You may have noticed that beetroot juice is becoming more readily available in health shops and supermarkets recently. You may even have seen sports people drinking the Beet It shots before training or competing, in particular the Olympians at last years London olympics, where many were supplementing with the drink.
So why is it suddenly coming into the spotlight? This is all happening due to a special ingredient it contains and all the research thats been carried out on it as a sports supplement recently. So what is it about the foul tasting drink that is making it so desirable to sports people and gym goers all over the world. It’s all down to a key ingredient that makes beet root a potential super fuel and that is its naturally high levels of nitrate.
So why is Nitrate so special and what does it do in our bodies?
It’s been shown to reduce blood pressure, reduce the oxidative stress on the body and from a sports perspective its been shown to reduce oxygen consumption during exercise.
According to Exeter University sports science research, it can reduce the energy cost of exercise in sub maximal work by between 5 and 10%. It has also been shown to increase the time to exhaustion by around 15-20%. These results are massive from a sports perspective where every second and every inch counts and can be the difference between winning and losing. This could be massive from a health perspective as well with many possible benefits.
With so many studies on the effects of nitrate in the body its amazing that scientists still don’t know the mechanics of how these amazing effects take place. Its also not yet known if there is a certain dose level where the effects begin to negate themselves. So it would make sense to still approach nitrate with a little caution until more is known. Sticking to supplementing with it from natural sources like beetroot would a sensible route!
Beetroot juice contains 1mg of Nitrate per 100ml. You can also buy concentrated shots of the stuff from Beet It. These 70ml shots contain 3mg of Nitrate and there is also a sports shot that contains 4mg in it’s 70ml shot. I have now personally been taking the Beet It sport shots for about 3 months. I have one shot the day before a game and another shot just over an hour before kick off. Personally I have found there to be a definite positive effect, I’ve noticed that I have more energy later on in games when I would normally start to tire. I have also noticed that the day after games I feel a lot better than I did before I started taking the shots, my legs feel nowhere near as tired as they used to. With the pile up of fixtures I have coming up for the last 2 and a half months of the season I hope this continues to be the case as I’m going to need all the help I can get!
This is a video I made of a few exercises you can do on a suspension trainer to work the whole body in one session. The suspension trainer is a great piece of kit as it can be used practically anywhere and packs away into just a small bag so is convenient to carry with you. The one I am using here is called the Rip 60 but there are many others like the TRX for example. The great thing about suspension training is how almost every exercise you do on it hits your core muscles due to the free moving straps. Simply adjusting your feet position or the length of the straps alters the resistance instantly, so no need for heavy weights! I think this type of training is great for sports people as it is very functional with lots of multi joint and multi muscle exercises that can be done on it.
When you look around your average gym there seems to be a lot of people all doing the same type of training, particularly in the weights area. Now I’m sure that all these people don’t lead identical lives and have the same goals. When a personal trainer first meets a new client one of the first things the client will say is ‘I want to get fit’. This can mean absolutely anything and often a personal trainer will have to delve deeper to find out exactly what the client means.
The key question to ask yourself is “fit for what”. Why are you training? Is there a sport you are trying to improve performance at? Are you trying to make everyday life easier? Are you just trying to reduce general body fat or tone up a specific area of your body? There can be many different reasons why you have made that decision to begin exercising. All of these questions will lead to an individual training plan and it’s important that if you are not working with a personal trainer who can advise you on this, that you are aware of what your individual goals are so you can create your own plan. Most of us don’t have lots of spare time, so it is important to make the best of the little time you do have when exercising.
A good example of how people just go to a gym and train without really thinking of their goal is in football. Throughout my career I have seen footballers in the gym weight training just to get ‘big’. The problem with this is that getting big will not necessarily help them in their footballing performance. A lack of guidance and understanding means that they may be wasting valuable time and effort in shaping their body in an ineffective way for their sport. Strength is an important aspect of football but it is not the only one. You need to think about your outcome, if you want to improve your performance at a certain sport look at what skills and attributes play a big part in that sport.
I have put together a few tips that you should try to think about when putting together your training plan to ensure you make the most of your valuable time you have in the gym.
