Maybe you’re a seasoned fitness competitor or may have never competed before, but whatever your experience, optimising your competition nutrition can be the difference between winning or losing…. Literally.
So where to start?
Your competition workouts will be performed at a high intensity (well they should be!), meaning you will be relying on carbohydrates for your main energy source. It is will accepted that as workouts become longer, carbohydrate availability will enhance performance, whereas low availability will lead to fatigue, reduced work rate, impaired skill and increased perceived exertion (Burke, 2015. Hawley 2011, Van Loon, 2013). Your carbohydrate stores in your muscle (glycogen) is a finite supply, highlighting how important it is to ensure its availability during exercise.
So, before you exercise it’s time to carb up!
What to do
Consuming carbohydrates before exercise will replenish liver glycogen depleted from the overnight fast and ensure there is blood glucose available for your first workout. This means for your pre competition meal you should aim for around 1g per kg of bodyweight of carbohydrates (Nutrition and athletic performance, 2015).
What about timing?
Try eating around 2-3 hours before your competition to give yourself plenty of time to digest and absorb your food. You may also consider a smaller snack 30 minutes prior to your first workout of the day. Look to avoid foods high in fat and fibre to reduce any gastrointestinal problems. Also be aware that eating an hour before your first workout may lead to a drop in blood glucose levels from a rise in insulin, which can actually make you feel more lethargic (Ormsbee, Bach and Baur, 2014). This is why the timing and type of food should be based on individual preferences, so practice and find a setup that suits you.
Pre Comp Porridge (2-3hr before)
1 cup of water
1.5 cups of milk
1 tbsp of honey
Handful of berries
Sprinkling of almond flakes
Pre comp pancakes (30mins before)
11/2 cup of flour
½ tspoon of sugar
1 cup of any milk
1 tspoon of jam per cake
Drinking enough water helps with health and performance where only a 2% drop in body weight can significantly hinder cognitive function and exercise capacity. Although there are a lot of individual differences between athletes to maintain euhydration (hydrated), it is recommended you consume around 5-10ml/kg of bodyweight 2-4 hours before exercise (Shephard, 2007). So drink up!
Between and after workouts
Glycogen restoration should be one of your primary goals after your first workout. Timing is critical for ‘refueling’ where if left beyond 2hrs, resynthesis rates are reduced by up to 50% (Currell, 2016). This is why you should aim small frequent feedings of carbohydrates immediately after your first event.
How much and what?
Around 1g per kg of bodyweight of carbohydrates are thought to be optimal (Jentjens and Jeukendrup, 2003, Betts, 2010), where foods with higher carbohydrate availability (think more sugary) will speed up the replenishment of both kcals and glycogen. This means energy bars, gels, Lucosade and even fruit juice due to their combination of glucose and fructose. It’s this 50:50 ratio that speeds up absorption rate and enhance glucose availability (Van Loon, 2013). Also think easily digested sweet nibbles like flapjacks, Jaffa cakes and marshmallows. So even if some of these foods maybe 'bad' according to your Paleo enthusiasts, they're going to improve your recovery and performance.
Like your pre competition meal, recovery snacks and meals will be come down to you as an individual. Energy gels and drinks can sometimes cause gastric discomfort which is the last thing you need before any double-unders! So practice what you’re going to have before your day of competition.
After each event you should try and achieve euhydration by consuming slightly more than any body weight lost. So for every 1kg lost in weight, drink around 125ml of fluid. Or simply drink plenty of fluid throughout the day.
A note on salt
A loss of sodium through heavy sweating can potentially lead to hypohydration and electrolyte imbalances, which will impair performance. Therefore aim to consume foods and liquids with sodium in them to help maintain fluid balance.
We’re all different
Even though there is theoretically a ‘perfect’ setup. Individual differences will all play a big part in what works for you. This is why practicing your setup leading up to an event or competition is incredibly important if you want to perform at your best.
For more help with your fuelling, then check out our coaching programmes available here:
References and further reading
Betts, J. and Williams, C. (2010). Short-Term Recovery from Prolonged Exercise. Sports Medicine, 40(11), pp.941-959.
Burke, L. (2015). Re-Examining High-Fat Diets for Sports Performance: Did We Call the ‘Nail in the Coffin’ Too Soon?. Sports Med, 45(S1), pp.33-49.
Burke, L., Hawley, J., Wong, S. and Jeukendrup, A. (2011). Carbohydrates for training and competition. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29(sup1), pp.S17-S27.
Cermak, N. and van Loon, L. (2013). The Use of Carbohydrates During Exercise as an Ergogenic Aid. Sports Medicine, 43(11), pp.1139-1155.
Currell, K. (2016). Performance Nutrition. 1st ed. Crowood.
Jentjens, R. and Jeukendrup, A. (2003). Determinants of Post-Exercise Glycogen Synthesis During Short-Term Recovery. Sports Medicine, 33(2), pp.117-144.
Shephard, R. (2007). American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand: Exercise and Fluid Replacement. Yearbook of Sports Medicine, 2007, pp.254-255.
Thomas, D., Erdman, K. and Burke, L. (2016). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116(3), pp.501-528.