Eating and Competing          

What you eat on a day-to-day basis is extremely important for training. Your diet will affect how fast and how well you progress, and how soon you reach competitive standard. However, once you are ready to compete, you will have a new concern: your competition diet. Is it important? What should you eat before your competition? When is the best time to eat? How much should you eat? Should you be eating during the event? In addition, what can you eat between heats or matches? A lot of research has been done in this area, and it is clear that certain dietary approaches can enhance competition performance. This page gives guidelines about eating and competing that will help you to perform at your best during competition.

What should you eat in the week before a competition?

During the week before a competition, you should fill up your glycogen stores so that you begin your competition with a full fuel supply. This is especially important if you are competing in an endurance sport or competing in a number of heats over a short period. The way to increase your glycogen stores is to taper training during the final week before a competition, and to increase carbohydrate intake. Eat plenty of complex carbohydrate foods, especially those with a low glycaemic index to help boost your glycogen stores. For the last three to four days try to eat a small meal or snack every two or three hours. Plan each meal around high- carbohydrate foods, for example baked potatoes, bread or pasta. Your total energy intake should remain about the same as usual. Eat smaller portions of high-protein foods such as meat, fish and eggs. Keep fat intake to a minimum and eat larger amounts of carbohydrate-rich foods (i.e. potatoes, pasta, cereals, etc.). During these last few days, you should be getting 60 to 70% of your energy from carbohydrates.

What should you eat before competition?

By the morning of your competition, the previous day's eating will already have filled your glycogen stores. Your pre-competition meal should be high in carbohydrate, low in fat, low in protein, low in fiber (i.e. not too bulky and filling), enjoyable and familiar. Eat complex carbohydrates as these release energy slowly. Avoid simple carbohydrates as these release energy quickly but trigger the release of insulin that can soon make you feel tired. Suitable types of food include breakfast cereals, porridge, bread, rolls, toast, fruit juice, fruit, rice cakes, plain crackers, boiled rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, boiled pasta, dried fruit, oatmeal biscuits, plain wholemeal biscuits, muffins and carbohydrate drinks.

Must you eat a pre-competition meal?

Many competitors feel nervous on the day of the competition and do not want to eat. However, it is not a good idea to avoid having a pre-competition meal. Your liver glycogen stores will be low and could adversely affect your performance in the last stages if you are competing in an endurance event (or in one, that lasts over 1.5 hours). The liver can only store enough glycogen to last 12 hours, so if you eat nothing after the previous day's evening meal your liver glycogen stores will be considerably depleted. If you really do not feel like eating, try to have a liquid meal such as a carbohydrate drink, some fruit juice or commercial sports drink.

Should you eat just before the competition?

Studies have shown that eating a small amount (about 50gms) of fast-absorbing carbohydrate just before exercise helps to delay fatigue and improve endurance. Carbohydrates with a high glycaemic index are absorbed relatively quickly into the bloodstream and cause a rapid rise in blood-sugar levels. If you start exercising within about five minutes, an increase in insulin will be prevented and your blood-sugar levels will remain slightly raised for longer. Some people are more sensitive to blood-sugar fluctuations than others are, so you may find that this last-minute snack does not suit you at all.

Should you eat or drink during a competition?

If you are competing for more than an hour, you may find that taking extra carbohydrate during the event helps to delay fatigue and maintain exercise intensity, particularly during the later stages. If you take small amounts of carbohydrate at regular intervals during the competition, blood- sugar levels will be boosted and glycogen stores will not be depleted so rapidly. If you are competing in a tournament or match which involves intermittent, high- and low-intensity activities, and which lasts for over an hour, try to have some form of carbohydrate during the breaks.

Make sure you are well hydrated before the competition having your last drink about 15 to 20 minutes before the start. Drink at regular intervals (150 to 300ml), ideally every 15 minutes or whenever you have a break during competition. Do not wait until you feel thirsty, you will already be dehydrated. Water is fine or you may prefer to use a commercial carbohydrate drink as this will also refuel your glycogen stores.

What should you eat after competition?

Following training & competition, an athlete's glycogen stores are depleted. In order to replenish them the athlete needs to consider the speed at which carbohydrate is converted into blood glucose and transported to the muscles. The rapid replenishment of glycogen stores is important for the track athlete who has a number of races in a meeting. The rise in blood glucose levels is indicated by foods Glycaemic Index (GI) and the faster and higher the blood glucose rises the higher the GI.

Studies have shown that consuming high GI carbohydrates, approximately 2g/kg of body weight, and 40g of protein within 2 hours after exercise speeds up the replenishment of glycogen stores and therefore speeds up recovery time. It appears that the muscles are more receptive to and retaining carbohydrate during the two hours after exercise.

Source: www.brianmac.co.uk

 

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