What's the correct nutrition before a sport race?
After months of hard training, the week before the race is always special, undoubtedly fascinating, but also crucial.
Doubts and anxieties are many, and often they relate to diet. You ask yourself is my nutrition right? Should I change it? Should I do something else to get to the big day in top shape?
The answer is that, a week before the race, no particular diet can improve your performance, and a drastic change in eating habits could be unproductive.
Applying a few small adjustments is more useful, together with avoiding behavior that could compromise all the work done in the previous months.
- Balance your food nutrition according to energy spending
Train unloading characterizes the week leading up to a race where the goal is resting and recovering energies to be in good condition for the event. Therefore, our energy need is lower than the periods of loading, in which workouts are frequent, long and sometimes very intense.
However, the tendency is often to overeat for accumulating energy to use in competition. But why should we eat more, if we spend less energy?
Our body’s ability of energy storage in the form of sugars (glycogen) is very limited and does not depend on how much food we eat; rather, it is a physiological characteristic. All the extra energy (not used because of the decreased training load) will be deposited in form of fat, running the risk of feeling a sense of fullness and having gastrointestinal disorders.
- Keep your eating habits
Avoid making substantial diet changes the week before the marathon. Dietary discharge and load protocols, could cause gastrointestinal problems, fatigue and stress when started six days before the race since they require carbs to be completely removed from the diet for three days. Hence, they result in more harm than benefits.
Continuing to eat according to your habits is the best choice, pandering to the sense of hunger and satiety, and avoiding unfamiliar foods or elaborate dishes difficult to be digested.
- Beware of drugs, caffeine and alcoholic beverages
Preserving gastrointestinal health, protecting the immune system and promoting a good restful sleep are vital activities to adopt the week before the marathon. Thus, be careful and limit certain food, drink or substance consumption which might interfere with our wellbeing.
For example, caffeine excess is likely to tamper our night sleeping as well as being a cause of dehydration.
The same thing happens with alcoholic beverages that we should avoid completely and consume after the marathon only.
Then, even some drugs, such as anti-inflammatory or antibiotics,might present adverse effects; for instance, they might weaken our immune system and our gut bacterial flora, making us more susceptible to any gastrointestinal problems during the race.
- Limit your fiber consumption
Fibers, contained in plant-based food such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains, are vital component in our diet; indeed, we should always eat a minimum of 30 grams of them every day. However, an excess of fiber could cause swelling and intestinal fermentation in the most susceptible individuals. For this reason, reducing the consumption of high fiber food is fundamental one or two days before the race. As an example, fresh juices or vitamin and mineral-rich extracts can replace fruit; as for vegetables, carrots and zucchini are one of the most digestible. Nonetheless, always keep in mind your individual food tolerance.
- Drink water with responsibility
Drinking water is fundamental in our daily life, not only in the week before the race. However, while training, we often tend to drink more than usual to fill up with liquids. But pay attention: drinking too much could favors diuresis, resulting in an excessive loss of fluids and salts.
Therefore, drink mineral water regularly throughout the day to prevent the sense of thirst, but without exceeding. Moreover, eat fresh food, rich in mineral salts and water.
- Balance your carbo-loading
Carbo-loading or carbohydrate loading is a strategy allowing you to fill up with energy (glycogen) at the muscle level, and relieve fatigue in long-lasting activities.
Despite these benefits, carbo-loading quite often ends up in a real binge of pasta the night before the race, especially among amateur athletes, who rarely know what carbohydrate loading consists of.
As stated before, our body’s capability of glycogen storage is limited, and everything we eat as extra takes the shape of fat.
In addition to that, we should develop a good glycogen storage capacity as well as a good fatigue resistance if we planned fasting, or glycogen deficiency workouts during the marathon preparation.
Therefore, a heavy dinner the night before the race does not make any sense, rather it could compromise sleep and digestion. By contrast, slightly increase your carbohydrates consumption, throughout the days before the race, resting and drinking regularly to optimize muscle energy reserves.
Author NutriCoach Francesca Deriu