Fueling for Competition: The Do’s and Don’ts of Pre-Competition Nutrition
A few of our athletes have been asking me about what foods to eat prior to and during a local CrossFit competition we have coming up, so I thought it’d be a great time to get all my thoughts into one easily accessible space for you guys. Let’s call this food for thought… pun intended 😉
In a college town with a majority population of members under the age of 22, many our athletes tend to think that their strenuous activity level negates the importance of the quantity AND quality of the foods they eat. Let’s be honest, we’ve all been guilty of… “I workout so I can eat (enter vice food here).” While this may be true(ish) when you’re just trying to look good in your LuLus and new crop top, the opposite is true when it comes to fueling for optimal performance. The last thing we want to do is spend months of hard work and sweat angels preparing for competition only to ruin ourselves on competition day by not feeding our bodies what they need to perform.
Nutrition, in general -and especially in competition- is highly individualized and there is no perfect equation that covers the needs of every athlete. However, when it comes to functional fitness competitions, weightlifting or a 3-10 mile obstacle race, we are faced with multiple workouts or bouts of physical exertion over the course of a day rather than a single game or physical requirement. The following dos and don’ts are suggestions or guidelines to help you figure out how to tweak your pre-competition and competition day nutrition to effectively prepare your body for the demands we throw at it during one of these competitions.
THE FEW DAYS AND NIGHTS LEADING UP TO COMPETITION
About 7 days out from competition…
This is a good time to start eating foods that are more easily digestible. No major changes are necessary and this is NOT the time to start to try a new fad or “eat clean” when you’re body isn’t used to it. Keep the amounts of fats, carbs and protein relatively similar to what you have been eating.
2-3 days out from competition…
It is the time to start adjusting your macros a little. Proper hydration and fueling 48-72 hours out from competition allows for that high level of performance to be maintained. This is a good time to slowly stock the carbohydrate stores to make sure we don’t enter into glycogen depletion on comp day. Glycogen is a form of sugar that is stored in the muscle and liver and it is our main source of energy during high intensity exercise like CrossFit. The ability to produce speed and power over a period of time is dependent on how much glycogen is available to the muscles. Without adequate glycogen stores, our bodies are unable to keep up with the demands of multiple workouts in a day.
Meals two nights leading up to competition should be higher in good carbs and lower in fat. A ratio of 1/3 to 2/3 protein to carbs is adequate to ensure glycogen storage can occur. Re-direct the calories lost from lower protein and fats into good sources of carbohydrates. Sweet potatoes, rice, oatmeal and even baby food are examples of easily digestible carbs because they are already broken down and won’t use much energy during metabolism.
Water is the other critical factor in the glycogen storage process. The body needs water to be able to store glycogen in the muscles and liver. The few days before competition, you need to be drinking lots of fluids and limiting things like coffee, alcohol and tea that might dehydrate you. For us Mississippians this rule may be the most important. In addition to taking on other athletes, we get to battle this exhausting Mississippi heat and humidity that only plays against our hydration levels.
Athletes should eat about 1.5-2 hours prior to competition. This meal should be high in easily digestible carbohydrates and a decent amount of water should be consumed. Food items during this meal might be boiled egg, plain chicken breast, sweet potato, baby food or protein powder or bar. Again, stick to eating foods your used to eating prior to training.
I suggest eating a small recovery meal between workouts but you need to do what typically works for you. Some people train better or worse on a full or empty stomach. You don’t want a lot of fat in this meal because you don’t want to slow absorption. Protein Bars, Larabars, protein shakes, chicken breast or egg whites are all good options.
You should also be hydrating well, and often, between workouts. It may be a good idea to throw some BCAA (branch chain amino acids) or electrolyte supplementation into your water to replace vital micronutrients that may be lost during exercise. Typically, I stay away from super sugary drinks like powerade or gatorade because they tend to make me bloat but there are tons of options of water with electrolytes or low/no-sugar additives you can add to your water.
I hope some of these tips can help in your own competition and preparation. Remember to keep it simple and don’t get yourself too worked up over food the day of. Make a plan the week prior to the competition so you know what to go to. Always listen to your body and pay attention to how you feel to make adjustments as needed. Remember that every athlete is different and what works for one may not work for another. You need to figure out what works best for you. Hopefully these guidelines get you started off in the right direction.