Updated: Oct 7, 2019
Whether it is winning gold, setting a personal best, making that comeback from injury or never having to start another race for as long as you should live; we will all benefit from making sure that we make the best preparation for race day.
There are many forms of pre-race preparation that you may consider. In my opinion strength and functional conditioning and a graded exercise program with appropriate periods of recovery are primary. In this blog post, we'll look to maximise your performance leading up to race day with regards to nutrition.
A balanced and well-designed diet of the three main macronutrients will have a big impact on training. Ensuring you have a good diet will ultimately mean that you are able to maintain progressive levels of training whilst limiting illness or injury. Because we are focusing on building up to race day and the day itself, we'll look at the important food groups intake and supplement, personal nutrition goals and calorie intake.
Carbohydrates for Prolonging Performance
Cereals and grain: look for your low sugar cereals when shopping – harder than you might think. Wholemeal grain retains the nutrition-rich and non-germ filtered out including fibres, proteins, vitamins and minerals like white grains.
Pasta: As above. Anything ‘carby’ and white is refined. This means it has cause spikes in your blood sugars instead of helping with prolonged and sustained performance.
Whole fruits & veg: Bananas are the fruit of champions. Dried fruits pack power.
Legumes: Extra important to consume if you are a vegetarian and these also have high levels of protein.
Nuts: a great source of natural and healthy carbohydrate, fats and proteins. Be aware a high intake may push your fat intake up too high and steer clear of the sugary coatings.
Yogurt: You know what, it is nice to finish a meal with some sort of desert that won’t leave us with guilt. 0% Greek yogurts pack goodness in protein and carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are one of the vital macronutrients that we need and they help to supply our muscles and brain with the fuel that is required to train and compete. Without it we burn protein and fat in an unregulated fashion. There is nothing more frustrating than when your training is interrupted by illness (okay, maybe other than being interrupted due to injury).
Our body’s immune system is especially vulnerable when we are going through heavy periods of training and even more so for several hours after that big session. Immediate carbohydrate intake after training can help counter this. After even a 10km run it can be hard to think about food for a good hour or so. This is where I believe supplements really have their place. Depending on your calorie goals you may adjust to meet your carb needs with a balanced diet however, if not, a simple carbohydrate and protein shake will go down wonders.
You may have come across some blogs or articles which recommend a low and controlled intake of carbohydrates as these can be stored as fats (in the form of glycogen). Some may be thinking that this will do nothing for weight loss, and you're right, but I am not writing a weight loss blog. We are focusing on performance. It has been debated whether low carbohydrate diets help with the burning of fats. However, there is no strong evidence for this and you may actually be at increased risk of ‘burning’ proteins instead, which is a no-no.
Meat: Steak, pork chops, turkey breast, fish. Treating yourself to your favourite cut of meat after achieving milestones will inspire you to push through those final miles.
Greek yogurt: has an absolutely insane amount of protein crammed into it.
Cottage cheese: a favourite of mine and one to help keep your salads protein-rich.
Eggs: scrambled egg added to your brown rice ensures flavour, proteins and nutrients.
Whey protein (supplement): Use this alongside a balance daily diet and when performing strength and conditioning programs.
Others: Lentils, tofu, nuts, soya beans, wheat germ – importantly find a recipe you enjoy; experiment and have fun in doing it, you don’t want eating to be a chore.
Proteins have the building blocking of tissue repair and recovery in the forms of amino acids. A varied diet in protein rich food is important throughout your training schedule. As you exercise you cause tiny micro tears in your muscles, and it doesn’t take rocket science to tell us the harder you train the more tears you are likely to cause. With studies suggesting that your body can only absorb a maximum of 25-35 grams of protein per meal it is important to plan these meals around your training schedule and supplements when required. Whey protein has all nine essential amino acids that define proteins. This will improve muscles protein synthesis and help you to grow strong but lean muscle mass. Great for your long distance physique.
