There are six things we are trying to achieve with of proper pre-exercise nutrition:
- Restore muscle glycogen (especially important for morning training). A lot of athletes ignore food first thing in the morning. Don’t be like most! Going into training fasted or under-fueled will catch your up later with what cyclists call “bonking” or runners call “hitting the wall”. You simply run off the gas (glycogen) and your body refuse to deal with you any longer. You are forced to stop, you lost!
- Satisfy hunger. Realizing that you’re hungry in the last hour before exercise or race is too late. Eating so close to start will only harm you.
- Boost motivation
- Delay fatigue
- Optimize performance. This is a biggie! This is why you continue reading this chapter. Other than simply restocking your glycogen stores and fluid levels, proper pre-training nutrition has direct correlation with your performance.
- Improve post-exercise recovery. If you start with your fuel tank on empty, even if you eat and hydrate during training, your recovery will be compromised. The better fueled and hydrated you are going into the training, the faster you will recover from it afterwards.
Salads are bad for you! This is the only time you hear me say it – right before training or racing. We are not talking here about eating for health and longevity, we are fueling up our carb tanks for performance. Understanding that, we stay away from fiber, high fat and protein foods. Those foods are slow to digest, may cause bloating and diarrhea during high intensity trainings.
Here is your general guidelines to follow, when deciding on how you are going to fill up your body for upcoming training:
- Eat mostly carbohydrates. The more time you have before exercise, the lower GI of your food choices should be.
- Stay away from fiber.
- Include protein, especially BCAAs. The 2018 Research sponsored by Western University in Canada have shown that taking in BCAAs before aerobic exercise improves endurance and stimulates protein synthesis.
- Hydrate. Drink to satisfy thirst.
- No foods or snacks in one hour prior to event or training. Is to prevent hypoglycemia (rapid insulin spike, followed by drop in blood sugar level).
The following are examples foods to eat prior the event:
- Fruits with Eggs. Fruits (Low in fiber: bananas, peaches, cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon) + Eggs (Easy to digest and is a great source of BCAAs)
- Applesauce (Unsweetened) + Protein Powder. Applesauce is easy to digest and is low in fiber. Add egg or whey protein powder to slow the glycemic reaction and to add BCAAs
- Baby Food (easily digested by anyone) + Animal Protein (Turkey, Chicken or Fish)
- Liquid Meals. Stress reduces our abilities to digest food and I’ve had a nervous stomach prior to events before. Blending foods makes it easier to digest
- Sports Bars with Protein. My least favorite option. Whenever possible, stay away from engineered foods
- Fluids, especially WATER. In addition, a strong brewed coffee has been shown to improve endurance performance. Downsides of caffeine: upset stomach and nervousness
- High-fiber meals
- Broccoli, apples, cabbage, cauliflower, onions, asparagus
- Sweeteners, sugar alcohols, artificial flavors
- Beans and lentils
- Carbonated drinks
- Spicy foods
- Potatoes (sweet potatoes, yams)
- Dried fruits
Of course, eating moderate-high GI foods will cause the insulin spike and shut down fat oxidation and your body will shift to burning carbs for fuel. This is concerning for many athletes that try to loose weight and train in fasted state to improve fax oxidation.
You got to pick one or another:
- You burn fat and loose wight
- You train and race at you peak performance, stimulating fitness gains.
Those two are not compatible. If you chose the option #2, continue reading as I’ll get more in depth on how to fuel up for performance. If your goal is to loose fat, you chubby panda, I suggest you read on some of my posts here.
HOW MUCH & WHEN?
To boost your performance, carbohydrate-rich easy-to-digest foods should be consumed no less than 1-2 hours before the exercise or race.
Everybody is different and the amount is determined by body size and gender. You should listen to your body, however here is some general guidelines:
- 3-4 hours before – Large meal (500-800 calories)
- 1-3 hours before – Medium-size meal (250-500 calories)
- 30 min – 1.5 hour before – Small meal, snack (100-500 calories)
- 10 minutes before start – Sports drink or Gel (100-200 calories), followed by 180-240 ml of water.
Race Week Diet
Typically a week before competition, athletes go into a “tapering” stage, where training volume and intensity is reduced to ensure the athlete is well rested before the event. Since they don’t train as much, it makes some athletes confused with their food choices. Let’t keep it simple: this is not the time to make changes in your day-to-day diet. You should continue to eat the same diet as while you was training, but with slightly reduces amount of calories consumed.
Skip the pasta party! The day before the race slightly add more carbohydrates to ensure your glycogen tanks are full. It’s a great time to treat yourself to some: bananas, peaches, watermelon, dried fruits, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams. To keep your blood sugar levels in check from such high GI foods, add protein and fat with each meal. In addition, reduce the fiber and eat at your usual times.
A tip: The order in which you eat carbs and proteins matter. Simply by switch the order you eat your food you can control you glucose and insulin levels. Eat protein and vegetables first and carbohydrates at the end. Never eat carbohydrates alone. Read more on Food Order.
Lemon, Peter. “Effect of Branched-Chain Amino Acid Supplementation on Muscle Damage – Full Text View.” Search of: Spain – List Results – ClinicalTrials.gov, Western University, Canada, 2018, clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03766815.