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SDA Update – Canberra 22 May 2013

A hop, skip and a jump from Perth and I was in Canberra for the SDA One Day Update. Sports Dietitians had travelled from near and far to learn from a handpicked selection of sports nutrition experts.

To commence, Louise Burke, AIS Head of Sports Nutrition, provided an insight into the preparation for the London Olympics, after an overview of the various environmental considerations for each of the Olympic Games from Atlanta onwards. Some of the challenges that were encountered at London included the difficulty of getting foods into the Olympic village, and catering for special needs such as gluten free and multiple food intolerances. Athletes needing to make weight in a short period of time added some extra challenges. Not to mention sourcing pickle juice as a possible cramp-reducing strategy for some other athletes!

Louise finished with a case study of an Australian Olympic walker, who had been wary of increasing his carbohydrate intake during the race above 30 g / hr for fear of gut issues. A two year nutrition campaign involved working closely with the athlete to develop a race plan, and with lots of practice in training, they achieved a total of 320g carbohydrate for the 50 km race, at a rate of 89g/hour. At this rate, multiple transportable carbohydrates were necessary, that is a combination of glucose and fructose, to optimise absorption. A personal best was achieved along with a silver medal for Australia.

AIS Food Service Dietitian Jo Mirtschin presented the second session on ‘Catering for Teams’ at the London Olympics. When Rowing Australia decided to house the Australian Rowing Team in a boarding house separate to the Olympic Village, and closer to the rowing venue, the AIS had the role of catering for the athletes. Jo had the challenging task of not only planning the daily menu, but also doing the hands-on food preparation and cooking. Meeting the energy requirements of both the lightweight rowers and the heavyweight rowers, and the different expectations and considerations presented by the athletes and also by Rowing Australia, this was no easy assignment. Different priorities for different rowers included making weight, food options for post weigh in, taste, home cooked style meals, sufficient food, and appropriate timing around training and races, while a safe food supply was a key priority of Rowing Australia. Jo proved she was able to exceed expectations with a thorough, organised and systematic approach and research into the UK products easily accessible.

Bronwen Lundy, a senior sports Dietitian at the AIS and National Nutrition Lead for rowing, educated us on ‘Energy availability’. When energy is used for one function (eg. exercise) it is not available for another function (eg. bone metabolism or reproductive function). As a result, outcomes may include reduced bone mineral density and amenorrhea in female athletes. Bronwen discussed some of the possible causes of low energy availability being (i) High training load (eg. triathlon) (ii) Moderate energy needs combined with dietary restriction (eg. synchronized swimming) (iii) High level dietary restriction (eg. ballet). The accurate measurement of energy availability however presents its own challenges. Some strategies to prevent, or reduce the risk of, low EA included ensuring appropriate recovery snacks, periodised nutrition plans particularly when weight and body composition is a high priority, and use of a food and training diary.

The always-interesting subject of supplements, or ergogenic aids, was addressed by experienced Sports Dietitian Alison Garth. The ins and outs of beta-alanine, bi-carb, caffeine and beetroot juice were discussed and some key points highlighted, including the importance of individualising ‘ideal’ protocols to each athlete and situation. Some of the potential concerns associated with current practices relating to caffeine are ad hoc use, impact on sleep quality, potentially unnecessary high doses and unclear potential for interaction with other supplements. There is existing research on caffeinated gum which suggests similar performance benefits to other forms of caffeine with a reduced negative impact on sleep quality. Not so good news – caffeinated gum is not yet available in Australia.

A big thanks to SDA and each of the presenters for a fantastic info-packed one day update! Looking forward to the conference in October.

Emily Eaton

Accredited Practising Dietitian, Accredited Sports Dietitian