Coach Michael fuels you up for racing

Obstacle Race Magazine Interview with Michael Cohen
Obstacle Race Magazine

Coach Michael fuels you up for racing

By Michael Cohen

Issue 6 Nov/Dec 2014

You are what you eat, as Gillian McKeith would say! And she is 100% right. Every item of food that you eat has a nutritional and fuel value depending on how it is grown/produced; what it is treated with; how it is processed and ultimately how your body digests it.

So lets get down to the nitty gritty of how much nutritional value you get from your food, and whether it is giving you the best quality fuel for your OCR racing.

Does your tomato look like a tomato?

This brings us to the first subject of processed food. Depending on how processed a food type is, will determine: 1. It’s nutritional value. 2. How easily your body can break it down. 3. How it can distribute the essential nutrients. 4. The quality of fuel it provides you.

If you take the example of a tomato and compare a raw one in comparison to the tomato in a curry sauce, you will immediately notice that in the latter case the tomato is less distinguishable to the way it was raw, due to the way it was processed. Therefore a higher percentage of the nutritional value has been cooked out. Whereas, a lightly steamed courgette that is al dente will have proportionally more nutrients as the cooking time & heat is less.

However, if eaten raw, the tomato will require chewing, this process is known as mastication. Mastication is a very important aspect to food digestion. So going back to the curry sauce, it is likely that it can be virtually swallowed rather than requiring much chewing, whereas the raw tomato will need to be chewed until it is broken down and ready to be swallowed. Mastication releases the natural enzymes inside of the tomato, which set off the 1st stage of digestion, rather than waiting for it to commence in the stomach. In the case of the swallowed curry sauce it is more reliant on the enzymes in your stomach to digest it. This ultimately requires more work and more of your body’s energy to digest it.

To summarize, the least processed and the more chewing you need to do, the more nutritional value it has, and the least work your digest system has to do to break it down. So what we are talking about is fuel economy and nutritional gains.

Orange water


Have you considered how orange the water in your saucepan is when you boil carrots? Simply explained boiling food, is boiling nutrients and enzymes out of them, which is why the water changes colour. The optimum way to eat a carrot is in this order:

  1. Raw
  2. Steamed – Lightly cooked al dente.
  3. Stir fried – Lightly cooked al dente.
  4. Roasted – Lightly cooked al dente.
  5. Boiled – Last resort cooking.

Not only will you gain nutritional value from the raw to minimal cooking processes, but also the food will taste better in regard to the texture and flavour.

Canned V’s Fresh V’s Pre-packs V’ Processed

The moment you cut into an item of food it starts a process of oxidation. Oxidation reactions happen when chemicals in the food are exposed to oxygen in the air. From hereon it starts to loose nutritional value. So a salad or vegetable cut at the table or just before cooking/serving is the optimum time to reduce the oxidisation process. The best example is when you cut an apple, it literally changes colour in front of your eyes.

Likewise if you buy pre-packs of cut vegetables such as carrots from the supermarket they look shrivelled and paler in colour, which are signs of dehydration and oxidization. Similarly tinned vegetables and fruits tend to be soft and have little form. The same thing applies to buying a processed meal such as lasagne or shepherds pie. More importantly most of these products require preservatives, colours and flavourings to give a more artificial vibrant colour, taste and a longer shelf life.

Do you need to become a chef?


No you don’t, and neither do you need to be a nutritionist. But you do need to educate yourself about food and begin or develop your cooking as well as knowledge about ingredients, nutrients and how to put a balanced meal together.

You may be saying, “Well these will all take time and effort”, and you would be right. But the bigger picture is your nutrition is just as important as your physical training. Without this basic understanding you will not have the fuel to optimise your training, racing and recovery.

How are things looking for you so far? As I hope you are already appreciating you do not need to be an expert, but a researcher, an experimenter and an explorer, and the rest is simple logic and common sense. Ready to move on?


Organic & Wild V’s Non-Organic


There is nothing better than going into a village shop in Spain, Greece or France and seeing a crate of tomatoes. Every one is a different colour, shape, texture and flavour. A very different experience compared to shopping in your local Sainsbury or Tesco supermarket here in the UK, where every tomato is the same colour, shape, weight and flavour. So much so that they can be symmetrically displayed on the shelf. And why? They say it is because of you, the customer, for wanting this precision food engineering to create the perfect vegetable. Well I don’t remember being asked, were you?

