Friday, January 17, 2020

Talking Nutrition with Nikos Jakubiak

A little over two weeks into 2020 and many of us will have already fallen short of our New Year’s Resolution, which more often than not, centres on healthy eating.

Newspaper articles, magazines, social media and the world wide web are full of stories, tips, advice, diets and 'insta-perfect' outcomes, but what really makes for a good diet, good habits, especially in the world of aquatics? We threw some questions at Nikos Jakubiak, Level 2 Performance Nutritionist with the sportscotland Institute of Sport. He’s part of the team who educates and supports athletes and sports, empowering them to select the rights foods and fluids, in the right quantity and at the right time.

What support do you as a Nutritionist provide to athletes?

All the practitioners in the Institute’s Performance Nutrition team help our athletes make better food choices to fuel their training efforts, optimise their recovery from their hard work, maintain a robust immune system to minimise training loss due to illness, optimise their physique for the demands of their chosen events, and to enjoy good food!

How has nutrition changed in the last decade when it comes to performance athletes?

In my experience, I think that athletes seem to be more aware of the importance of smart food choices in their everyday nutrition and I can definitely see young athletes these days being more eager to take on advice on how to make improvements to their food choices around, and away from, training.

What does a good diet look like?

A good diet is one that provides all the nutrients the body needs for health and performance, it is enjoyable, affordable, sustainable, and it is practical.

What is a food intolerance and what is an allergy?

A food allergy is a condition where the immune system overreacts to a substance in food that is usually safe to consume. For example, people who have Coeliac Disease have an allergic reaction to gluten, a group of plant proteins usually found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. A food allergy should not be confused with a food intolerance, which mostly indicates the inability of a person to digest certain food components. For example, people who are lactose intolerant lack the enzyme that helps digest the carbohydrate in milk known as lactose. When lactose is not digested in the part of the gut that it normally should be digested then it continues its journey in the gut and in the process it causes a lot of abdominal discomfort. Unlike allergies, food intolerance is not potentially fatal but the symptoms in the gut are uncomfortable and painful enough to prevent somebody from being able to function in their daily routines, let alone try to perform at the highest level in sporting arenas.

Have you ever been surprised about athletes’ approach to nutrition?

By and large, high performance athletes have a tremendous ability to stick to a daily routine, including well thought out daily meals and snacks. There are times though when their routine gets disrupted as they have to travel away to competitions. Occasionally, for some athletes the break in their routine can translate in them being less focused on their food choices and we need to do our best to provide them with appropriate food options and portions to help them deliver the level of performance they have worked so hard for.

Our athletes have to get up to train at a really early hour before going to school or the gym etc. What food should they be eating to help fuel that early training session and what food should they eat afterwards to set them on their day?

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach we can use here. What food options and how much of it each athlete can, or should, eat before training is down to personal preferences, tolerance, and training demands. A general rule of thumb though is that before training some food needs to be consumed and it has to be based on carbohydrate, it needs to be easily digested, and enjoyable. Porridge is an example of a good breakfast option and recently the concept of ‘overnight’ oats appears to have gained in popularity. Soaking a portion of oats overnight in non-dairy milk e.g. almond, coconut, oat, or rice milk, with raisins and a bit of honey is a very tasty and nutritious meal that is ready to eat when you wake up early in the morning.

Veganism is really taking off – is this just another fad or is it worth looking into?

The debate around veganism is more around ethics and less about nutrition. Vegan and non-vegans can both achieve very healthy diets that can support health and sustain performance providing smart food choices are made. We should not assume that if somebody is a vegan their diet will automatically be appropriate for their health and performance needs, and that goes for any approach one may choose for their diet.

Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day?

Breakfast is an important meal for athletes but it is by no means ‘the most important’ meal. All meals are important as they contribute to our athletes’ daily nutritional needs and every meal is an opportunity to provide the body with the energy, the protein, the fats, the vitamins, the minerals, the fibre, and the water it requires.

More information about Performance Nutrition at the sportscotland Institute of Sport can be found HERE