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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Pre-Training Nutrition Tips for Endurance Athletes

By: Corissa Conard

Many endurance athletes recall a time during their training (or event) where something didn’t sit well in their stomach, or they simply “hit the wall”. This phrase simply means that there’s been a build up of muscle and/or brain fatigue that limits the body’s capacity to do work. One way to combat this is to follow a good eating plan, called ‘Pre-workout nutrition’. There should be a somewhat strict pre-eating schedule when it comes to performing and feeling your best during such hard workouts, races, or other events, as the digestive system is more sensitive during times of prolonged stress. Now this pre-meal plan does not include the prior 24 hours even though a long-term eating plan is also very beneficial to performance. What I talk about here are the few hours leading up to the event - it’s what can be done from a nutrition stand point to enhance performance and avoid any hiccups the day of.

Let’s look at a food timeline that my collegiate coach would write up for our team on the day of a cross country race that started at noon:

  1. 5AM - Meet in Lobby for 10-15 minute slow, “shake out” jog
  2. 6AM (4-5 hours before event) - Breakfast
  3. 8-9AM (2-3 hours before event) - Snack
  4. 11-11:30AM - 1 Hour Warm Up + Fluid Intake (1 Gatorade Sip: 2 Water Sips)
  5. 12PM: RACE TIME
As you can see, food was encouraged to be consumed on a consistent basis as to keep blood sugar levels at a moderate level. This helps to combat crashing blood sugar levels while in the midst of competition, dissipate any hunger that could creep up around lunch time, and increase cognition and brain function.  
Now, what this doesn’t include is what exactly constitutes as a good “breakfast” or “snack”.  Therefore, I highlighted certain foods that may help you choose your pre-workout or pre-event nutrition plan:
Breaking Down Breakfast-
  1. Breakfast (or any substantial meal) should be consumed at least 4 hours before a big event, especially if it’s nutrient and calorie dense.  Research is wishy-washy on whether ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’, and it is my opinion that much of the short and long-term research on athletes indicate that it is a beneficial habit. In the short-term, breakfast consumption can increase cognitive functioning and reaction time while long-term consumption can improve metabolic activity. Increased metabolism means that burning fat and lean muscle mass increases over time.  However, this is also dependant on the contentof the breakfast. Muffins, sugary cereals, or loads of salt-ridden bacon are not likely to help anyone. It’s time to think of food as fuel. What do you put into your car to make it last longer and run more efficiently? You have to put that same principle into place when it comes to your own body’s performances. Healthy fats and proteins are important here and consist of foods such as: nuts/nut butters, lean meats (chicken, turkey, etc.), eggs, avocados, and whole fat yogurt, to name just a few. This combination increases blood sugar and then maintains it at a normal level, which is much more desirable than the sudden rise and fall seen with most processed and high-glycemic laden breakfasts. Dried or fresh fruit and/or veggies can also be included for added nutrients, fiber, and as a source of healthy carbohydrates. Note that these same principles can be put into place for those who have evening performances, for which a substantial meal would need to be around lunch time.
Caffeine Please(2-3 hours before)-
2.     There is also something to be said about these magic beans or leaves.  Research suggests that caffeine from regular brewed coffee or tea increases work capacity and motivation. However, tea is the best alternative of the two as it avoids the typical “crash”, has antioxidants, reduces chronic inflammation, and manages anxiety. 
Snack the right way(2-3 hours before)-
3.     Snacks will differ from the content of breakfast foods because the time to ‘toe-the-line’ is becoming limited. Your digestive system is more sensitive to the foods you eat now, especially from the nerves. So think about foods in smaller portions, and that are easily digestible. Avoid milk proteins and fructose (soda, candy, juice, apples, cherries, etc.). Foods with too much fiber or fat can also be detrimental if consumed in high amounts. Although nuts are high in fat, just a few handfuls can be great at curbing any lingering hunger. 
Fluids(>1 hour before)
4.     Gatorade, Powerade, gels or other sports drinks are considered high-glycemic; meaning, the energy it has is utilized by the body right away. They replace electrolytes and any fluids that are lost during a hard workout, but are also good for maintaining levels prior to as well. Take sips only and do not chug as large amounts can contribute to that “slosh” in the stomach or those performance limiting side-aches.
There is much more to be said about pre-training nutrition, of course, but it is my hope that this little information sparks some interest in you, my readers, to really think about your own nutrition plan. Are you fueling yourself right to perform your best? Athletes or not, put yourself on the right path to be as successful as you can in this life….because you only get one.
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