Consensus statement - Sleep and the athlete: narrative review and 2021 expert consensus recommendations
Why is this important?
Sleep is increasingly being recognised as a crucial element to health, recovery and ultimately performance. This performance element extends beyond the swim, bike or run and into everyday life and performing at your best. I have recently written a new article for Triathlete magazine that reviews the effect of alcohol on sleep, heart rate and heart rate variability (HRV) with me being the N= 1. There were certainly some insights and I encourage each of you to read it and to also explore what I describe with your own social experiment.
Please remember that wearables are only as good as the information they collect and as discussed later, most are likely to be inaccurate and overestimate (much like activity performed and calories burnt). Also, important to note, data is one thing, don’t obsess over it - how you wake and feel on a day to day basis is likely to be just as good an indicator to how you are sleeping.
When Jan. 1 rolls around, we are often full of good intentions in our bid to be better, fitter, healthier humans. One goal that seems to be remarkably common, especially this year, is Dry January. After several weeks of excessive alcohol consumption over the holidays, giving up booze for the first month of the year is often considered a great way to reset, detox, and kick start your year. This could be particularly true in 2021 with statistics from the first lockdown in the U.S. showing a 54% increase in alcohol sales. In my native Australia, one study found one in five people reported increased alcohol intake during lockdown.
While I won’t be partaking in Dry January this year, I did complete a month of no drinking back in October. The goal was a month of zero alcohol for no reason other than wanting to challenge myself after lockdown. What I did not realize was the impact it would have on several parameters of health that I had been tracking with my Oura ring for several months prior. I was remarkably surprised to see just how much it affected my training, performance, sleep, recovery, energy levels, and mental clarity. For those of you aiming to complete Dry January—and for those of you who might be on the fence—keep reading to see the benefits it can reap. Some of this data might help keep you on the wagon a little longer!
Resting Heart Rate
Resting heart rate is a good indicator of overall health and, typically, a lower resting heart rate is better and a good indication of cardiovascular health. During the months leading up to October, my resting heart rate was steady, averaging 42-43 bpm. Throughout October, there was a noticeable reduction in resting heart rate with the average for the month being 39 bpm. Depending on that day’s exercise volume and intensity there were days when it was consistently 36 bpm. This came as a surprise to see such a steady drop in heart rate.
What was more of a surprise was that in the month of November, as I began to resume drinking alcohol, my average resting heart rate bounced back to 42 bpm. While the amount being consumed was certainly not large (and usually restricted to a Friday or Saturday evening), this is still some significant extra work for the heart, which, when you extrapolate out over the course of a year equates to 1,576,800 extra beats per minute. That’s a lot of extra workload for the heart.
Why is this important?
Another interesting study that looked at glucose control in relation to sleep quality and coffee consumption. The role of caffeine and its role in improving exercise capacity is well established yet the role of caffeine on fat burning and glucose control is a little less clear.
There is a fair bit of media coverage at the moment relating to sleep and its effect on glucose control and insulin sensitivity. It has been proposed that one night of bad sleep can negatively impact the following days control from a physiological standpoint - poor glucose control and reduced insulin sensitivity. Further to this, a bad night's sleep can impact your decision making by influencing areas of the brain that like reward and push you towards sweet and fatty foods. Pretty incredible. Couple this with prior research highlighting differing responses to coffee in the morning, the study sought to answer a few questions relating to the impact of sleep quality, black coffee and a high carbohydrate drink on glucose control.
The issue I have with this study is that who the hell drinks a sugar containing beverage for breakfast? If you are doing that, you have bigger concerns than your morning black coffee. It would have been great to compare the sugar drink with a high protein food choice and reveal the blood glucose response. This would have been minimal despite the coffee and perhaps led to some further insight into the choice of food for breakfast can significantly impact your blood glucose levels. The other interesting aspect about this study is that research completed in 1967 reported a similar effect on glucose levels after black coffee consumption.
I will keep it succinct,
I am including this paper as it was part of the inspiration for the Tinlane system. James Morton and Graeme Close were lecturers of mine in London and their research has been a major influence on my approach to nutrition with clients. In this paper it describes how macronutrients, in particular carbohydrates, can be periodised in a similar fashion to exercise training and that the fuel being consumed should reflect the work that is to be done and also what the intended goal of that session is to achieve.For me, this makes complete sense and really helps me describe to clients what my strategy is with regards to carbohydrates as a fuel source.
What is frustrating in the nutrition world is the notion that only one approach can be utilised when it comes to creating a meaningful change in an individual. This may be the result of research often investigating single nutrition strategies and then those results being misinterpreted or misrepresented to the wider public, especially when a marketing label can be applied.
Something I tend to repeat is that carbohydrates and fat are both worthy fuel sources for the right type of training. Science has shown that depending on intensity, differing fuel substrates will be used. If you manipulate those fuel sources in line with your training then you can achieve many differing goals, whether that be fat loss, peak power output, time to fatigue or gut training.
With some careful thought, a rewarding athlete-coach relationship can be yours.
by Jordan Blanco of Avid Endurance
You may be considering getting yourself a triathlon coach. But how exactly does a person go about choosing the right coach? We caught up with three triathlon coaches for their advice on finding your perfect match for the new year.
Define your goals: as with any decision, selecting the right coach starts with a review of your needs and goals. Work through the below checklist of things for you to consider before talking to coaches.
A. Level of experience. Are you a beginner lining up for your first IRONMAN race with the single goal of completing it within the time limit? Or do you have several seasons of racing under your belt and you’re now looking to take your abilities to the next level?
AJ Johnson is a USAT Level I coach with D3 Multisport. "If you are looking to be on the top step of the podium you want a coach that has previously coached athletes to that level," he says. "Conversely, beginner athletes would be best served by hiring a coach that specializes in first-time athletes."
Being very clear about your goals and needs will help you better evaluate the variety of coaches and coaching plans available.