Nutrition before training and competition has the potential to seriously impact on both your performance and the training adaptations from a session. While we have mentioned nutritional strategies to optimise your body’s ability to use fats as a fuel in a previous article, and will cover this in further detail in the future, this article will concentrate a little more on nutrition for intense training sessions and optimal competitive performance. Both Custom Cycle Coaching and fuelit believe there is no one-size fits all approach to nutrition, but aim to give you the tools you need to make informed choices. While this article focusses on competition, these tips are equally relevant to key high-intensity training sessions and especially in a situation such as a training camp where you need to consider your fuelling not just for a one-off session or event, but multiple days of hard work!
In the last article we mentioned the study by Bergstrom et al. , where athletes consuming a high carbohydrate diet in the days before an endurance cycling test were able to cycle for over 60 minutes longer before becoming exhausted when compared to a ‘normal’ mixed diet. This has formed the basis of pre-event sports nutrition and ‘carbohydrate loading’ in many endurance sports for decades; however team sports also exhibit significant depletion of muscle glycogen over the course of a match  so all athletes should be aware of how to effectively fuel before competition.
Carbohydrate Loading - What Is It?
Our body’s stores of carbohydrates in the liver and muscles are constantly being used and replenished as we eat and exercise. One of the primary functions of the body is to maintain relatively constant levels of blood glucose, as if this either drops too low, or is too high for too long, there are serious health consequences. Previously, it was thought that it was necessary to deplete your glycogen stores through exhaustive training and a low carbohydrate diet before starting a 3-day carbohydrate loading process, with a very high carbohydrate diet and minimal exercise (to maximise storage). Altering your training so severely before an important event can be very disruptive and more recently research suggests that when a high level of carbohydrate is ingested, alongside a tapered training programme carbohydrate stores can be maximised in as little as one day . This requires a very high carbohydrate diet (10g per kilogramme of body weight - that’s up to 80% of total energy from carbohydrates!), so in practical terms consuming a high carbohydrate diet in the day before your event can ensure you come into the event fuelled and ready (see the section below) for an example of a day’s intake for a 70kg person before an important endurance event such as a 100 mile cycling sportive). With all this eating don’t forget to drink plenty of fluids too - if you’re pressed for time, a sports drink can be a good way to both top up your carbohydrate levels and remain hydrated.
Sample carbohydrate loading menu (24h before a key endurance event)
Bowl of porridge with honey or muesli and banana
Poached egg on 2 slices of white toast
Two slices of malt loaf and a cup of tea
Large jacket potato with beans and cheese
Bagel and jam or honey
½ a can of rice pudding
Throughout the day sip on water and consume 1 litre of sports drink to remain hydrated and top up carbohydrate stores
The Pre-Event Meal
Even if you have followed a carbohydrate loading diet before your event, the pre-event meal is still very important. Overnight, your liver glycogen stores will have been depleted to maintain your blood glucose levels while you haven’t eaten over the previous 8-10 hours so it is important to top these up, especially for a morning event. Ideally, the pre-event meal should be light, emphasising easily digested carbohydrates with minimal fibre and a little protein and be eaten long enough before your event to allow full digestion. Ideally experiment in training before to find out what works for you but ideally 3-4 hours before your event starts - the last thing you need on the start line is a bloated stomach or needing to desperately find a toilet! Again, this needs to be combined with enough fluid to come into the event well hydrated so if you’re struggling to stomach yet another forkful of pasta a more concentrated source of carbohydrates like a sports drink or energy bar can be a useful choice.
The author demonstrates eating on the move when travelling to an event!
Following these tips should ensure you get to the start line or kick off of your next event well fuelled and ready to perform at your best. In the next article, we’ll look at fuelling during your event or training, examining the different types of fuels in popular sports foods and the differences between carbohydrate drinks, bars and gels to enable you to choose the best options for your needs.
Bergstrom, J., et al., Diet, muscle glycogen and physical performance. Acta Physiol Scand, 1967. 71(2): p. 140-50.
- Krustrup, P., et al., Muscle and blood metabolites during a soccer game: implications for sprint performance. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 2006. 38(6): p. 1165-74.
- Bussau, V.A., et al., Carbohydrate loading in human muscle: an improved 1 day protocol. European journal of applied physiology, 2002. 87(3): p. 290-5.