Precision engineered food that is non-organic can include a myriad of synthetic substances such as: antibiotics; growth stimulants; synthetic additives, sweeteners, preservatives, pcps, insecticides and of course can be modified or genetically modified. To discuss each of these in full details requires an article in its own right.

But briefly I will state that for you to have that perfect tomato with its textbook colour, size, flavour and shape, then it would be needed to be farmed/grown using synthetic insecticides and growth stimulants. Likewise to make sure each chicken fits onto the conveyor belt, with its precision instruments, each bird needs to be farmed to be a precise colour, size and flavour. Similarly non-organic chickens are routinely given antibiotics as a preventative against infections and virus outbreaks, as well as growth stimulants, GM animal feed that has been sprayed with insecticides. Farmed fish are farmed close to the shoreline, so they tends to be contaminated with ground surface run offs, sewage drains and PCP’s. Likewise they are often fed with food, which may have insecticides, growth stimulants and GM ingredients.



In short we should avoid supplementing with vitamins and supplements where not necessary. So rather than building your body with protein powders and drinks, instead do some research and experimentation on how you can possibly get many of your nutrients naturally from your foods where possible.

However, if a doctor or nutritionist has prescribed medication/supplementation, always speak to them before reducing or stopping.


Have you got a sweat tooth?


This morning I was undertaking a nutritional analysis of one of my Elite TEAM Wild Forest Gym OCR athletes. We started to go through her diet and it was looking really healthy.

However, she has been conscious of not being able to loose a few excess kilo’s she was carrying. Further through the analysis we got onto the subject of sugars. “I only eat good sugars such as fruits, no more sweets”, she said. So we started to look at what that incorporated, and bingo all was revealed.

She loves her watermelon, apples and dates. In fact her daily consumption was 2 massive wedges of watermelon or more, at least 3 apples and handfuls of dates. When we started to look at the nutritional chart to determine the sugar levels in these healthy foods, the alarm bells started to ring. Although they contain a higher percentage of fructose rather than glucose and sucrose it was still a lot. It was teaspoon after teaspoon and that was just from her fruit, let alone other foods she was eating.

So what I am saying is fruit is good, organic fruit is even better, but it has to be in moderation, especially with dried fruit that appear small in comparison to before being dehydrated. Just to give you an idea one Braeburn apple contains approx 15.5g of sugars broken down to 8791mg Fructose, 3085mg Sucrose and 3621 mg Glucose *. 1 date contains 16g of sugars broken down to 7669mg Fructose, 127mg Sucrose and 8084 mg Glucose.
When weighed and measured one apple/date is the equivalent of just under 4 teaspoons of sugar. Now you see where she was getting her sugar high’s from and why she was struggling to loose those couple of kilos.

So where do you go from here?

As I previously said, lets look at food logically. You are best to eat organic certified produce, wild or natural foods where possible. Best starting place is your local butcher, fishmonger and farmers market, as they are more likely to know the origin of their food. It doesn’t mean you can’t go out to your local restaurant and have a non-organic steak. However, try and make sure that the rest of your meals that day are organic and/or wild where possible.

Once you get your shopping home try to eat it while it is as fresh as possible, and when it comes to cooking it, make sure you try and include as much raw, steamed and least processed cooking where possible. Don’t forget healthy foods such as fruits and nutritional bars may have good ingredients, but it doesn’t mean that are not high in sugars.

Before you over challenge yourself, don’t expect change overnight. It takes a bit of time to do the researching, to get your co-habitors/family on board. Similarly don’t try and do it 100%. Otherwise it will take over your life. Been there done it! Not going back there again. Instead, why not give yourself a target to move up in stages from 30% to gradually reach 80% organic, wild and least processed food as possible. Then there is always room for exceptions and treats!


Get your FREE Nutiritonal Calculator


To help you optimise your racing ORM have partnered with Coach Michael of Wild Forest Gym to give you a FREE nutritional calculator and nutrient chart so you can research you foods, nutrients and even calculate your needs with a sports activity calculator by visiting PLUS enter our draw for FREE 30 minute diet analysis.


Last few words of advice. Don’t get hooked onto analysing your diet. Research, experiment and then get on with it. Don’t try and go by the book 100% just 80% is a good target. Plus teach yourself how to cook, and then you will really understand about food, nutrition and your body.

*Source USDA SR-21

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