When looking into how to optimise performance, there is no doubt that nutrition and exercise go hand in hand. Nutrition strategies however are often controversial, confusing and leave us unsure as to what we need to implement. If you can take one point from this article, remember this; keep it simple:
Weeks leading up to a race require a large percentage of focus placed on your basic day-to-day diet. Here I refer to your breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks that you may include in-between main meals. Making sure that you are eating a well-balanced, whole-food diet, will make it easy to fuel for training and recovery and allow for positive training adaption. Skipping meals or lack of dietary structure will leave you grabbing food on the go or skipping of meals. During this time, make sure that your dietary goals and performance expectations are in line with one another. An example of this is weight loss. Weight loss is a common focus of endurance runners and calorie restriction in essence is a reduction of your energy availability. Energy that is used by your muscles and immune system to recover from and adapt to training. Make sure that you are not inhibiting your training adaptations by not providing your body with the nutrients it needs. A few easy signs too look for that you may not be meeting your bodies energy requirements include and are not limited to; poor recovery or injury, getting sick more frequently, low moods and poor sleep.
With one week to go, you will more than likely be entering a taper week. Training is complete and you need to place your focus on refuelling your body. This week allows you to refuel depleted energy stores, get enough sleep and maintaining a good hydration status. A reduction in training load will also mean a reduction in your calorie expenditure. Make sure that you reduce your calorie intake accordingly, however, sticking to regular meal times remains important. Eating small frequent meals, cutting out refined foods, will allow your body in naturally assisting with cues of hunger and satiety. Listen to your body.
One day to go before the big event. Collecting race entries and attending race expos can be timely. Make sure you maintain a good hydration status by keeping a bottle of water or electrolyte solution on hand at all times and make sure that you are sipping regularly. This is not the time to try something new. Eating a large heavy meal the day or night before will result in you waking up the next morning feeling heavy, full and bloated. Avoid foods that are too high in fibre, fat and protein as these foods are slow to digest. Eat what you know to avoid any risk of stomach discomfort and make sure you do not eat too late, as this will affect sleep quality.
Race day routine is key. Make sure to give yourself enough time in the morning to prepare your prerace meal, allow adequate time to go to the loo, and to make sure that you have all your fuelling items according to your nutrition protocol.. It is important to consider how far in advance to the gun going off, you are eating your meal and adjust accordingly. Like the meal the night before, avoid foods that are too rich in protein, fibre and fat and again, I cannot emphasise this enough, eat familiar foods that you have trained your gut to tolerate.
The combination of nutrition and exercise to optimise training adaptations and competition performance needs to be personal, practical and well tested. The basis of good nutrition starts alongside the beginning of a new training plan. Do not leave your nutrition protocol too late.
Jenna is a registered dietitian with a private practice in Bryanston, Johannesburg. She is highly qualified with BSc degrees in Dietetics, Sports Science and Psychology. Jenna is also a keen sportswoman and has competed at the 70.3 World Iron Man Championships. Read more about Jenna here