The following advice is gleaned from various presentations I have made on athletic conditioning.
- Let's start with what some “experts” recommend: “Here are some examples of foods that make good pre-competition meals:”
- White toast with margarine, honey and banana
- Muffins or crumpets with jam and margarine
- Creamed rice and tinned fruit in syrup
- Pancakes with yogurt and tinned fruit in syrup
- Pancakes, sugar or maple syrup and tinned fruit
- Spaghetti on white toast, with margarine
Low-fibre cereal e.g. rice bubbles with milk and tinned fruit
- For those people who tend to be nervous before an event, a liquid meal replacement may be better tolerated than solid food.
In my opinion, these are very unhealthy guidelines that will do nothing to enhance the performance of the athlete on the day and may, over the long term, cause serious health problems including gum disease, tooth loss, digestive disorders, arthritis, dementia, heart disease, cancer and diabetes. A diet that is saturated with refined flour and sugars along with accompanying preservatives, colourings, trans-fatty acids and the rest do no good at all.
Energy sources during exercise
For all practical purposes, there are just two energy sources during exercise:
Fats – unlimited supply
Carbohydrates (CHO) – about 1.5 hours
As exercise intensity increases, so does the proportion of carbohydrate used - Intense exercise rapidly depletes these limited CHO stores
Signs of CHO depletion
- Aching, heavy legs
- Difficulty changing gear
- Yawning, lack of concentration
- Bad temper
Conserve CHO stores by
- Training fat usage
- Replenishing CHO as you go
- Low intensity, steady-state pacing
General dietary recommendations for athletes
- Reduce intake of processed carbohydrates, including honey and sugar
- Reduce intake of processed grains, especially white flour
- Reduce potato consumption
- Reduce intake of highly processed foods
- Reduce intake of hard animal fats
- Reduce intake of carbonated drinks
- Reduce fruit juice consumption
Reduce or eliminate reliance on caffeine drinks
- Eat more leafy greens and coloured veges
- Choose whole grain foods
- Eat more nuts
- Consume more quality oils
Eat fish 2-3 times per week
- Eat marmite/vegemite daily
- Eat more raw fruit including berries
By following a healthy diet as outlined, a moderate approach to supplementation is all that is required to maintain optimum health and physical performance. There is no need to go overboard with supplementation. There is good evidence for adding the following extras to your healthy diet, if you feel so inclined:
Glucosamine and chondroitin powder - This will help protect your joints during periods of high wear and tear.Buy the powder – not the pills - these are over-priced and supply insufficient ingredients to be effective
Omega 3 oil - Such as flaxseed, olive and fish oil has a long list of health benefits that grows by the day and proving essential for athletes. During periods of low exposure to the sun such as during winter, or when confined indoors, such as when in hospital, have additional vitamin D in the form of 1-2 teaspoons of cod liver oil per day (Cod liver oil is a rich source of vitamin D).
Multi Vitamins - Principally the water soluble ones including vitamin E, vitamin C and all of the B group
Multi mineral - Chelated minerals are generally the most readily absorbed. Our soils and the foods that are grown in them are insufficient to meet daily needs of minerals, especially for athletes. An athletes needs more, the most important being magnesium and calcium.
Supplementation is recommended for those in heavy training or when recovering from ill health and I also recommend a daily nutrient-packed Super Smoothie.
Nutrition during endurance training sessions (longer than 2 hours)
- Learn to consume fluid sufficient to match fluid losses - Not too much and not too little. (1 Kg weight loss measured immediately after exercise = 1 liter of water).
- Train your system to use body fat during training by exercising once a week for longer than 1.5 hours without consuming any CHO and by having a diet that is low in refined CHO.
- Practice eating on the run 1x/wk and during morning sessions so that your stomach gets used to the sensation, if your competition demands eating and drinking on the run.
- Experiment with a cut down Super Smoothie. Keep it cool and out of the sun. Better still - make it up as you go.
- During a very long session, try stopping partway, have a few sandwiches, if you need to then continue on.
Example: Auckland to Wellington non-stop road race (Early 1970’s)
There was a direct relationship between competitors’ placings and daily calorie consumption. The lowest and most inconsistent calorie consumers did not finish or came well behind. It was won by Max Telford. Max consumed up to 14,000 calories/day. Max’s primary source of calories was Sustagen liquid meals which is similar to the Super Smoothie but not quite as good!
Nutrition during endurance competition (longer than 2 hours)
Note: You should have practiced this many times in training to ensure you can get through competition without suffering digestive upsets.
- The harder and more violent the exercise, the less fluids and solids it is possible to consume without digestive distress.
- Experiment with formulations and concentrations in training to settle on what works for you.
- Last three days prior to competition may include some extra carbohydrates, but remains essentially your healthy diet.
- Do not eat any heavy foods within 3 hours of running
Have a Super Smoothie and/or sandwiches >1 hr before competition and another cut down Super Smoothie 15 minutes before starting. Cut down Super Smoothie every 1hr of running.
- Go easy while stomach contents settle – especially if running on a downhill
½ hr rest with food & liquid every 3 hrs – But don’t get cold and seize up!
If you hit the “wall”:
- Get extra carbohydrates on board
- Glucose drink
- Super Smoothie
- Hot, sweet cup of tea
- Rest ½ hour and/or do an extended period of power walking or other less strenuous exercise while energy levels are restored
- Check that you are not dehydrated/over hydrated?
- Are there signs of hypothermia/hyperthermia (Refer to my E-Book on Hypothermia and Sport)?
- Are you going too hard and depleting glycogen stores too fast?
My Blog and E-Publications have heaps of additional and detailed information about nutrition for sports and general health. Search for them (include the archives) and have a good read. The E-Book, Training for a Marathon by Lorraine Moller and me is probably the best start. If your question remains unanswered, then you will just have to send me an email and I will do the best I can to assist.