It is well researched and documented that exercise performance can be affected by your choice of diet. In order to maintain optimal training and results, the body needs to be properly fueled leading up to a training session or competition and refueled after training sessions or competitions with appropriate nutrition. The pre-competition meal is no different and is a vital part of a complete training plan. Obviously, a single pre-competition meal will not compensate for a poor nutrition plan or training plan leading up to a competition. An active person should have a sound nutrition and training plan in place well before the day of their competition. A sound nutrition plan should ensure enough calories to cover an athlete’s energy needs throughout the day, provide adequate vitamins and minerals, as well as necessary proteins and fats. Meal plans for athletes in training should also be relatively high in carbohydrates to fuel an athlete’s body during training and help with their recovery.
For any athlete to perform at a high level during tough training sessions or during competitions, they need to have adequate stored energy to get them through the tough competition and meet the energy demands put on their body. The key is to have energy (glycogen) available to fuel their working muscles. Without properly loading glycogen stores, we’re not taking full advantage of our stored energy potential. Because of this the pre-competition or pre-training meal should have a focus on carbohydrate intake.
Carbohydrates (glycogen) in the liver and muscles can be metabolized to provide energy for the working muscles more quickly than fat, allowing an athlete to sustain a higher intensity level of exercise. Depletion of stored energy (glycogen) would result in a need to reduce exercise intensity or stop exercising altogether. That is why for an athlete to perform at their best, it is vital to properly load glycogen stores in the muscles, liver and bloodstream before a heavy training session or competition.
The pre-competition or training meal has three main goals, which can be summarized as 1) prevent weakness and fatigue during training or competition, 2) ward off feelings of hunger yet minimize gastrointestinal distress from eating, 3) guarantee optimal hydration. With that said, the body is able to store 400 to 500 calories of glycogen at a time. If an athlete takes the time to properly, fill their glycogen stores they will have a steady flow of energy to perform at a higher peak for a much longer time period. The key is to load an athlete’s glycogen store at the right time and with the right kind of carbohydrates.
A proper pre-competition meal or pre-training meal should consist of mostly carbohydrates and fluids, as they are easily digested and will help to load glycogen stores best. If the meal is within the 400 to 500 calorie range, it can be consumed 2 to 3 hours before the competition or training session to allow enough time for digestion and absorption.
With an athlete’s pre-competition meal or training meal, you want it to consist of easily digested but high complex carbohydrates with minimal fiber, simple sugars and saturated fats. High fiber foods won’t serve any real value right before a training session or competition and could increase the need for a bathroom break. Fats slows down digestion and have no positive influence on energy during competition or workout sessions. Too many simple sugars can spike your insulin levels, causing rapid removal of blood sugar and actually leaving you feeling more tired than before.
For those who are competing or training for 60 minutes to 90 minutes or more, they should include a light amount of protein with your pre-workout or competition meal. Protein helps with muscle repair and helps prevent cannibalization of muscles. Protein can also be converted for energy use, but is done at a slower rate than carbohydrates, which can provide an energy source later in your competition event or workout.
So, with this information, the question becomes, “What makes a good pre-competition or pre-training meal?” Next we’ll take a look at what could be some meal options depending if you’re competing in the morning, afternoon or evening.
The pre-competition meal is especially important if you are competing in the morning. As much as 12 hours may have passed since your last meal and liver glycogen levels could be running below optimal levels. Since early morning pre-competition meals may need to be limited in size, a carbohydrate-rich dinner the night before, would be optimal to help keep glycogen stores full.
The morning of competition, eat a light breakfast or snack. Some options are Old Fashion Quaker Oatmeal, whole-wheat toast, bagel, English muffin. Whatever you choose, make sure it comes from a good source of complex carbohydrates and is low in sugar and saturated fats. If it is hard to stomach food this early in the morning, another option can be a carbohydrate-rich drink, like Glyco-Muscle Fueler. Although nothing beats food, getting in a carbohydrate drink will help a lot and will top off your glycogen stores before starting your competition or training session. For protein sources, egg whites or a good protein shake work well in the morning.
You will want to eat a carbohydrate-rich meal, both the night before and for breakfast. Be sure to choose high starch food, such as skinless potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, beans, rice or pasta. Depending of your timetable, you will want to keep your meals lighter and/or easier to digest. The heavier and bigger your meal the more time you will need between eating your last meal and the time until your competition.
If you’re competing after 6:00pm, be sure to eat a high carbohydrate breakfast and lunch, followed by a lighter snack with more carbohydrates. Many of your options for lunch will serve for your dinner options. Keep in mind your 2 to 3 hour window between your pre-competition meal and actually competing.
With any event time, if stomaching an actual meal, is hard to do, a carbohydrate-rich drink can be used as well. One example is to have a lighter meal 2 to 3 hours before competition time, then consume two scoops of Glyco-Muscle Fueler about 45 to 30 minutes before your competition to top off glycogen stores. By the time you start, you should be all set and ready to go!
Don’t forget to stay well hydrated throughout the day as well!
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