One of the hardest segments of nutrition to execute and deliver, is the planning for multi-event competition nutrition. Focusing on nutrient balance, where the events will demand maximum performance using aerobic and anaerobic cellular environments, using strength and endurance all whilst maintaining mental focus.
Event nutrition has 3 mains goals which all cross over to all enable the bodies energy systems, facilitated dietarily via the correct delivery of nutrients. When done well, this will result in exercise and muscle adaption for future events- thus becoming fitter, stronger and more energy efficient.
For all physiological mechanisms to work and interact water is required, therefore make sure you are hydrated from the very start. This means getting into good routines and key fundamental habits (for everyday as well as competition days).
The Main Nutrient Focus
The two main macronutrients for competition nutrition are proteins and carbohydrates. In addition, it is important to have the right selection of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), so that the body can draw upon the required nutrients and optimise cell interaction ensuring toxin clearance, whilst simultaneously initiating the specific energy system for the activity being carried out.
Carbohydrates are the facilitators of energy and therefore protein sparing- meaning they will slow muscle breakdown. Carbohydrates provide the main energy source at the start of the exercise/event, using stored glycogen and circulating blood glucose. It is essential that you make sure these levels are replenished throughout the day. It is recommended that athletes should average 3-12 grams of carbs per kg of weight- which is a wide range. So, I recommend trialing the amounts in training, starting around the midway point.
Carbohydrates increase the intensity output, therefore leading to a higher level of athletic performance. Fast acting glucose in the blood stream will be utilised first, followed by glucose stored in the muscle. Glucose bonds are broken to produce energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in a process called glycolysis. When we don’t have enough glucose in our diet, or we use it up during exercise, we tap into our body’s precious reserves. When our blood sugar levels drop lower than normal, glycogen is released by the liver then broken down so the glucose can be used. This complex mechanism, known as glycogenolysis, helps balance blood sugar levels. Once all the stored glycogen is depleted, you will be fatigued, and your performance will suffer.
Filling glycogen stores has been likened to filling up a car with fuel however, this process is not as fast as what some people believe and is certainly not instantaneous. Glycogen stores (once depleted) can take up to 20hours to replenish, therefore the thought that you can restore the stores by just eating more is not the case. The body can be trained to speed this process up, but as with physical fitness the body must be trained well to maximise its energy systems; adaption enables longer intensity output. Additionally, the body can be trained to ‘perform’, in low carbohydrate states (often called carbohydrate restriction), but this doesn’t work for everyone.
Although carbs are needed to ensure that there is an availability of useable energy, it is still not a free-for-all! This is because, if there is too high a level of glucose in the bloodstream the body will try to store it, via gluconeogenesis as the bodies quest for homeostasis is always its #1. Also, a high and excessive intake of carbohydrates can cause the body to feel unduly fatigued and mentally irritable – you don’t want a carb-coma mid competition!
Protein is required to increase the nitrogen balance and amino pool to facilitate protein synthesis and suppress the breakdown of muscle tissue – or at least slow the rate of breakdown. If we can enable a swift recovery, we can minimise the exercise-associated muscle tissue breakdown known as ‘proteolysis’, but also allowing the body to repair much stronger and more functionally adapted– therefore create a better athlete.
The recommended protein intake is 0.8-1/6g/protein/kg of body weight per day. And in competition this need is still required, however, 1-2hrs prior to competing you must drop your protein intake down slightly using fast-digesting sources such as whey or cottage cheese and sip on essential amino acid (EAA) powder. This is because whole food proteins slow gastric emptying and therefore can cause stomach aches, digestive problems and slow down energy release.
We know that protein is the muscle tissue rebuilder, yet in competition, the body cannot build muscle whilst in an active state, but the presence of amino acids during the competition will slow the rate of muscle breakdown, and amino acids are co-enzymes that aid reactions and form specific peptide sequences for muscle cell structures and signal chemical and nutrient uptake required to initiate reactions; ranging from initiating energy pathways to signalling adrenaline response.
Amino acids (AA) are known as the building blocks of protein. There are 20 amino acids; 9 essential and 11 non-essential (to confuse things there are some that are known as conditionally essential, that at the time of ill health or growth spurts become essential, but we won’t dwell on that today!). When an amino acid is classified as essential, this means that the body cannot synthesis (produce) them itself and therefore must be gained through the diet. When an amino acid is non-essential, this means that the body can make them itself, provided it has all the required components from the daily diet.
In the past, the use of branch chain amino acids (BCAA’s) leucine, isoleucine and valine, were encouraged pre, during and post-training but now research has shown that it is more effective to consume all essential amino acids (EAA’s);
Why have 3 amino acids when you can have all 9 essential amino acids?!