Training Plan Thoughts and Tips
- What are you training for, what is your goal? (weight loss, lower body fat, build muscle mass, build strength, increase cardiovascular endurance, increase flexibility, sport specific, reduce vital statistics (waist measurements etc))
- If sport specific, what energy system does the sport work? (is it aerobic, anaerobic or both)
- How much time do you have in the gym? Plan your session, how long will you spend on each exercise?
- Remember that your diet is just as important if not more important in helping you achieve your health and fitness goals.
I made this video from a couple of sessions I took with friends both professional footballers. The session was mainly speed, agility and quickness work (SAQ). There was also some plyometric training done.
Adam or ‘Newts’ to his friends and teammates has given up some of his time to give us a little insight into his footballing career where he has amassed over 300 league appearances. He has also represented England at U21 level and played full international football for Saint Kitts and Nevis. In this brief chat we talked about the different roles that health and fitness have played in his career so far and what motivates him.
So Newts, how long have you been playing football and at what levels?
“I started my career at West Ham Utd when I was just 16 signing a 2 year scholarship. I moved into digs and learnt a lot about the disciplines of football. I then went on to do 3 years as a pro there. I had a great time making appearances in the Premiership and in Europe. From there I moved to Peterborough Utd where I stayed for 6 years and became club captain. I then moved to Brentford for a season before then signing for Luton town for 2 years and now I am at Woking FC”
What do you normally eat on a Friday and Saturday before a game?
“I try to eat pasta based dishes on a Friday like spag bowl and pasta bakes. This has become a routine for me. The morning of a game I usually have porridge and a banana and then a pre match a bit closer to the game which would usually be some form of pasta again.”
Has this changed much since you have been playing football?
“It is a habit now so I have stuck mostly to what I have always done. Although on match days now that I have to leave a little earlier for a game it is sometimes a bit different. I generally only get to eat once so I will have a slightly larger meal with eggs or chicken for some protein and pasta.’
What does your general gym session typically involve?
“A bit of everything, I don’t have a great deal of time to get to the gym so I can’t do split sessions. I do lot’s of core work as this is very important for football. I’ve done more free weights as I’ve got older and learnt more. The majority of work I do though is done using my own bodyweight, stuff like pull ups, press ups and dips. I tend to not do a great deal of leg work as I’m working these quite hard in training anyway.”
How have you seen the game change in your time with regards to nutrition and training?
“I think its changed quite drastically in the last 5-6 years with the majority of clubs particularly in the league bringing in sports scientists and specialised fitness trainers. It’s meant that players at these clubs are educated with the importance of diet, hydration, stretching and specified weight training in order to bring out the best in your performance. They also help with making you aware of what supplements you may need such as recovery drinks after games. In a way I think its going to help many players prolong their careers. Fitness work has also changed a lot, the days of just running continuously round the pitch as many times as you can have gone! It now consists of a lot more short, sharp, agility type work. There’s also a lot more speed and explosive dynamic training now.”
What do you love most about football and what do you hate?
“I’ve always wanted to be a footballer for as long as I can remember. I love the personal challenge I get from it, I like the fitness side of it too. I also like the responsibility I have with the individual role I play in a team. The part I hate most is losing, I play to win as well as enjoying the game!”
How do you keep yourself motivated?
“I stay motivated through the enjoyment of the game and wanting to win. I also don’t like to let my teammates down.”
Do you have any superstitions?
“I used to have to wear under socks but as I’ve got older I’ve grown out of that, I guess now I don’t really have any superstitions!”
Thank you Newts for taking the time to have a chat, hopefully this will be an interesting insight for people into the football world!
Creatine is probably the most widely researched and publicised supplement available on the market today. You can buy it in health food shops, gyms and from most online sites that sell supplements. It is usually sold in the form of creatine monohydrate. People often ask ‘what is creatine” and if its a supplement worth taking and what the effects of creatine are, so I thought I’d write a short blog about it, which will hopefully help some of you!
