Everyone knows the importance of properly training to get ready for a fitness challenge. Regardless of if you are training for a marathon, a cycling event, a hike or something else, you spend hours upon hours stretching your body to its physical limits to have it in peak condition for race day. Yet, another crucial element to succeeding at fitness challenges of all kinds is often neglected: Nutrition. Proper nutrition gives your body the building blocks it needs to achieve optimal performance on race day and aids training throughout the process.
Follow these simple strategies to fuel for a fitness challenge and meet your goals.
Pre-event nutrition begins long before race day. As you train for your event, focus on eating whole foods. Aim to avoid added sugars, refined carbohydrates, and chemical additives. Processed foods are some of the biggest offenders when it comes to these ingredients. These foods give you a short-term energy high, followed by a subsequent crash, leaving you feeling lethargic and ill-prepared to train well. Instead, fill your plate with complex carbs from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains paired with lean proteins and healthy fats. The better you eat during the training period, the more productive you’ll feel and the better your sessions will be.
Eat better, feel better.
The morning of your event is always a tricky one, and everybody is different. Work out what is best for you – I know people who can’t eat early in the morning and people who eat absolutely loads before a race. Aim to eat breakfast one to two hours before your event. This prevents you from being overly full while you are racing, but also keeps you from feeling hungry throughout. Be sure your meal contains at least 16 oz of water, plenty of healthy carbs (think of foods like bananas), and a moderate amount of protein. Fat and fibre content should be low in your pre-race breakfast for optimal digestion.
I go for 2 pieces of toast with peanut butter on, a banana and an isotonic drink.
Stay hydrated during the event; even if it’s cold outside. Hydrating properly is critical for preventing cramp and improving performance. For events longer than an hour, you may find that you need energy gels to keep your body’s glycogen levels up. Energy gels provide an instant energy hit, perfect for when the going gets tough. Orange slices can also be helpful for their quickly digestible energy, whilst isotonic drinks are also a popular source for optimised hydration.
If you aren’t sure where or how many nutrition and drink stops there will be during the event, make sure you are well prepared. If you have training carrying a bag, include a drink and energy gel or snack in your bag. Otherwise, you can squeeze nutritional products into fitness bands (that carry essential items), pockets and so on. For longer fitness challenges, you don’t want to be left without nutrition if your body crashes and you still have a few miles to go until a fuelling station. Be smart.
After your fitness challenge, you will have depleted most (if not all) of your nutritional reserves. Try to refuel within an hour of completing a race. I find coconut water to be an excellent choice to replenish electrolytes without all the added sugars many sports drinks contain, along with a fairly basic pasta dish. A post-event meal should have a ratio of about 3 to 1 carbohydrates to protein.
After your event is over, reduce your overall calories if you are no longer in active training, but continue to follow the nutritional principles you used during your training phase for optimal health and wellbeing. Due to events and races often starting early, it can sometimes be incredibly hard to get your timings right when it comes to fuel intake. However, this is not something you should consider skipping. If it means waking up earlier to get your body in shape to participate and fuel properly, then wake up earlier! As mentioned above, find what works for you. I set my alarm to eat two hours before the event starts, otherwise I know I’ll feel sluggish.
Don’t skip fuelling up though. Going into an event, particularly longer endurance ones, with low energy reserves can be dangerous to your health, as well as effect your overall performance.