The body has a limited fuel supply when working above the low end of the aerobic training zone (this zone is not used whilst competing at any level). It is vital that once we have used the immediate fuel sources (muscle glycogen), that we start replacing to reward the hard training we have put in for the competition. So many times we hear stories of woe, where the fueling rules have been misused.
Nutrition goals leading up to competition
The main goals for most endurance athletes (this isn’t an elitist term, it includes you too) include reducing GI (Glycemic Index) distress, maintaining adequate hydration and electrolyte levels, and not gaining weight due to a decrease in energy expenditure during their taper.
The taper itself presents a significant challenge. Because the range of the taper can be from 4 to 28 days depending on the event – athletes do not often know how to navigate the time leading up to competition, and thus water retention and feelings of bloating and heaviness are common. Eating will depend somewhat on the length of the taper, but triathletes can use the following nutrition goals:
- Increasing daily electrolyte intake is usually a common practice during the taper, but you should try this during quality training sessions well before the race because it sometimes leads to slight bloating and water weight gain.
- A two- or three-day fiber taper can be extremely beneficial for some triathletes who are more susceptible to GI distress or have a sensitive gut. It is recommended to decrease fiber intake by 25 percent each day two or three days out from the race by focusing on more white starch products and juices.
- Maintaining hydration status is important, and over-drinking water is a common practice. If water is used as the primary fluid throughout the day, electrolyte replacement should be adopted at the same time in an effort to prevent hyponatremia (water intoxication). It is also recommended that you drink when thirsty and not try to hyperhydrate with water leading up to the race (this is a fine line, as thirst is also a sign of dehydration).
- Maintaining energy levels is crucial during the taper, so that the craving response is reduced. In an effort to stabilize blood glucose levels, you should combine a source of lean protein, healthy fat, a fruit or vegetable, and a starch during all feedings. You should avoid eating only a starch by itself because it will raise blood glucose levels quickly and could lead to overeating during the taper.
- Stabilising body weight is a primary goal leading up to a race, and as mentioned previously, this is typically difficult to control because of decreases in training volume. You should not overeat and try to overcompensate their caloric intake in an effort to load before competition. Most athletes who follow a balanced eating program consisting of moderate carbohydrate, moderate protein, and low to moderate fat should continue this type of eating during their taper. Frequency of eating may be a variable that you can consider changing, meaning they may not need to eat as many times throughout the day. Eating to train during a taper becomes a good mantra to follow, and since training is reduced, so should food intake.
Race-day nutrition is highly individual for you, and the race distance and start time will dictate much of what a you can consume the morning of a race. The following general recommendations pertain to early-morning races:
- A smaller breakfast made up of moderate carbohydrate, moderate to low protein, and low fat is recommended. A liquid snack or meal such as a smoothie may be beneficial for those who have very sensitive stomachs.
- You should hydrate but should pay attention to not overhydrating with water alone as this can increase the risk of hyponatremia. Consuming water elctrolyte or a sports drink with sodium is recommended.
- For athletes competing later in the day, a normal breakfast that has worked for the you during higher-intensity training can be eaten followed by an easily digestible snack 1 to 2 hours before the race. Liquid sources are typically preferred.
- After the race, it is common to forget about nutrition. The post-race nutrition plan is crucial for allowing an athlete to replenish glycogen and fluid stores. The basic guidelines on what to eat in the first 15 to 60 minutes after a race include higher carbohydrate, moderate protein, and minimal fat and fiber. You should plan ahead of time to ensure that foods or beverages are available after their race. After the initial feeding, you should try to eat well-balanced meals consisting of carbohydrate, protein, and fat (specifically omega-3 or monounsaturated) 2 hours after the first post-race feeding.
- If a fiber taper was implemented before a race, it is important to reintroduce fiber slowly into the normal daily nutrition plan by reversing the recommendations stated previously. That is, increase fiber gradually by 25 percent each day after the race to allow the body to get used to the normal amounts without causing GI distress.
Remember these are guidelines and you must practice prior to the event. One last passing thought. If you are going to use the nutrition provided by the event (Gu, SIS, Lucozade, Gatorade….) then you must practice with the product within your training. Not all products suit all people