So what is creatine? Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid that is found in meats and fish. It is also produced naturally in our bodies primarily in our livers. From here it is released into the blood and stored in the muscle cells. When any of our muscles start to contract it is creatine phosphate that provides the initial energy source. When a muscle starts to work its limited energy store (ATP) immediately starts to drop. ATP contains 3 phosphates and when it is used for energy it loses a phosphate becoming ADP. The creatine phosphate in the muscles then split giving their phosphate to the ADP so that it can become ATP again and then be used for energy. This way of producing ATP is very quick as it is done in a fraction of a second but the stores of creatine phosphate become depleted quickly themselves. That’s why the creatine phosphate energy system only really supports short energy bursts like one rep maxing with weights or sprinting. However if you can boost the creatine stores in your muscles, it has been shown that you can delay the onset of fatigue in the short explosive exercises as your creatine phosphate store will be larger.
There has been much research done on the subject of supplementing with creatine monohydrate and some studies show no benefit to exercise performance, however many do. The main benefit the studies seem to show is that it can increase high intensity repetitive performance. So if you was to do a set of say 10, 50 meter sprints. Generally your time would drop off gradually more and more as you get closer to your 10th rep. When supplementing with creatine your times would decrease less as you get to your 10th rep as your creatine phosphate stores are larger. There is a great deal of research into this subject, I don’t want to go into too much detail but there is lots that can be found on the internet (google scholar is great!).
It comes down to personal preference, some people I speak to find they don’t feel any benefit from it but others do. I personally have taken it many times over the years and have definitely felt a difference when I am taking it to when I am not. One example I can think of where I have felt a benefit is when I am doing pull ups. When not taking creatine I find when I am trying to do 3 sets to failure, I will do say 20 reps on my first set then 17 then 14 maybe. However when taking creatine I find I will do say 20 then 20 then 18. This is significant as it allows my muscles to work harder and make better gains in strength. As I have already said not everyone feels these benefits and not every piece of research on the subject has shown an increase in exercise performance. Some people will respond better to taking creatine supplements, if their muscle creatine levels are low to begin with. Vegetarians for example will have a lower store of creatine levels. Where as someone who eats meat and fish every day (a good source of creatine) will not notice so much difference in performance as their stores are already higher.
- The delay of the onset of fatigue in short term high energy activities. (sprints, weight lifting)
- It will most likely benefit those involved in sports that involve repeated high energy burst such as weight training, football or sprinting.
- Some research has shown it may also benefit endurance athletes by helping to buffer against the build up of lactic acid.
- Can possibly increase muscular strength.
- If you do choose to supplement with Creatine then try mixing with a carb drink like a fruit juice as this will help the body absorb the creatine better.
- Can cause water retention.
- Some people can become dehydrated so its very important to increase your water intake.
- Some people have said they have suffered with cramp whilst taking it and playing sport. Again another reason to up your water intake just in case!
- Most studies have only been conducted over a few weeks so long term side affects are not available.There is no scientific evidence though to suggest that the short term use of creatine monohydrate has any detrimental effect on healthy individuals.
So the decision is yours, these are some of the facts and possible advantages and disadvantages of taking creatine as a supplement. Any questions then don’t hesitate to ask and hopefully I can help or point you in the direction of help!
Plyometric training has been around for a while and is believed to have originated in the Soviet Union in the 60’s and 70’s. It was around this time that the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries were winning large numbers of medals at the Olympics and coaches from other countries started taking notice of their unusual training methods. Plyometrics are now used in the training for top level athletes in the majority of sports we see today, particularly those explosive sports such as high jump or basketball.
So how does plyometric training benefit you?
- This type of exercise trains your central nervous system to send a signal to the working muscle to contract stronger, faster and more powerfully. This works through training the motor units and the muscle fibres they innervate to act more efficiently.
- It helps develop your fast twitch fibres which are your anaerobic muscle fibres used for short explosive exercise. You can’t change a slow twitch fibre to a fast twitch fibre in a muscle but you can make the fibres grow and occupy a greater percentage of the muscle.
- The combination of the above two help to develop the speed and force of muscle contraction giving you greater explosive power, which is excellent for most sports including football. (Power is a combination of speed and strength) It is also great for speed training. When I do this type of training for a couple of weeks I find it helps increase my standing jump quite considerably.
- It can also help with injury prevention.
It is very important when doing plyometrics to first learn how to land properly. You put a lot of force through your joints and so landing your body weight so that you absorb the impact efficiently is very important, otherwise you could cause yourself an injury. The key is in landing on the balls of your feet softly and then slowly bringing your heel to the floor. Your knees should be bent and your hips should be straight.
