Eating for Hill Drills
Hill drills are an important part of many runners regular training routines and can help a runner become faster, fitter, stronger.
BUT, hill running, especially downhill running, is known to cause microtears of muscle tissue.
These microtears are important for triggering muscle remodelling and adaptation, however if they become severe or chronic due to poor nutrition and insufficient recovery from training, they may negatively affect running performance.
So, we are going to:
- Give an overview of how hill drills affect muscle – both positively AND negatively.
- Outline some nutritional factors to help prevent or limit muscle damage from hill drills
- Give some ideas of how to put the nutrition recommendations into practice
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What effect do Hill Drills have on muscle?
Hill Drills are used as part of a runners training plan to help them become fitter, faster, stronger in the long-term. This is because they help enhance the physiological and metabolic adaptations of exercise as well as support:
- Leg muscle strength
- Stride speed
- Improvement of VO2 Max and HR
- Enhanced running economy
- Protection from DOMS
…and so much more…so really beneficial in the long-term for most runners. In fact it is thought that as little as six weeks of hill drills (being undertaken once a week) could induce some of these benefits.
Hill Drills do carry some risk of exercise induced muscle damage (EIMD), especially downhill running as it causes eccentric muscle contraction.
So, what is eccentric muscle contraction?
It is when the muscle is lengthening during the contraction: at this time the force applied to the muscle exceeds the force produced by the muscle itself, in that moment. This is known as mechanical stress and is known to cause breaking of the components of the muscle tissue that are required for the contraction (otherwise known as microtears). These microtears are necessary for muscle adaptation and muscle remodelling and rebuilding, BUT if the tears are severe, or become chronic, running performance could begin to suffer.
The fallout from these chronic or severe tears is inflammation. Any injury will lead to an inflammatory response in the body and this inflammatory response is known to be associated with:
- Decreased ability to generate muscle strength
- Decreased range of motion
- Localised swelling
- Delated onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
- Increased muscle protein markers in blood e.g. creatine-kinase (CK) and Myoglobin (Mb)
- Increase of general inflammatory markers in blood e.g. C-Reactive Protein (CRP), tumor-necrosis factor (TNF-a), Nuclear Factor Kappa B (NF-kB)
- Production of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) – known to damage cells
….this will ultimately result in compromised running performance.
Which nutrients could help prevent or limit muscle damage from hill drills?
There are many nutrients that could help support a runner following injury and inflammation, however there are three that have been researched for their benefits in supporting an individual performing eccentric muscle contraction (such as downhill running). These three nutrients are:
Protein provides the building blocks in the form of amino acids to repair and rebuild muscle following any type of muscle damage or injury. BUT it is the branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) i.e. leucine, isoleucine and valine that are especially important because they are the most efficient at triggering the muscle protein synthesis (MPS) cascade with leucine being the master trigger of the rebuilding process.
The reason the BCAAs are the most deficient is because they are metabolised directly in muscle. Most nutrients and compounds pass through the liver as part of the metabolization process, however, the BCAAs bypass the liver going directly to muscle, therefore a much more efficient at “getting to work”.
In addition to MPS, protein intake following an injury is known to decrease an individual’s perception of pain caused by the injury. It has been suggested to reduce the perception of pain by approximately 30% and it is thought that an intake of protein with added branched chain amino acid supplementation would have the most benefit.
CURCUMIN and QUERCETIN:
Curcumin and Quercetin are phytonutrients, or phytochemicals are they are also known. They are chemical compounds produced by plants to help them resist fungi, bacteria and viral infections known to affect plant life, but these phytochemicals are also known to be health promoting in humans.
Curcumin is the principle natural, bioactive compound found in turmeric and is thought to support the response to EIMD in several ways:
- Reducing an individual’s perception of the intensity of pain felt
- Decreasing the presence of creatine kinase (CK)
- Contains anti-inflammatory properties
- Exerts antioxidant effects
- Contains cell membrane protective properties
Curcumin is a powerful compound and is known to support the immune system in many different ways including via:
- Its ability to block the activity of certain pro inflammatory molecules e.g. TNF alpha and NF Kappa-b.
- Its ability to block the inflammatory pathway created by reactive oxygen species (ROS) i.e. free radicals
What are free radicals?
They are unstable molecules that react with other molecules in cells of the body potentially leading to cell damage and in some cases cell death, so it is important that that they are limited.
Finally, when considering curcumin supplementation, it is important to remember that, in high doses, curcumin could lead to reduced iron levels because it binds iron rendering it inactive. Many runners, especially female runners, are susceptible to low iron status (for many reasons) so curcumin may not be appropriate for everyone.
