Nutritions Do’s For Competition Day
‘A good diet won’t make average athletes elite, but a poor diet will make elite athletes average’ – prof. Ron Maughan
Diet can significantly influence competitive performances: what you eat and drink, how much you consume and when it is consumed can all have positive or negative effects on the result you wish to achieve.
Whilst consulting with athletes, a common recurring theme is that they are unsure of how to implement nutrition to improve their performance on the day of competition.
Therefore, all the hard work in training to improve your performance on the day of competition can be undone through improper nutrition leading up to the event; under fuelling, dehydration, poor mental focus and reaction time can lead to underperforming. Sound familiar?
Here are the 5 most common nutrition strategies that athletes seem to consistently get wrong…
Competition nutrition should have an emphasis on ‘topping up’ glycogen stores and staying well hydrated. Therefore portion control on the day of competition is very important. It’s often observed with athletes that fuelling becomes a priority in the hours leading up to the event. However, it is advisable that all the hard work done with regards to nutrition is done the day prior. Attempting to eat larger portions before an event to improve fuelling may cause gastrointestinal distress and cause lethargy. As this can directly influence exercise performance, larger portion sizes should be eaten the day prior where feeling lethargic isn’t too much of an issue as exercise performance isn’t a high priority for that day.
In events lasting longer than 90 minutes, increasing carbohydrates the day before competition is advisable. The amount is dependent on your current carbohydrate status. This is known as ‘carbohydrate loading’. Carbohydrate loading is a strategy used to maximise muscle glycogen stores where athletes significantly increase the carbohydrate content of their diet for 24-36 hours prior to the event in order to sustain exercise capacity and athletic performance. However, it has recently been reported that a carbohydrate load may be unnecessary in some sporting events. For example, elite rugby league players use ~40% of their muscle glycogen content during an 80 minute game. Therefore a ‘large(er)’ carbohydrate load may not further improve exercise performance. Therefore the magnitude of the carbohydrate load is sport specific, account for personal preference and should take into account if the athlete has specific body composition goals.
Competition day food choices are paramount, not only for performance, but to prevent gastrointestinal (GI) distress. GI distress, commonly known as ‘gut issues’ are common in 30-50% of athletes and can impair sporting performance. To ensure that the occurrence of gut issues decrease, with the aim of them being nonexistent – aim to; decrease fibrous food (pre competition day and competition day only), avoid aspirin and NSAIDs, avoid high volumes of fructose, avoid dehydration, and only consume foods that are familiar and well tolerated.
On the day of competition – The largest meal should be consumed furthest away from the event. Aim to taper food quantity in each meal leading to the start. For example, if you were to compete or play at 3pm; breakfast will be the largest meal with a greater emphasis on carbohydrates, where the following meals will be reduced in size (and carbohydrates) leading up the event. The last meal is generally consumed 3-4 hours pre competing for adequate digestion and absorption. The goal of competing is to have a near to empty stomach, with an emphasis of feeling ‘light and tight’ as opposed to ‘full, slow and lethargic’. The pre event nutrition plan does require practice/trial and error in order to refine your individual approach. However, if done correctly, will facilitate your performance. Furthermore, food availability is essential – preparing the day prior is encouraged as implementing your desired strategy will not be an issue. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. I.e. ‘Do’ number three and five.
Trial new strategies in training first to prevent an unwelcomed adverse reaction. Different nutrition interventions can elicit both positive and negative effects. This can be related to the dose of a supplement consumed or a specific food that may give you unwanted gastrointestinal problems. Therefore it is recommended that you trial strategies in training first if looking to use for competition purposes. In other words, it doesn’t matter as much if you have one bad training session, but one bad performance may be detrimental to your sporting career.
As to other strategies, there are many – however these are the main errors observed amongst athletes. Hopefully this article has shed some light on the matter, and has provided a platform of which to build your own personalised competition day nutrition strategy.
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