Getting your nutrition right could mean success or failure come race day, says performance nutritionist Oliver Whiteman.
Getting your training right is only one part of your fitness journey. If you’re not also addressing your nutrition plan, then you could be wasting all that hard work.
Fuelling correctly will improve the quality of your training. This facilitates improved recovery times, as well as the quality of your recovery, which is essential to maintaining your training schedule and standing at the start line as prepared as you can be.
In order to focus on muscle repair and growth, protein is your best friend. Without adequate protein, you won’t be able to grow stronger, adapt from your exercise and ultimately become faster.
You need to be consuming roughly 25-40g of protein every three to four hours (or if you want to be more precise, you need 0.4g per kilogram of your body weight per meal). This translates quite easily into having a good source of protein for breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack somewhere in the day.
Eating post-exercise is also extremely important. However, there is much less emphasis on the anabolic ‘window’, as it turns out it is more of a ‘barn door’. For example, if you ate just before a session, you don’t need to be guzzling down a protein shake immediately afterwards. Wait a couple of hours until your next meal or enjoy protein-based snack such as a Skyr yoghurt, hard boiled eggs or beef jerky.
Fuelling for a long session
Eating for a long training session starts immediately after your last session. Aim to increase your carbohydrate intake according to your demands.
Your fuelling also depends heavily on the time you have available. If you are limited on time, you need to be smart with your choices. Three to five hours before training, eat a high carbohydrate meal with a source of lean protein such as a turkey sandwich. One to two hours before training, eat a low fibre and low-fat food option like a bagel with jam or peanut butter, and 15-30 minutes before training have an energy gel or sports drink.
Eating during training
Unless you are performing at a low intensity, your primary fuel source will be carbohydrates. If you don’t keep this topped up, your performance will decline, or worse – you may end up hitting the wall.
Your aim is to consume between 40-60g of carbohydrate per hour. To put that into context, a medium banana is around 20g of carbohydrate and an energy gel has around 22g.
On the bike you can get away with consuming more whole foods, which you should try to eat before bars or gels, but ensure the fibre and fat content is low. Towards the end of a ride you can use carbohydrate gels/drinks, which will be absorbed quicker.
If you are a veteran mid-training snacker and have an iron stomach, there is the option of increasing your carbohydrate intake to 90g per hour. By using multiple carbohydrate transporters (MCTs), you can take in and absorb a lot more energy. Products, such as SIS Beta-Fuel use both glucose and fructose and therefore can offer up to 90g of carbohydrate.
Training the gut
If you suffer from GI distress when training/competing, a recent NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) study found that four weeks of probiotic supplementation reduced GI symptoms during a marathon. If you suffer from a lot of distress, this could be worth trying before your next big race.
Tactically reducing your carbohydrate intake before prolonged low intensity exercise can have significant performance enhancing effects. This is a concept called training low.
By training with low carbohydrate availability, it promotes cellular adaptations which encourages using fat as your primary fuel source to a higher exercise intensity, sparing your carbohydrate reserves.
There are multiple methods to train low. Training twice a day with no carbohydrate for recovery, training after an overnight fast, prolonged training without carbohydrate intake or restricting carbohydrate after a PM session and training fasted the following AM. This strategy is best implemented with the support of a performance nutritionist as it requires careful planning.
The best supplements
There are a couple you should consider using, both during training and during competition. Beetroot juice causes blood vessels to expand, which allows more oxygen to be delivered to your heart and lungs, reducing the oxygen cost of exercise. Caffeine helps to reduce your perception of fatigue, so aim to consume 150-250mg of caffeine 60 minutes before exercise. Finally, electrolytes, which are an essential aid to your rehydration. Consider having them during prolonged training, or as part of your recovery.