EAA’s also prevent the presence of limiting amino acids, where there is a situation when one or more of the required amino acids are not present for a reaction to take place properly and the reaction becomes impaired, halted or doesn’t happen at all. AA requirements are critical within energy system control e.g. AA’s are needed in the glycolysis pathways. Without them the body would not be able to function properly or be able to utilise available energy.
Vitamins and minerals should be found naturally in a complete daily diet. They are like AA’s, in the sense that they facilitate reactions, known as co-factors. They are endocrine like substances that transport hormones, increase immunity and aid toxin clearance and nutrient uptake. Ideally vitamins and minerals should be delivered from an abundant nutritional uptake from day to day foods, but if you feel they are lacking, you can add a boost via supplements such as ProVital.
Fats and Fatty Acids
So far we haven’t mentioned fat…
Fat is essential for overall health, especially as it supports neurological health, cell integrity and hormonal transport. However, it slows down the rate of gastric emptying and is also a slow nutrient to process as an available energy source, therefore it is best to keep fat intake close to events at a minimal, but it can be consumed if there are a gap in-between events of >2hrs.
The exception to the rules is medium-chain triglycerides (MCT’s) as they are broken down quickly and can be used as an effective energy source- MCT’s are found in a range of foods, but most commonly associated with coconut oil.
Nutrient Interaction in Muscle Cells
Once ingested the combination of whey and exercise pushes the glucose transporter ‘GLUT4’ to the cell surface so that glucose can be absorbed from the bloodstream faster than in a sedentary state. It is important to reiterate that nutrients work together, and that is why it is important to consume carbs and protein around multi-events to enable the best environment to get muscle cells full of circulating blood glucose. And the whole daily diet will ensure the balance of minerals and vitamins to maintain the health of the cells, whilst the cell integrity is maintained by fats, particularly ‘good’ omega3 fats.
The pre-event meal has 2 aims- avoid hunger and provide optimal energy availability.
The pre-training meal should be carefully considered and planned. When there are more than 3-4hrs before an event you can eat ‘normally’, but if the event starts early you may want to compete fasted, this is why your 24/7 nutritional intake is so important to be complete and planned. 3-4grams /carb/kg during the day is best and then that can be dropped down closer to events.
1-2hrs prior to the event have 1-2g/carb/kg. If you can add some protein (whey powder is best here or EAA’s) it will regulate the energy provided to the cells, being more consistent and sustained.
During the event you need to plan your nutrient intake dependent on the energy required, duration and your individual preference. You know how your body feels in training, and once you know what the WOD’s involved in the competition you can work out what event will be most demanding for you and then add more carbs and EAA’s prior and post its scheduled time.
Sipping a drink made up of 500ml water, 20-30g carb and 15g protein can be the easiest and fastest way to provide and replenish energy in-between events, especially if events are close together.
This is so important and often overlooked. As little as 1-2 % drop in hydration and your performance will suffer significantly. Water is essential for all bodily functions as it aids cell nutrient uptake and toxin clearance, muscle activation and mental capacity.
If you are competing inside, in a hot environment, have had high energy demands, increased urination and/or heavily sweating you may need to increase your balance of electrolytes. Your body is very effective at regulating this balance but when under the mentioned demands the body sometimes cannot keep up and the use of a hydration electrolyte tablet or powder to ensure balance can be effective. Electrolytes are essential to ensure chemical gradients in the cells for ALL reactions.
It is important to replenish lost water, energy and protein; this will create a stronger, muscular and well-adapted athlete. The period following the event and the whole competition are crucial.
After the competition the bodies need for protein, amino acids and carbohydrates are high because they will be depleted. But they also work in synergy to initiate the mTOR (Mammalian Target of rapamycin) pathway. The increase of insulin from carbs, and an influx of AA’s signal the mTOR pathway, to start muscle protein synthesis, that occurs within the muscle cell. This leads to faster recovery, enhanced muscle growth, increased muscle density, increased lean muscle mass and higher muscle function.
Powdered nutrition (supplements) is the fastest and easiest way to fuel the mTOR process and replenish the lost nutrients.
Enjoy a Free-Choice Meal
After the competition and post-event fuel has been consumed, you can relax and enjoy a meal complete in all nutrients. At this stage, I would encourage a ‘free-meal’ to enjoy with friends/family etc. However, if you like structure aim for approx. 25% protein, 60% carbs and 15% fats as this will further replenish nutrients.
In summary, your priorities pre, during and post-competition events are, hydration, carbohydrates and protein (especially AA’s). It is important to learn what works for you, try out foods and amend ideas until you find what works right for you but trial new ideas in training, not competition!
Don’t Forget the Importance of a Consistent Daily Diet
It is your 24/7 nutrition that you follow day-in, day-out that enables the body to adapt; it forms your foundations, nutrient reserves for competition demands and primes your body to work efficiently and optimally. Try to plan your nutrients objectivity. Once you know what nutrients are going in, it makes it easier to see what small changes to your diet can do to positively enhance your performance.
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