You should never just ‘jump!’ straight into doing plyometrics without any previous training. It is vital that you build up your fitness levels and muscle strength first as this type of exercise is very demanding on the muscles involved. You should have a good base of strength conditioning in your muscles first and be able to squat your bodyweight comfortably. A good level of core strength is also important. This sort of exercise can be gradually built into your own training program depending on your own personal fitness goals, which is good to help keep your training interesting.
Tips for performing effective plyometrics
- Minimise the time you are in contact with the ground between jumps.
- Build up gradually, low reps of the simpler exercises first.
- Make sure you rest the day after as they are very demanding on your central nervous system and it will be very fatigued.
- Only do low reps with plenty of rest between sets to recover, again your muscles may feel ok but your central nervous system will be fatigued even if you don’t feel it.
- Build your core strength up before jumping into plyometrics.
3 Great Plyometric Exercises (Only attempt if you have a good level of muscle strength and fitness as stated above)
- Depth Jump (Advanced) 3 sets of 6 reps
This is a great exercise that I do quite often and really feel the benefits. It involves starting on a step or box about 1 and a half feet high. You step off the box onto the floor and as you land you immediately as quickly as possible jump straight up vertically as high as you can using your arms for extra spring. Keep your back neutral through the whole exercise do not arch and make sure you land softly through the balls of your feet. Take at least 30 seconds between each jump and 2 minutes between sets to recover.
- Lateral Hops Over Hurdle, 2 sets of 20 reps
Use a hurdle around 6” high. Starting one side hop sideways over the hurdle landing on the balls of your feet and immediately hop back over. Repeat until you have done 20 hops. Rest for 2 minutes between sets.
- Depth Push Ups (upper body Advanced), 3 sets of 6 reps:
Similar to depth jumps and clap push ups. Start in the push up position with your hands on pads or two things of equal height about 3” high is perfect. There should be a space in the middle where you can land your hands. From the pads push up as hard as you can so your hands come off the pads and land in between the pads and immediately do another push up again coming off the ground back onto the pads. Keep your core activated through out and build up to 6 reps if you can’t do 6 straight away. Make sure you rest for at least 2 minutes between sets.
I was always told that if you feel thirsty then you are more than likely already dehydrated. So what can we do to prevent this from happening? A basic understanding should help us take precautions. From the first sentence you will realise that thirst is not a good indicator of hydration and exercise can suppress your thirst further and you may not even think to drink. So why do we need fluid and how is it lost? Our bodies on average consist of 60% water although this can obviously vary from person to person. Lean muscle contains around 70-75% water where as fat tissue contains around 10-15% water. Because of this it is even more important for an athlete to balance his total body water volume through correct fluid intake. Water is lost largely through sweating but it is also lost in very small amounts through breathing and through the skin. Even in cooler weather (10 degrees celsius) footballers can lose up to 2L a game.
So What Should We Be Drinking and When?
During exercise its not just water that is lost, we start to use up our body stores of carbohydrate and we also lose electrolytes through our sweat. This is why we should consider a drink that contains all of these such as a sports drink. Tests show that by consuming a large amount of dilute glucose electrolyte solution, the onset of fatigue can be delayed quite considerably and this will help maintain performance for longer. As well as considering drinking lots to stay hydrated it is also important to be aware of over hydrating. This is very rare and only usually happens in long distance events such as marathons but in case there is any marathon runners reading this here’s a tip for you. As a guideline for athletes of all abilities if completing a marathon distance you don’t need to consume more than 2-4 litres of fluid. It’s slower runners that are mainly at risk as they are able to consume more fluid during a marathon and this can lower the sodium concentration levels in the body. This can lead to nausea, fatigue and confusion.
There are 3 important times to consider your fluid intake
- Pre exercise: You should try to consume around 500ml of water 2 hours prior to exercise so that the kidneys can regulate the total water levels in your body.
- During exercise: This is a very important time to consume fluids and you want to aim to consume roughly around 500ml of fluid every hour. This can obviously vary slightly dependent on the intensity of the exercise and the climate you are working in and its also dependent on the your fitness level. During exercise you should consider the type of fluid you consume as you want it to contain some carbohydrate and electrolytes, to replace what is being lost.
