What does research say about fueling during competitions?
- Easily digested carbs are best; that is why sports drinks with sugar are recommended.
- Fluid is incredibly important for muscle performance, but don’t overdo plain water.
- Fluids are usually tolerated better than food.
- Protein during competition is not needed. It does not offer a competitive advantage. You may be someone that feels better having some whey during the day. That is fine. Do what works for you.
- Replace potassium and sodium with extended exercise, but you don’t need a ton (see below).
- Caffeine can enhance performance, but the amount, experience, and timing are vital. IMPORTANT: This is a recommendation for adults over 18 only, children have had adverse events with caffeine before exercise. 180 mg of caffeine is the max linked to better performance; more than this and there is no advantage and the risk is feeling jittery. If you don’t drink caffeine, be careful, you may just get the jitters and no competitive advantage. Consume caffeine about 20 minutes pre-WOD. Do it earlier and the caffeine peaks before your WOD, consume it too close to the WOD and caffeine peaks after you are done.
What kind of meals or food are recommended on a competition day?
Breakfast: A nutrient dense breakfast (oatmeal with nut butter; eggs with veggies and whole grain toast or potato) is recommended at least 2 hours before competition. Don’t forget fluid, ~2-3 cups in the two hours before competition; this can be water. Too nervous to eat a meal? Eat a big snack the night before and make sure to get fluids as a bare minimum the morning of Beat the Streets.
Lunch: Eat some lunch if you can tolerate it, but go easy on protein (animal/non-animal), fat, and fiber since 1) all three of these delay stomach emptying and 2) you won’t have 2 hours to digest the food. Eat a smaller meal, more snack size, as a way to eat but not overdo it.
Granola or other bar: Check the label to make sure it does not have a lot of protein (>10 g), fat (>10 g), or fiber (>5 g) for the reasons noted above…in other words, the exact opposite of what is recommended on a non-competition day.
Are sport drinks really recommended?
Yes, for competitions that last more than 60 minutes of activity. On a competition day, easy to digest sugar, fluid, potassium, and sodium are all a good thing, especially, if you find it difficult to eat. Which one? Come to BIG on Saturday morning to taste Wegmans MVP or a homemade recipe for a sports drink!
- Gatorade, Wegmans MVP or a homemade sports drink have cane sugar (although you have to review the Gatorade labels when not in Boston since this is not the case nationwide; they are converting from high fructose corn syrup to cane sugar)
- PowerAde has high fructose corn syrup so I don’t recommend this as a choice.
- Gatorade and PowerAde both come in sugar free versions, but I don’t recommend these unless you plan to eat food to provide the carbs that you need to refuel muscles.
About how much sugar, potassium, and sodium are in 16 ounces of sport drink?
Total carbs including sugar
- ~ 31 grams of carb. For perspective, one medium banana has 27 g of carbohydrate.
- ~75 mg (not quite 2 mEq) of potassium. Keeping with the banana, just 2 inches of banana has 2 mEq of potassium.
- ~190 mg of sodium or ~1/16th of a teaspoon. It’s a tiny amount.
Are there other suggestions?
- You do you! Some people have a tried and true approach that works for them that is different from what I have recommended….that is fine. Don’t change things now!
- If you competed last year, what did you eat last year? Would that help you know what to do?
- Eat and drink small amounts slowly. If you have not had a chance to practice eating and drinking on a competition day, go easy, listen to your body, and keep notes so you know what works for the future.
- Use sport products with caution unless you have experience with them. This includes concentrated energy gels (Gu), chews (Bloks), and pre-WOD drinks. The first two, along with jelly beans and such, have a high sugar content that can rapidly draw water into your intestine and cause stomach cramps and…ahem…an urgent need for a bathroom. Many pre-WOD drinks contain caffeine (see above).
- Dilute a sport drink. The sport drinks are not as concentrated as Gu or Bloks, but if you don’t have experience or don’t tolerate full strength, dilute it.
There is still time, so if you want some help developing or fine tuning your Beat the Streets plan (or another competition), contact me.
Happy and healthful eating and all the best at Beat the Streets!
Donna G. Pertel, MEd, RD, LDN