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Sports nutrition is a complex and fascinating field, and when it comes to elite athletes, nutrition is finely tuned to deliver a winning performance. There are many more of us however who perhaps aren’t aiming for Rio - our goals may be different (weight loss, a faster 5k, finishing a marathon, improved body composition) but just as important. Whatever our reasons for exercising more, we all want to feel like we are achieving something and sometimes it just takes a few minor tweaks to really rev up the results.

Common obstacles that get in the way of achieving exercise goals

Lack of motivation

More and more I find myself adopting the role of a coach in clinic these days.  It’s one thing to advise clients to eat better and exercise more, but another issue entirely when it comes to motivating them to take action. Many people are initially motivated away from something they don’t want (i.e. I don’t want to look fat in my bikini) and this can be a powerful source in the early days of making changes. However, the closer you get to reaching your goals, the lower your motivation drops – simply because you have moved too far away from the very thing that propelled you into action. It’s ok for patients to be motivated away from something initially, but they also need to have a powerful and positive goal that they are heading towards (think stick vs carrot) so that when they move further away from the thing they don’t want, their motivation doesn’t wane. Powerful goals may involve a big upcoming social event – a new dress for a charity ball, or perhaps a sporting challenge – a triathlon, open water swim, 10k run or even a marathon. Find something juicy that’s going to get your client excited to move towards. Once they’ve identified this juicy goal, ask them to write it down, plan it, daydream about it, tell others and visualize it in all its technicolour glory. The more real you can make it, the more likely they are to succeed. I find this to be a really useful strategy to harness motivation and propel clients towards their exercise goals.

Weight loss is 70% diet

Many people make the mistake of thinking that they can lose weight just by doing a bit more exercise. Yet weight loss is 70% down to dietary changes and only 30% exercise, so if you’ve started to hit the gym wanting to lose a few pounds make sure you address your eating too. Research shows that people who exercise without changing their diet lose little to no weight, yet the combination of exercise and dietary changes make a winning formula!

Not eating enough

It’s crucial to eat right to fuel your workouts, especially if you’re looking to improve your body composition (fat: muscle ratio). Many people make the mistake of not fuelling properly both before and after a workout. Without the right fuel you will lack energy to perform well in your training session and be short on the right nutrients to repair and rebuild your muscles. In short, you will struggle to make any gains from your training session. Eat carbohydrate-rich foods before a training session to provide energy (oat-based flapjack / cereal bar). Post-workout you need a combination of protein and carbohydrate for rebuilding and repair (a smoothie made with whey protein, fruit juice and frozen berries) within 30 minutes of your training session for best effects.

Lack of essential vitamins and minerals

Whilst exercise is undoubtedly a great habit to adopt to improve your overall health; it does require a higher intake of micronutrients to support increased energy demands, muscle repair and rebuilding, a higher need for antioxidants, and immune and digestive support too. If you’re starting to exercise more you need to consider your overall intake of vitamins and minerals and make sure you’re getting this extra nutrition regularly into your diet. Unfortunately, many people exercise more and don’t match this with extra nutrition, and this can result in fatigue, damage to muscle tissue, gastrointestinal problems and frequent infections too. Increase intake of fresh wholefoods and brightly coloured fruits and vegetables for maximum nutrient intake.

When it comes to endurance sports such as marathon running, your body will need a top up on essential vitamins and nutrients –discover what the best supplements for marathon runners are.


One of the biggest anti-nutrients known to man, stress is bad news when it comes to losing weight and achieving exercise goals. Two major hormones released during the stress response are cortisol and DHEA, and if stress is chronic, levels of cortisol can remain elevated whilst DHEA is lowered. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone (breaks things down – think muscle tissue breakdown) whereas DHEA does the opposite; it is an anabolic hormone (builds things up – think muscle re-building). Under the influence of stress (a high cortisol: DHEA ratio) protein synthesis slows down and protein breakdown accelerates, making it almost impossible to increase muscle mass. In addition, high cortisol encourages fat storage, which is bad news for weight loss. If a client is experiencing chronic stress, it’s important to target this as a first port of call.  Regular relaxation in the form of yoga and mindfulness meditation can be incredibly beneficial. For a simple start to mindfulness meditation try www.headspace.com. Key nutrients to support a more balanced stress response include magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin C, L-theanine, glycine and taurine. Adaptogenic herbs such as cordyceps, ginseng and rhodiola may also be beneficial.

Too much oestrogen

Problems with oestrogen overload are becoming more and more common, partly because we live in a sea of oestrogens that are almost impossible to escape from. Oestrogens are present in our food, air and water, plastic storage containers, exhaust fumes, pesticides, carpets, furniture, industrial waste and much more. And that’s on top of the oestrogen that we all produce in our bodies (yes men produce oestrogen too!) Oestrogen overload can affect both men and women and can have many negative effects on our health including making it very difficult to build muscle mass. Thus, if you’re looking to improve your body composition you need to get oestrogen back into balance first. You can optimise intake of key nutrients to support healthy oestrogen processing in the body and restore a natural balance. These nutrients include di-indolylmethane (DIM) an important phytonutrient found in broccoli, calcium-d-glucarate, phytoestrogens from flaxseed and kudzu, B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, n-acetyl-l-cysteine, glycine and l-glutathione.

Lack of rest

As well as exercising regularly and eating the right food, getting adequate rest is key for achieving exercise goals. This is the time when the body can rebuild and repair, and restore energy levels ready for your next workout. Without adequate rest the whole process starts to collapse. If you’re struggling to get enough sleep, a high strength powdered magnesium supplement with added L-tryptophan, L-theanine, hops, Lactium (milk protein hydrolysate) may be a beneficial addition to your diet.

“Wow, I really regret that workout” (said no-one, ever!)

The benefits of regular exercise are endless, and if you can also improve your diet the results will soon start to snowball. If you’re looking for more ways to support your sports nutrition clients why not take a look at our Sports Nutrition Protocol designed specifically to help support your clinical practice.

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