Quercetin is known to exert a variety of bioactive effects predominantly its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Regarding its effects following EIMD, the research suggests that it could:
Reduce symptoms of discomfort
Reduce the extent of strength loss
Reduce the severity of loss of muscle contraction force on that muscle contraction velocity
Promote cell membrane stability
Quercetin’s principle mechanism of action is via free radical scavenging due to its ability to pass across the cell membrane. This scavenging action is thought to be what helps support cell membrane strength, stability and function.
In addition to its scavenging properties, Quercetin is also thought to be able to diminish exercise induced oxidative stress and decrease inflammatory markers in plasma.
Quercetin is absorbed from the digestive tract fairly rapidly. In fact, it can be found in blood plasma within 15 to 30 minutes following ingestion, however it reaches its peak, around 120 to 180 minutes following ingestion. BUT, although it peaks at around 180 minute minutes, it stays in the system for up to 24 hours, so it will continue to exert a certain amount of its positive effect for that time.
- Female runners are at increased risk of iron deficiency and as Curcumin at high doses is known to bind iron, this must be considered when contemplating Curcumin supplementation.
- REMEMBER females are more susceptible to injury than men, especially lower limb injury, so this needs to be considered when starting out on hill drill training. It is really important to start slowly and build up to minimize the risk of non-functional muscle injury.
- Fluctuations in female hormones during the menstrual cycle may also put women at increased risk of injury, so planning when to complete hill drills may also need to be considered.
Putting the nutritional advice into action.
In addition to considering nutrition to support hill drills, training and recovery from training are also key in minimizing the risk of experiencing any EIMD. Think about:
- Building up slowly, especially if new to hill drill training
- Asking for advice e.g. at the gym, from a PT before starting hill drills
- Including restorative exercise as part of your training e.g. yoga, Pilates
- Linking up with a running coach for a period of time
- Ensuring you have at least 12hrs rest between training sessions
Practical nutritional solutions for hill drills include:
Aim to consume an average of 1.2 grammes per kilogramme of body weight per day of protein, especially if you are a regular runner.
Ensure you spread your protein intake throughout the day rather than having a large portion at one meal time
Remember, if you are of menopause age or you are experiencing the detrimental effects of hill training your protein needs may be greater than 1.2g/Kg BW/d
If suffering from EIMD ensure you consider your intake of the branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), especially Leucine, to enhance recovery
Food first approach, so foods rich in Leucine include:
- Dairy products, especially cottage cheese
- Fish, particularly tuna and cod
- Peanuts and almonds.
- Whey Protein powder.
CURCUMIN and QUERCETIN:
The timing of supplement intake is important – do not have them immediately after exercise because this could lead to suppression of the body’s ability to produce its own antioxidants
Aim to take supplements at least 2hrs away from exercise
Take curcumin supplements away from iron rich foods
As a preventative measure aim to consume a variety of different fruits and vegetables daily because they are abundant in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties
Aim to consume approx. 9 vegetable portions and 2 fruit portions per day
Work out YOUR daily protein needs – 1.2 grammes per kilogramme of body weight per day. Ensure you eat that amount on a daily basis.
1) Regular Hill drill sessions can help improve performance in the long term by:
- Strengthening leg muscle
- Quickening stride
- Improving VO2 Max and HR
2) Hill drills may lead to Exercise Induced Muscle Damage (EIMD), downhill running carrying most risk due to the eccentric nature of the muscle contraction
3) Hill drills lead to micro-tears of muscle tissue, these are necessary for muscle adaptation and are also involved in muscle remodelling. BUT when the tears are severe or become chronic running performance may suffer.
4) Three well researched nutrients that could support recovery from EIMD during hill drills are:
5) Protein provides the building blocks (amino acids) to repair and rebuild muscle. The Branched Chain Amino Acids (Leucine, isoleucine, valine) being especially important as they are the most efficient at triggering the muscle protein synthesis cascade.
6) Curcumin and Quercetin are phytonutrients known to contain potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which are known to support recovery from injury
7) Remember FOOD COMES FIRST, so ensure you are having an optimal daily intake of these nutrients through your diet.
8) The timing of food and supplements is important to help maximise the healing effects of these nutrients whist minimising any detrimental effects of these nutrients. (e.g. antioxidants diminishing endogenous antioxidant production)
9) Remember Curcumin could lead to reduced iron levels as curcumin binds iron, rendering it inactive, so supplementation may not be suitable for some runners
10) Finally, to help limit any deleterious effects of hill drills, start slowly and build up. Working with a running coach for a period of time may be beneficial
The suggestions we make during this episode are for guidance and
advice only, and are not a substitute for medical advice or treatment.
If you have any concerns regarding your health, please contact
your healthcare professional for advice as soon as possible.
Aileen Smith and Karen Campbell met at as nutrition students (Institute for Optimum Nutrition, London) and became lifelong friends and nutritional buddies! Both have a love of running and a passion for nutrition, delicious food and healthy living.
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