Sunday, May 12, 2013

Nutrition for One Week Out - Kelli Jennings

The Assault on Mount Mitchell is coming up, and many of you may be in a cold sweat about what you should eat and drink leading up to it.  More times than I can count, before a major event or race is the moment an athlete contacts me.  They’ve bonked in previous races.  Now, they want to prepare so they don’t do it again.  What to eat?

There are many different ideas of how to eat the week before an important competition.  Many trainers tell their athletes to Carbohydrate Load (the practice of trying to optimally load your glycogen stores before a big race).  Historically, athletes practiced depriving themselves of carbohydrates 3-7 days before a race to deplete their glycogen stores, then bombarding their bodies with high amounts of carbohydrates later in the week to saturate them.  Although it has worked in some cases, it also causes significant issues during the deprivation stage…and, it’s not necessary.

There is a finite amount of glycogen your body can store – this will not change with diet adjustment the week of a competition.  On the other hand, there is an indefinite amount of fat your body can store, and overeating compared to how much you are training during your taper can cause you to store fat and feel “heavy” during your competition.  While you can saturate your glycogen stores (still, it’s a finite amount) with extra carbs, you must “load” carefully in order to not overdo it.  More is not always better. 

I like to think of “One Week Out” as an extended time of “Recovery Nutrition.” This means the focus should be an adequate, but not too many carbs, extra protein, extra anti-inflammatory foods and fats, loads of antioxidants, and optimal hydration.  While you taper, you have the opportunity to heal your body and promote the best possible health state. The week of your big competition, I recommend:

1)            Continue to follow your normal eating  plan, with FULL training nutrition for any training sessions. This is not the time to skimp.  You are no longer trying to lose weight (if you were previously). Also, be extra-diligent with staying hydrated.

2)            Continue to consume protein at every meal and snack.  Also consume healthy fats including organic coconut oil, olive oil, avocados, fish, nuts, etc.  Healthy fats promote good hormone balance and can alleviate some of the blood sugar and hormone swings caused by carbohydrates.

3)            If there ever was a “best time” to remember daily supplements, this is it.  Every day: multivitamin, fish oil, probiotics, and any other supplements you’re taking.  If inflammation, soreness, or injury is an issue, try adding ginger and garlic in foods and/or supplement.  If you need iron to keep your serum ferritin at adequate levels, make sure to take it.  Lastly, if you’re using l-glutamine to reduce soreness and improve recovery, as I suggest you do, take an extra 5 grams every night of the week before the race in addition to any used before, during, and/or after training.

4)            As you taper your training, eliminate training fuel while not training. 

5)            If you’re suffered cramps in previous races or training, or feel that you are at high risk, you can begin to load some electrolytes 3-5 days out.  Try supplementing ~500 mg calcium, 200-300 mg magnesium, 100 mg potassium after training or every evening leading up to a race. Or, as a perfect whole food option, try a pre-bed shake, in place of any dessert:  ½ cup organic plain yogurt + 1 cup berries + 1/12 tsp. salt (estimate using a 1/3 of a ¼ tsp.) + water/ice as needed =  Alternatively, drink 12 oz. coconut water per night and supplement the calcium.

6)            If you’re competing in a “major” endurance event (like Mitchell), begin adding extra carbs 2 days out by adding 30 grams of additional carbs to breakfast, lunch and dinner (see examples below).

7)            The day before your competition, only eat foods/drinks that you know do not cause stomach upset, bloating, or extra gas.  Avoid any greasy foods and consume carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats with which you know you digest well.  You can eat vegetables with dinner if you’d like, but avoid gas-producing veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, and beans.  Instead, try a salad with spinach, tomatoes, & bell peppers. 

8)             For “major” competitions (like Mitchell), add an extra 30 grams of whole-food carbohydrates at every meal starting at dinner 2 days before the event.   For “minor” ones, add the extra 30 grams of carbs at dinner only the night before the event.  Don’t overdo carbohydrate loading or you’ll go into your competition feeling heavy rather than fueled.  Some examples of 30-grams-carb-additions are:

•             8 oz. honey milk (made w/ 8 oz. milk + 1.5 tbsp. honey) = 35 gm. carbs
•             1 large piece fruit or 1 medium banana = 30 gm. carbs
•             1 cup unsweetened applesauce
•             1 100% whole wheat English muffin or bagel = 30 gm. carbs
•             ½ medium bagel + low-fat cream cheese = 30 gm. carbs
•             2 slices 100% whole grain toast = 36 gm. carbs
•             1 slice toast + 1 tbsp. honey or jelly = 33 gm. carbs
•             8 oz. yogurt = 30 gm. carbs
•             1 large yam/sweet potato = 30 gm. carbs
•             2/3 cup cooked wild or brown rice = 30 gm. carbs
•             2/3 cup cooked quinoa = 27-30 gm. carbs

It’s important to think about the timeline of digestion in this scenario.  It only takes refined carbohydrates ~15 minutes to be digested and hit the bloodstream.  Then, they are stored.  If your glycogen stores are not fully replenished, they can be stored there.  But, for most athletes who haven’t just ended a training session, glycogen stores will likely be filled to their limit.  So, any extra carbs will be stored in the cells as fats – which can be used in long endurance workouts, but do not give the athlete any advantage with energy, and negatively add weight.  So, instead of  “quick-energy” carbs the night before a race, go for lower-glycemic, whole-food, healthy ones.  For example, choose a yam over pasta.  Their slow digestion and evenly-released-energy will give you usable, efficient fuel the next day.

9)            The morning of the race, use pre-training fuel, just like you’ve practiced.  Usually, this means a meal 3-4 hours out and/or a snack 1-2 hours out.  Or, if you’ve used it in training, you can use my recipe for a Pre-Training Smoothie to provide a variety of carb sources, concentrated nutrition, and a sodium load in a liquid form the digests easily and quickly to provide optimal energy without stomach distress and gassiness; just 1-2 hours out.  This shorter digestion time will save you from waking up extra early to consume a meal (sleep is important and I find it unacceptable to wake up early to eat, then try to go back to be on race day).  What’s more, if you freeze it ahead of time, it even works well camping as you allow it to thaw for 12-24 hours.  Lastly, to give your body just a bit more, you can add  a “light” pre-training fuel option such as a gel, sports drink or organic honey just 10-15 minutes before staring.   This just gives you a leg-up on refueling during the event.  If it adds stress to your pre-race routine, though, you can skip it as long as you follow your scheduled fuel plan during the race.  For any race greater than 60 minutes, fueling should begin around 30 minutes in during the race. 

10)          Remember, race day is not the time for new foods, experiments, or “pushing” yourself with inadequate fuel.  The goal is NOT to go as far as you can with the least amount of fuel.  There’s simply no point in this…just plenty of dehydration, hyponatremia, bonking, and regrets after all that training.  On the other hand, optimal fueling can help you meet the real race goal, crossing the finish line in your personal best time and effort.

Since you have a few days to recover and prepare before a big event, flood your body with good nutrients to help it heal, replenish glycogen stores, and rest.  Then, load it up and saturate your glycogen stores without going overboard.  Assault the mountain while feeling strong, “light,” and ready.

Kelli Jennings
Apex Nutrition

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