- Post exercise: If you can weigh yourself before and immediately after exercise you can work out exactly how much fluid has been lost and replace this. For every Kilogram of bodyweight you lose you should consume about 1L of fluid. After exercise this is another important time to try to drink a sports drink to replace what has been lost.
3 Tips To Stay Hydrated
- Carry a bottle of water with you every day and aim to drink at least 2L a day sipping it regularly.
- To test to see if you are fully hydrated before exercise or competition a good guide is to make sure your urine is a pale colour!
- A sports drink during exercise is better than just water as it helps replace electrolytes lost through sweat and they contain glucose for replacing your carbs you are using.
The Importance of Core Work
We’ve all seen the guy in the gym who just bashes out a few reps on the bench, throws in a few bicep curls, and finishes off with a couple of sit ups. Not only is he wasting his time, but he is missing out on a very important factor of all training and exercise: the need to train and strengthen the core muscles.
What are your core muscles?
The core is a term used to describe the group of muscles around the mid-section of your body, in the main consisting of the transverse abdominal muscle, the pelvic floor muscles, the rectus abdominals and the obliques. Our core muscles are the root of every movement we make. They stabilize the pelvis, spine and ribs, which can improve posture and can reduce back pain and injuries. In football a strong core is as important as a good first touch. It plays a big role in your balance, speed and power. It provides stability for every movement you make and helps generate power, not just in the core, but throughout the whole body.
A six pack may look good but it doesn’t necessarily mean you have a stable, strong core. It’s vital that you work all the muscles around the core to reduce the risk of injury and muscular imbalance and generally any exercise you do where your body is slightly unstable or unbalanced will activate your core muscles.
Top 3 Tips For Greater Core Strength
Lying on your front put your forearms on the floor so that your elbows are directly under your shoulders. Next lift your body of the ground so that only your toes and forearms are on the floor. Keep your body nice and straight so that you knees are in line with your hips which are in line with your shoulders which should be in line with your ears. Draw in your navel very slightly contracting your core. Try to hold this for thirty seconds. If you can’t manage this bring your knees to the floor but then keep your body straight from your knees to your shoulders.
‘The Back Bridge’
Lying on your back put your hands at your sides, knees bent, feet flat on the floor under your knees. Tightening your buttocks and abdominals very slightly raise your hips off the ground. You want to have a straight line going from your knees to your shoulders. Remember to draw in the navel very slightly. Hold for thirty seconds. If you can’t do it for this long begin with just a few seconds and build up gradually.
Lie on your side with your forearm on the floor. Elbow should be bent and directly below your shoulder. Next lift your hip of the floor until your spine is straight. Top foot should be placed on bottom foot. Hold again if you can for thirty seconds but you can build up to this.
How it Has Helped
It was only through working with a very good sports scientist at one of my first football clubs that I started to take the training of my core muscles seriously, and I have to say that I have noticed a massive improvement in my all round balance, strength, and power.
There are still lots of people inside and outside of gyms that are unaware of the importance of the core muscles. By following these three simple exercises you can slowly start to build up your core strength that will set you on the path to achieving your wider fitness goals.
• Using the gym ball for sit ups is great for the core
• Using the Bosu ball when doing squats is another great way of activating the core
• Pilates is also an excellent and relaxing way to train your core
Seeing as I’ve spent my whole life as a footballer, be it professional or semi-professional, I thought I’d start this blog off with some basic football fitness tips to get you in shape for your next match.
Now, you might play on Saturdays, Sundays, or just kick about with your mates on a Monday night, but whatever your level there are some basic fitness tips for you to follow.
- Speed work. Shuttle runs and quick feet drills are best for this. Most sprints in a game last for no more than 15 metres so tailor your drills to mirror a real-life game situation.
- Muscular endurance. Specifically relating to the lower body, the ability to keep your muscles working deep into injury time is essential for the modern day footballer. Strength and endurance training is the staple of every professional footballer so make sure you factor a good deal of this into your weekly workout regime.
- Stretching. The fashion in the modern game is for dynamic stretching, but I’m a little old fashioned and still like to go through all the basic static stretches. Work your muscles from the ground up so you don’t miss any out, paying particular attention to your achilles, calfs, groins, hamstrings and quads.