muscle soreness, muscle damage and illness. Therefore, along with appropriate carbohydrate, high-quality proteins, dietary fats and foods high in antioxidant, such as fruit and vegetables, should be essential components of recovery.
5 Optimise Optimal Nutrition to enhance recovery from injury
Immediately following a severe injury, an inflammatory response is initiated. Although during the acute phase of injury inflammation is crucial for healing, excessive inflammation, particularly if prolonged, can lead to other problems which can exacerbate the injury.
Therefore, incorporating anti-inflammatory foods; oily fish, garlic, turmeric, ginger, and foods high in antioxidants; cherries, blueberries, kidney beans, pecans, into the diet can enhance the recovery process. Muscle injury repair also requires an increased protein consumption as the muscle's ability to respond to dietary protein is impaired.
Foods high in vitamins A, B, C, and D as well as calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, and zinc are all important for injury recovery. The use of NSAIDs (non-steroid anti-inflamatory drugs) should be moderated with long-term use associated with prolonging the healing process as they interfere with ligament healing, muscle strain healing, weight training adaptation, and bone healing.
6 Eat to prevent illness
Maintaining maximum immunity can often mean the difference between success and failure during the season. Highly-trained hurlers are especially vulnerable to coughs, colds and flu as a result of a temporary suppression of the immune system after heavy bouts of exercise. The immune system is particularly sensitive to any nutritional deficiencies or imbalances with a recent study in college students finding poor vitamin D status associated with increased frequency of the common cold and influenza (Willis et al., 2008). The following nutrients are important for immune health: Vitamin A, C, D, zinc and essential fatty acids, found in a variety of fruits, vegetables, wholegrain cereals, oily fish, dairy and meat.
7 Hydrate for optimal performance
Once in a hydrated state, players should drink when they feel thirsty. Traditional sports nutrition experts advised team sports athletes to drink 'ahead of thirst' as by the time you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated.
However, studies supporting this theory are fundamentally flawed, showing no correlation of exercise performance with dehydration. "The idea that thirst comes too late is a marketing ploy of the sports-drink industry," says Tim Noakes M.D., a professor of sport and exercise science at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.
Starting exercise in a hydrated state is crucial for performance however the conventional wisdom of how much to drink to prevent a decrement in performance is evolving.
8 Supplements may enhance performance
A well-designed diet is the foundation upon which optimal training and performance can be developed. However, certain supplements, such as sports gels and bars, electrolytes, caffeine and â-alanine are known to potentially enhance hurling performance.
Creatine is one of the most investigated supplements with regards to team sports as it promotes rapid regeneration of ATP, the energy currency of the muscle, allowing the player to recovery faster after bursts of high intensity activity. Multiple studies have found enhanced player performance after both acute and chronic creatine supplementation in exercise involving repeated high intensity work outs with short recovery intervals (>2min recovery).
Increased performance has also been found in match-simulated protocols or movement patterns within actual play on the field. It is important to note that creatine has been subjected to rigorous scientific studies since the early 1990s with any reported adverse effects totally unfounded.
9 Prevent brain fatigue
The cause of fatigue is complex and influenced by events occurring in the nervous system. Progressive fatigue that occurs during high-intensity intermittent exercise, particularly during the second half of matches has been attributed to the depletion of muscle glycogen stores, reduced circulation blood glucose and progressive dehydration.
However, the 'central fatigue hypothesis' is based on the assumption that during prolonged exercise the central nervous system limits your performance by reducing the number and activity of muscle fibres that your body is using at one time. A recent body of evidence has found that rinsing the mouth with a carbohydrate mouthwash compared to a non-sweet solution improves endurance performance.
In a follow-up study conducted at the University of Birmingham, brain scans revealed that the carbohydrate mouth rinse stimulated certain areas of the brain involved in motor control. A recent study by Beaven et al., 2013, also found a rapid increase in sprint power production after rinsing the mouth with carbohydrate, which could have benefits for specific short sprint exercise performance such as hurling.
10 Alcohol and performance
Although the consumption of alcohol is intimately associated with Gaelic games its consumption is limited to a handful of celebratory occasions in the successful footballer's season. Alcohol exerts a negative effect on performance through increasing body weight, reducing endurance performance, increasing fluid loss and body temperature and increasing vitamin and mineral depletion. Alcohol also has a number of direct effects on central neurotransmitter synthesis and release.
These actions affect some or all of the actions of the central nervous system resulting in impaired reaction time, hand-eye co-ordination, accuracy, balance and gross motor skills (Reilly et al., 2003). Alcohol can also impact the repair of even minor injuries (sprains, cuts and bruises) as it increases the bleeding and swelling around soft tissue injuries. Alcohol inevitably decreases training adaptations and reduces performance levels (Maughan J. 2006).
Dr Crionna Tobin has a PhD in sports and exercise metabolism and works as a clinical performance and health nutritionist in Dublin. She worked as a performance nutritionist for the Waterford Hurlers (2008) and the Dublin senior footballers (2011). firstname.lastname@example.org