Fuelling your body for performance
We all want to perform our best on the day but usually this is the time when we can do no more; just breathe and know that all of your training and hard work has paid off and trust in yourself.
Preparation for your event is critical and takes place weeks, months and years prior to the race. One of the key elements to performing at your best is good nutrition, good hydration and adequate rest.
I’m sure you are already acutely aware of the relationship between eating well and running well. The main considerations for training and performing at an event is to be properly fueled, hydrated, refueled and rehydrated during the event and then it’s all about recovery.
You know your body best and you know what foods work for you and what foods don’t. The days before an event is NOT the time to start experimenting with different strategies. However, there are some simple tips that are worthwhile considering.
You will need carbohydrate, protein and fat, along with fruit and vegetables for vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients. Your body stores glucose (carbohydrate), which is used for energy, as glycogen in your muscles and liver. When your energy demands are such that you need more glucose, your body will turn to your glycogen stores for fuel so it’s imperative that you consume enough carbohydrate in the days before and on the day of the event and throughout as well. It is not necessary to ‘carb load’ as such, unless your event is over 90 minutes in duration. It is a good idea, however, to eat adequate carbs (for males, 6-8g/kg body weight, per day; females: 4-6g/kg body weight, per day). Good sources of carbohydrates are oats, rice, potato and sweet potato, pasta and bread and fruit. It is normally recommended to go for wholemeal varieties but for reducing the risk of stomach discomfort from fibre and to have instant access to glucose on the day of the event, you can opt for the white varieties.
Protein is also important for muscle growth and repair so aim for approximately 1.5-2g/kg body weight for males and 1.3-1.8g/kg body weight for females. Good sources of protein are lean chicken, turkey and fish, lean beef, eggs and dairy products. Fat is also important but opt for healthy fats such as avocado, olive oil, oily fish, nuts and seeds also contain healthy fats. Fat is also used as an energy source so for long endurance races, some athletes prefer to use fat as fuel over carbohydrate. But that is for you to experiment with in off-season or training sessions, not at an event.
The last piece of the puzzle but by no means last is hydration. Sweat contains electrolytes, which are critical to replace, mainly sodium. So, drinking plenty of water prior to your event and then having a water based drink with added electrolytes and some carbohydrate will ensure that you will be fully hydrated and fueled.
There are a few things to consider when you’re choosing your pre-event meal.
• Fuel muscle and restore liver glycogen stores with carbohydrate based foods such as cereal, fruit, toast, pasta, rice and potato.
• Adequate hydration with water and sports drinks with electrolytes and carb mix for during the event.
• Keep hunger at bay but don’t eat too much so as to avoid stomach discomfort and upset.
• Stick to your rituals if you have them!
• If you’re a nervous athlete and eating a meal is not feasible, consider a liquid meal instead with protein, carbohydrate and micronutrients.
Now it’s time to refuel and recover after your event. This is critical to reduce the risk of illness and injury and to replenish glycogen stores, repair muscle damage and protect your cells from the inside out!
Stick to good carbs, lean proteins, healthy fats and plenty of fruits and vegetables for vitamins and antioxidants to help repair and protect your body at the cellular level. Think about boosting your immune system because a healthy immune system means less chances of becoming sick which, in turn means you will get more out of your training.
Emma Buckley B.Sc