Ever heard the phrase “you are what you eat”? Well to a degree that’s true. In any sort of competition or sport you want the edge on everyone else. There is always another angle to beat somebody, and nutrition and diet is a huge player.
What is the best type of food and how much should you eat before during and after training as well as competitions?
Before we talk about what and how much to eat, you need to understand what you are eating and why it’s the right fuel. All food can be categorised as protein, carbohydrates and fat. These are the essential building blocks of food and fuel for your body and understanding what each one does will help build your own programme that’s best suited for you.
The main functions of protein are to repair and build muscle. They do provide four calories per gram of energy but it is takes longer to obtain the energy. They are largely needed for making new cells of every variety including blood, skin and muscle cells.
The main job of carbohydrates is to provide energy. They provide four calories per gram of energy as well but at a much faster pace. Carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars which provide glucose to the body and glycogen to be stored for later use.
Fats provide nine calories of energy per gram, more than double the other two macronutrients. However, it takes longer than carbohydrates to be used and so it becomes the secondary source of energy as it takes too long to provide the necessary energy. They are necessary for blood clotting, maintenance of body temperature and fusing with certain vitamins (A, E, D and K) to be absorbed.
What should you eat?
Now we know what each macronutrient does… and the question is when to eat and at what point?
Not eating too much right before training is a given as consuming too much just before exercise will give you a stitch and you won’t be able to exercise. That’s why you should aim to eat eat a big meal two – three hours before a hard session or competition.
You should always have a meal that is comprised of all three components (fats, carbohydrates and protein) but the meal should include more carbohydrates or fats, depending on the event that will take place.
If this is an endurance based event, then you want to have a fair bit of fat in the meal as fat stores will provide the body with more energy per gram than any other source. Fat is used as the source of energy when the heart rate is below 65% for long endurance events.
Shorter events requiring explosive speed and energy to be delivered immediately will require meals with higher carbohydrate levels. This is to ensure you have the appropriate levels of glycogen, the primary source of energy for explosive movements. Having carbohydrates in your system will ensure you get the energy replenished quickly over and over until your storage runs out. As long as that isn’t over two hours than the glycogen storages will hold.
Before, during and after training/competition
Leading up to the actual event eating 30 minutes before is a good idea but at this time it should only be a carbohydrate snack. Sugary pastries, fruit or a jam sandwich are all good examples of small snacks that will give you quick energy. This will provide the energy for the start of any activity and once accustomed to the activity, the body will naturally draw from the predominant source of energy.
During events, small carbohydrate snacks are a good idea. Even in distance running, fat storage rarely runs out but having glucose in your system will make it easier to push harder when necessary.
Post training/event, restoring your energy levels will help recovery. Having energy will help recover muscular damage and replenish energy storages. Again, carbohydrates are better because they can deliver energy much quicker but it is also important to include a light protein snack to target any muscular micro tears that happen during any event/training session. The faster you eat the easier recovery happens.
When you get home a meal to replenish your body after the hard day is what everyone looks forward to. Having a high percentage of protein and fats is what you should focus on now. Energy will return to normal after eating and sleeping so focusing on muscle repair and maintenance of body temperature, and returning vitamins and minerals to their regular level is what should be focused on.
Now you know what to eat and when. However, having a balanced diet should always be your focus, but having more of one of the different types of nutrients will benefit you at certain times.
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