Almost every cell in our body has a rhythm which much of the time is in synchrony with our daily life. Keeping our biological clocks in rhythm is extremely important for our health. We notice the effects of our biological clocks quite profoundly, for example, when we are forcing our body to shift to a new time-zone and experience jetlag.
During lockdown, many of us may lose our normal daily routine with the potential to impact on our body clocks and health. As part of a series looking at how INEOS TEAM UK, Team INEOS and Science in Sport are keeping our athletes fit during the lockdown period we have spoken to our Head of Human Performance Ben Williams on the importance of maintaining a healthy body clock and how best to do so.
Hi Ben, this time we are discussing biological clocks. To start us off, why is it important to maintain a healthy body rhythm and what do we meant by that?
Ben Williams: A healthy biological clock is important to everyone as there are a multitude of evidence based health benefits associated with best practices in this area of wellbeing.
To maintain a healthy biological clock we need to account for three main stimuli; light exposure, food intake and physical activity. As we said in our interview last week on maintaining muscle mass, in the world of professional sport we look at health and recovery protocols just as much as we do training itself. There is no point having an excellent training block if you do not recover, stay healthy and optimise other areas of wellbeing. Therefore, identifying all the areas in which you can make steps forward is crucial not only to athletes trying to be the best they can be but for everyone who wants to live a healthy, happy and balanced lifestyle.
Simply put, seeking a healthy biological clock will promote immunity, support brain function and optimise recovery ensuring all the hard work you do in the gym or in your sport will be harvested optimally. Otherwise it does not matter how many supplements, massages or protein shakes you have, the training will not have the same effect.
You mentioned food intake there. How can that help keep our biological clocks in rhythm?
The body will always adapt to stimulus. Eating times, when you sleep and wake, when you exercise, and more, will all be noted and adjusted to by the body.
Food intake, as I mentioned, is one of the three main stimuli. Eating smaller meals at regular intervals will help to maintain blood sugar levels and prevent peaks and dips in energy and fuelling exercise will prevent any big dips in available energy.
On top of that, appropriate intake post exercise is also important as you will have depleted vital nutrients and a reduced immune response. Avoiding snacks late at night and before bed is another way of keeping your body in a healthy rhythm as you prevent the most important recovery (sleep) being fuelled by inappropriate fuel sources.
More than ever, in the current landscape, all these small interventions make up a much bigger and important picture for your health and fitness.
Our athletes follow a food nutrition, fuelling and supplement programme developed by our friends at KX and SIS that helps them optimise and maintain a healthy body clock.
Sleep is obviously a very important part of recovery. How do you ensure the sailors recover as best they can whilst sleeping?
In professional sport it’s all about finding those small percentage gains where you can make a difference that will ultimately improve performance. One of those areas is sleep. We’ve worked as a Performance team to devise evidence-based protocols for our athletes that improves their ability to sleep and therefore recover.
The majority of things we can do are very simple. For example, we advise our athletes to avoid bright and especially blue lights from things such as laptops or phones before going to bed because it supresses our melatonin production which could deter our bodies from wanting to sleep and negatively impact our circadian rhythm. Encouraging our athletes to expose themselves to natural light in the morning also helps keep their biological clocks in synchrony.
On top of that it’s also the environment that you sleep in, for example the temperature of your room. Research shows that circa 18 degrees is an optimal sleep environment. We also advise our athletes to invest in cotton bedding rather than any plastic/cotton mix as it’s more breathable and helps ensure they do not get too hot.
Ultimately, looking at how our athletes can perform optimally comes down to whether their training programme is right, whether their intake programme is right and then whether they can recover from the training programme that we give them. To do that properly they need to keep their biological clocks in rhythm and maintain a positive general wellbeing as a solid foundation to build on.
The INEOS TEAM UK squad is fuelled by Science in Sport's newly launched Performance Solutions programme, a ground-breaking sports research and nutrition service designed to elevate elite teams and athletes to the next level of performance. Read more here.