You may not be eating as many calories as Olympic superstars, but you need fuel while you’re training for your marathon, swim meet or weight lifting session.
And what you feed your body for energy will largely depend on the sport and what stage of training you’re in, experts say.
“Nutrition is as important as the training itself. If you look at the general trends with lead athletes, there’s a lot of focus on nutrition. We used to ensure athletes were well-fed but now we’re looking at what their sources of fat, protein, and fruit and vegetables are to make sure their choices are good,” according to Katie Jessop, a registered dietitian and nutritionist with the Canadian Institute of Sport Ontario.
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“It’s very different to prepare for a 12-hour-long Iron Man than it is to prepare for a CrossFit class. Your sport has unique demands so you can’t apply nutrition concepts from one sport to another – that might not help you,” Jennifer Sygo, a dietitian in sports nutrition at the Cleveland Clinic Canada, told Global News.
She works with athletes on the track and field, gymnastics and triathlon teams.
The experts offer their tips on what to eat while getting ready for your big day, whichever sport you’re doing.
If you’re training for a Tough Mudder or Spartan Race: You need to be able to run about 20 kilometres while completing a handful of obstacles that test your physical strength along the way.
In this case, the experts say a “good amount” of carbohydrates the night before, such as a pasta dinner with protein, such as chicken breast or turkey, is your best bet.
“Make sure your muscles are fully carbed up as much as possible,” Jessop said.
While she typically recommends whole grain pasta “all the way,” the fibre can weigh your stomach down. In this instance, go for white pasta instead.
If you’re running a marathon: Across the board, a healthy breakfast will do you good regardless of the sport, but it helps before running.
You have to space it out before you start your run, though.
And if you’ll be running for more than 90 minutes, you need to bring something to eat along the way. It has to be easy to digest, such as energy chews or dates cut into small pieces so you can take a bite when you’re feeling low on energy.
Think of Tour de France cyclists, for example. They eat between 8,000 and 10,000 calories.
“They’re constantly eating on the bike because whatever they burn, they need to back up. They have about 90 minutes of carbohydrates in their muscles so they need to keep adding fuel the whole time,” Jessop explained.
If you’re cycling: Like the Tour de France cyclists, you may need to fuel up along the way. Do so with rice cakes, blueberries, raisins or mixed nuts, Jessop suggests. Apricots, dates or fruit that’s high in sugar and make easy portable snacks are good options, too.
Sports bars aren’t recommended.
“They’re very sticky so there’s not a lot of water in them, and you need a good amount of water to really digest them so it could cause stomach problems,” Jessop said.
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If you’re weight lifting: Your carbohydrate requirements are much lower compared to other sports, but your protein needs increase while weight training.
“People tend to focus on protein at the dinner hour but miss it at breakfast. You need to disperse protein throughout the day,” Jessop said.
Protein plays a pivotal role post-workout when your body has a one-hour window to replenish its fuel, and to build and repair muscles.
Aim for about 15 to 25 grams of lean protein within one hour of working out.
Sygo turns to liquid protein to get amino acids into the body – they’re the building blocks for muscle. That could be a whey protein shake paired with a banana.
Your game day breakfast: Try to eat about two hours before the big event so you’re giving your body time to digest.
There should be a mix of protein with carbohydrates to keep you full and to slow down digestion. Keep it light – Sygo suggests a low-fibre cereal, a slice of toast, paired with protein, such as peanut butter and a piece of fruit.
“Now’s not the time to be having sausages or bacon but more the time to have an egg or Greek yogurt,” Sygo said.
Some people have a weak stomach and jitters before a big race, so they may not want to eat. In that case, hang onto rice cakes to eat closer to the race, Jessop said.
This is where the filling dinner the night before comes in: while you may not be able to stomach a meal at breakfast, you’re relying on the fuel from dinnertime to keep you going.
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What stage of training are you in? Most athletes think carbohydrates are crucial but they’re not necessary all the time, Sygo said.
“Carb intake can be according to training. If you’re doing a heavy running week, you’ll eat more carbohydrates but in strength training or rest and recovery weeks, protein is more crucial,” Sygo said.
It also depends on how close you’re getting to your event. In the day or two beforehand, watch out for fibre and zero in on starchy carbohydrates instead.
Have oatmeal for breakfast, a chicken and veggie wrap at lunch with fruit, yogurt and granola as a snack is a good start. For dinner, load up on rice or pasta with salmon and vegetables.