Fueling before a competition can be a very confusing topic. There is so much information out there about how to properly fuel your body. Most athletes first thought is to “carb-load” before an event (ie. stuff themselves silly with bread, pasta and bagels). The way you fuel before a competition is going to be different based on the event type (race length, Ironman, etc). That being said, there is not a ‘cookie cutter’ plan on how to fuel for a competition and NOT all competitions are the same (just like not all bodies are the same). Read on as we discuss what your body needs and how to get the right amount of fuel.
“First we eat, then we do everything else.” -M.F.K. Fisher
Let’s start with the basics: what is your body’s most easily accessible form of energy? Glycogen. The primary focus for the days before your competition is eating to fill the liver and muscles with glycogen to ensure your body has enough energy for the upcoming event. What is glycogen and what does it do? Glycogen is the storage polysaccharide found in muscle and the liver. Glycogen is about 65% water. Your muscle glycogen acts as a MAJOR energy source for active muscles. Carbohydrate storage can deplete within 2 hours of moderate intensity training/exercise. It is important for athletes to consume carbohydrates to fill up their body glycogen stores to prevent glycogen depletion and support the central nervous system. That is where the term ‘carb-loading’ comes into play.
The tapering method has been found to be effective for most endurance athletes as a form of carbohydrate loading. What is that? What you aim to do is drastically reduce your training 2-3 days prior to a long distance event and consume MORE carbohydrate (with less fiber) than normal over the course of several meals leading up to your event. Basically: 2-3 days before your competition, train less and eat more (carbohydrates). There is a science to this (depending on what you are training for). The tapering method will help your body build up the storage of glycogen in your muscles and liver to help prevent fatigue during your competition.
Note: that if you normally follow a higher carbohydrate diet, you will be able to gain more glycogen in the muscles more effectively.
When you start tapering training and increasing carbohydrates, you might feel stiff, heavy, bloated, and full. To help prevent these symptoms, start your carb loading in the morning 48 hours before your event. Then, slightly reduce your carb intake throughout the day. This method seems to work much better than loading up on all your carbohydrates at night time before bed. *Insert high-school cross country pasta party here*
Try making breakfast (a day or two before your event) be the biggest carbohydrate meal of the day- that’s easy for me because I LOVE breakfast foods! Make sure you also have a little protein and fat as well.
For lunch, have a moderate size meal that is lower in fiber and fat. This will help prevent GI distress. The less fiber, the less work your gut has to do.
Dinner can be a light meal. Make dinner have the least amount of fiber and fat.
This is our tapering, get it? Not too hard to follow.
Another tip is to minimize gassy vegetables, beans, fatty meats, and nuts or seeds. This goes right along with what I mentioned earlier- having too many of these foods can cause some GI distress and you DO NOT want that right before a competition. I’m sure you all have experienced some sort of GI issue before or ON competition day.
In conclusion, pre-competition fueling all depends on what event you are training for. Someone running a 5K race will not have the same pre-competition needs as someone running a full marathon. As always, I recommend consulting with a registered dietitian (K&F Nutrition are very good I hear…). Just remember, the day before a competition may be a rest day but you still need to eat enough. Your muscles need to be properly fueled before an event so that you can make it through without fatigue. Fueling DURING a long endurance event is a whole other topic to be discussed at a later time but pre-competition fueling should be a major part of any athletes training plan.
Hope this helps!