Proteins also have an important role to play in helping your body in its fat burning metabolism whilst ensuring good muscle mass and strength. They help to regulate the body’s release of energy (broken down carbohydrates) and it has been shown in studies that a high protein diet will mean your body burns more calories, quicker, than ingesting fats or carbohydrates. Result!
Vegetarians are at increased risk of not consuming the right protein rich foods but the examples above of high protein foods can give ideas to great recipes to ensure you are getting the nutrition that you so need.
Saturated fats (bad): Burger, pizzas, cheese, full fat milk, butter, red meats, fizzy drinks.
Unsaturated fats (good): Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats help to lower your bad cholesterol and can increase you good cholesterol. Both of which may help reduce cardiovascular risk. Find these in abundance in nuts, seeds and vegetable oils
I direct most of my clients to this website for continued education: http://www.floraproactiv.co.uk/article/detail/1071435/healthy-food-swaps
Fat is such a dirty word. Yet fats are one of the three vital macronutrients and an important part of training and race day. Having too much fat means that your body, its organs and muscles and joints have to work extra hard to perform. Too little and your body won’t have a backup supply of energy to call upon when in it hour of need. If you are carrying excess body fat you probably know it; and I am not here to preach. You are doing the right things right now and that is what matters; developing motivation for health and fitness through exercise is the hard part.
However, if you are looking to shed fat and weight whilst training then be cautious. For each athlete my advice will be different and too complex to discuss within a post. As a general rule maintain a balanced diet of slightly lower fats replaced by higher proteins and wholegrain carbohydrates until after the race.
Don’t just cut back your food and calorie intake whilst training to lose weight as your body requires calories to perform which will reduce risk of injuries. From experience, I have seen athletes try to cut their body fat down with training leading up to race day. This is a shock to the bodies systems and has only ever resulted in flagging very early on race day. Increased feelings of fatigue and become ill may happen due to the body’s breakdown of proteins and exhaustion of the immune system. Instead we should think about the build-up of glycogen stores via carbohydrate-loading (see below).
How much of each should I consume?
There is no consensus on this. Lots of experts believe you should stick to a 60:20:20 ratio (carbs:proteins:fats) whilst some will say it is more equal (40:30:30). I advise my clients based on person goals, body type, previous endurance exercises and body fat percentage. For every gram of carbohydrates you will receive FOUR calories of energy. With fats you will have NINE calories per gram and proteins you will have FOUR calories per gram. If proteins are the building blocks of repair and recovery and help to burn fats more efficiently and carbohydrates are vital for performance then these trump high fat intake for a high level athlete. I recommend between 50 and 60% intake of carbohydrates, between 30 and 40% of protein in-take and only 10% of fat.
How do I work this out?
There are many useful apps out there that are great at recording levels of activity with fitness goals. I personally recommend myfitnesspal. It is very easy to use and there are some great food and nutrition blogs on there. It will use you height, weight, age, general daily activities levels (occupation) and then record or exercise per day and it will give you your calorie intake. Even more handy you can calculate carb, fat and protein levels in your food by simply scanning the bar codes of the food you have eaten.
I am not the world’s biggest fan of calorie counting on a daily basis as I believe it can have a negative impact in looking aesthetically ‘fit’, rather than having physical fitness. That being said it is an easy and effective way to start to learn more about what we put in our bodies and is often someone’s first step into being more mindful of what to eat. It will also be important in knowing how to replenish and prepare your bodies energy supplies effectively.
This should be started at the beginning of your training rather than experimenting with adaptation so close to race day. If you are going to calorie count then make sure you are getting these calories through the important food groups for training: carbohydrates and proteins, your energy foods and the ingredients to repairs and recover.
If you are a female athlete you are at higher risk in developing stress fractures and other overuse injuries for multiple reasons. Extra consideration to this should be taken when increasingly you impact training work-load. Supplements or foods high in calcium and iron and important to reduce risk of bone stress reactions along-side the appropriate intake of proteins.
