What you eat before, during (if the race is long enough), and after a race as well as during exercise will have a profound effect on your performance as well as recovery. Eating the right types of food before your race can help as much as eating the wrong type of food can hinder. Depending on the duration and intensity of the race, you’ll perform better consuming certain foods and liquids at certain times. And when the race is over and most are staring at the race crew figuring out the results, you should be eating and drinking to recover. Here are some general guidelines.
- Carbohydrate solutions should be at a 3% or less concentration for the hour leading up to exercise – typically water is all that should be consumed
- During aerobic activity lasting under one hour, (even 90 mins for some, it depends on fitness levels), it is most beneficial to not eat within one hour before the exercise and drink only water before the exercise. You’ll burn more fat if done this way.
- The “last meal” before the activity should be geared towards what your body is in store for and is also very individualized depending on your health and fitness. The more fit and healthy you are, the more fat you’ll be burning – so the less you need to eat. The more unhealthy you are, and/or unfit you are then the more sugar you will burn – so you’ll need/want to consume more carbohydrates & sports drinks
- Aerobic activity of long duration (over 2 hours): eat approximately 2-3 hours before, with a high protein (20-30 grams) and “good” fat intake such as olive oil, or some nuts and seeds, moderate complex carbs. Experiment with what works best for you.
- Carbohydrates 45 mins or less before aerobic exercise has been shown to be detrimental to performance – and you’ll burn more sugar than fat for energy
- Anaerobic activity of short duration: increase the carbohydrates, moderate protein and low fat up to 1 hour before exercise
- Are you training aerobically or anaerobically? Sock Doc explains here.
- Most current studies show that a glucose solution of 7-8% during prolonged exercise (one hour and longer) is most efficient to the body. Begin after 15 minutes into exercise. 8% is approximately 20 grams of carbohydrates in 8oz of water (1 cup). Glucose with some fructose works best.
- Calorie intake during exercise lasting over 3 hours is dependent upon energy expenditure. For example, a 150 lb person exercising over 3 hours should consume around 400 calories per hour, on average. As noted above, the more healthy and fit a person is, the less they will need to eat in regards to carbohydrates and calories, because they are a more efficient fat burning machine
- Calorie intake (as food) for exercise lasting under 3 hours is dependent upon the person’s aerobic efficiency. The less efficient and more anaerobic, the more carbohydrate needed to keep blood sugar levels normal & stable.
- Calorie intake for exercise lasting under one hour is unnecessary and may impair fat utilization for energy.
After – Eat & Drink!
During the recovery phase following any training regime or competition, there is a time considered as the “window of opportunity” where an athlete can recover faster than if he or she was to wait. The window is said to be open for approximately 60 minutes post-exercise and the focus should not be just on hydration, but also on protein and carbohydrate intake particularly. Approximately 100g of carbohydrates and 25g of protein are needed within the first hour after exercise (the actual amount depends on body weight, activity duration and intensity). This ratio of 4:1 is said to nearly double the insulin response, which results in more stored glycogen. Carbohydrate-protein (CHO-PRO) supplementation is more effective to rapidly replenish glycogen levels than just a regular carbohydrate supplementation post-exercise.CHO-PRO supplementation has also been shown to improve exercise endurance during a second bout of exercise performed on the same day.Glycogen stores are quickly replenished in depleted muscles (and to some extent the liver) and amino acids are readily available to repair any tissue damage, particularly those caused by cortisol’s influence of converting amino acids (specifically branch chain amino acids) to glucose for fuel through the process of gluconeogenesis.
Amino acids are oxidized as substrate during prolonged exercise and both endurance and resistance training increase skeletal muscle protein synthesis and breakdown in the post-exercise period. During intense exercise workouts lasting longer than three hours, as much as ten percent of energy may come from protein. The branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) leucine, isoleucine, and valine are said to be the most important for recovery than any of the other amino acids. BCAAs make up about one-third of muscle’s protein and enhance endurance by conserving glycogen, maintaining muscle mass, power and endurance during exhaustive bouts of exercise. Furthermore, BCAAs have been shown to help maintain immune status and therefore reduce overtraining.