What to eat before training or facing a sport challenge?
What you eat just before training or facing a sport challenge has a direct impact on the outcome you want to get. Do you know at what extent it can be determinant and what does sports nutrition say about it? We will tell you!
What does an athlete have to eat before training or facing a sport challenge? Is there an ideal menu? Is it the same for all athletes? Robert Bausells, sports nutritionist at Club de Futbol Reus Deportiu, Club d’Hoquei Reus Deportiu and, beyond our borders, at FC Beijing Institute of Technology and Kazakhstan’s FC Kairat, answers all these questions.
Which nutrient is the most important before a competition or a sport challenge?
Before training or a sport competition we need a fair amount of carbohydrates intake, which are the fuel for the muscles. It is also important to bear in mind that an athlete that runs 4h marathons doesn’t need the same load of carbs that a football player or tennis player need.
How to carbohydrate load (carb loading)?
Long distance runners and cyclists normally carb-load between 2 and 3 days before the competition. For example, if the competition is on a Saturday, on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday it is recommended to carb-load as shown:
- On Wednesday: 6 grams of carbs per kg of athlete’s body weight.
- On Thursday: 7 grams of carbs per kg of athlete’s body weight.
- On Friday: 8 grams of carbs per kg of athlete’s body weight.
These amounts are general and can vary depending on each athlete’s specific goals. Nevertheless, the main goal is to arrive to the competition with the muscle and liver glycogen tanks full, as they are the fuel for the muscles.
Is this formula applicable to all sports?
No. Football, basketball or hockey players, don’t need a 3-day-load. They only need to ingest carbohydrates the night before the game, at breakfast and at lunch. There are different nutritional protocols and it all depends on one’s goals.
In Addition, before the carb-load it is advised to do a depletion. In other words, days before the load, the intake of carbs must be few and exercise must be performed normally. On the carb-load days, on the contrary, the exercise intensity must be reduced, and more carbs must be eaten. By doing so glycogen tanks are emptied and ready to be filled.
Lots of athletes take supplements before and after the competition. Is it an effective strategy?
Yes. These types of supplements are taken before and after sports activities. The most common ones include caffeine, because it boosts concentration, and carbs, because they give energy.
A natural option is the beetroot juice: it has ergogenic effects, increases levels of nitric oxide – which is a vasodilator – thus, improves blood and oxygen flow in the muscles delaying fatigue.
At supermarkets, there are gel supplements and supplements to mix with water that already have carbs, vitamins, caffeine, nitric oxide precursors, etc. These options make the intake easier.
Let’s talk about caffeine...
Caffeine has a dose of between 1 and 6mg per Kg of body weight. Not all athletes tolerate it and needs to be regulated.
There are two types of caffeine. One is caffeine anhydrous which is a highly concentrated powder. And caffeine from guarana, ginseng, etc. In addition, caffeine can have different degrees of absorption (slower, faster…) Each athlete must find out what type works best.
How it would be an ideal meal before a game?
Imagine that we are talking about a football player that has a game at 7 p.m. A good proposal would be:
Pasta or rice with low-fat sauce. Cooking time must be taken into consideration as the shorter is the cooking time, the slower is the digestion. The more cooked, the faster is the digestion.
Main course: Protein
Grilled white meat.
Dessert: Fruit or fruit in sugar syrup.
- Two hours before the game fruit (apple, banana grape), cereals or bread should be eaten as a snack. Dairies should be avoided before a competition.
- After the game carbs should be taken to recover.
And a cyclist on the race morning?
The night before the race:
- Starter: Rice or pasta with low-fat sauce.
- Main course: white meat, white fish, salmon or tuna.
- Dessert: yogurt or fruit.
If it a day race, breakfast time must be considered. For example, if the race is at 10 a.m. cyclist should eat at 7 a.m.
Hoy important is meal timing?
Timing is very important, because if you must run for 6 hours and you don’t fuel the energy that you are burning, you don’t finish, or you finish in bad conditions. In an hour or two, if you haven’t refilled, you don’t have glycose.
During the first hour, if you have load it properly, it is not necessary to intake carbs. On the second hour, 30 g of carbs every hour should be fuelled. These quantities are indicative, each nutritionist can advise more quantity or less according to the specific characteristics of each athlete.
Isotonic drinks, energetic bars, gels, little sandwiches or the classic quince jelly are some of the ways to load energy while the challenge or the race is still on.
Thanks for the tips Robert!