For Muslims athletes observing the holy month of Ramadan there are very specific rules to stick to. Avoiding food and fluid intake during daylight hours can have an impact on the time of training sessions (other than for the chronically ill where this would detriment their health). The choice of when to train will be dependent on the occupational and preferences of each athlete. However, with good preparation then training can continue. In the weeks leading up to Ramadan I recommend slowly syncing you training sessions, body clock and eating habits so it does not come as a big shock to the body. Just like when carbo-loading for races (see below) it is important to ensure your muscles and liver have increased amounts of glycogen to help with the longer training sessions. In the weeks prior to Ramadan slowly decrease your fat intake, increase your carbohydrate intake and progress your runner distance as normal. The body will respond and your training sessions will become more productive as you perform better.
There are risks. As you cannot have a recovery meal or hydrate yourself afterwards it would be advisable to ensure you are well hydrated, avoid caffeine and plan your training days on cooler days to ensure you do not lose excessive water volume when sweating. Additional risks of not eating post exercise or calorie deficient diets for your requirement is risk of illness. Probiotics may be a good dietary choice in improving immunity. There is some studies that suggest that probiotics can reduce the risk of upper respiratory illness and diarrhoea when travelling to foreign countries. Again, even more important to consider for all if you are planning a competition away.
Hydration: Water is life
Without water your physical performance and cognitive function will significantly decline quicker than you may know it. If your physical performance falters either in training or on race then you may be more likely to pick up an injury due to deterioration in muscle strength and control. But how much to drink? How not avoid a stitch or bloating or that feeling like you have half of the ocean jumping around in your stomach? Regular drinking of water and gaining objective measures of dehydration is important. Read on.
Predict your climate. If you are going to be running in a sub-topical or hot environment but you are training in cooler weather then I suggest wearing an extra layer of clothing to mimic the body’s production of sweat and your need for regular in-take of water and salts. Relying on your bodies thirst alone may not be a good indicator if untested in different climates. From experience this has sometimes been where athletes find they suffer from exhaustion and dehydration as they find it difficult to regulate the body’s homeostasis.
It can be a tricky task to measure hydration but there are some methods despite not being perfect.
During training for longer distances especially it would be useful to weigh yourself on an electronic set of scales before and after. Best do this naked too as your clothing can carry a surprising weight in sweat at the end of a race and mislead you. With regular opportunity to drink water in training and on race day you should be aiming to loose no-more than 1-2 kg of body weight, ideally none.
A very good indicator to how dehydrated we are is the colour of our urine. The dark the colour then more dehydrated we appear to be (excluding the effects of some medications, vitamin drinks or beetroot). However, it can be a little misleading looking into the toilet after we have urinated. This is because you are weeing into a large volume of water anyway. Any significant colour change to the toilet should be classed as being significantly dehydrated. If you are to take your hydration seriously or if you have any existing medical problems I recommend using a urine testing kit. If it is your own wee, it is hardly that gross.
There is remarkably good evidence in performance benefits in athletes using relatively small doses of caffeine. We are taking 1-3mg/kg which is 75-225mg for your 75kg man or woman. Dependent on your tolerance caffeine and perhaps your week day survival on coffee this will vary. To put it input context, an espresso is approximately 60-100mg of caffeine. Perhaps that is why Jamie Vardy’s ritual of red bull before a football game has proven so successful.
The rest is down to you. Start with purpose and goals, develop a graded strengthening and running program, take interest in your nutrition and prepare to #BeatYourBest
Stay tuned for the next blog post ‘Count-down to Race Day: Two Weeks and Counting’ for all your top tips on maximising your performance.
Have you been going to the gym to do specific twice weekly strength and conditioning such as split squats and plyometrics?
Have you had a tried and tested strategy designed for you to gradually increase your running distance and performance that you are confident with?
Are you substituting your sport for other cardio based exercise and rehabilitation?
If the answer to any of these are NO then at LDN PHYSIO an initial Physiotherapy & Coaching session may be all you need to set you off in the direction to become a Stronger, Fitter, Londoner.