It was a summery Sunday morning in Seattle, where I was traveling on business. A colleague was training for a marathon and a couple of us decided to join her on a 30 km training run. I admit that not a lot of forethought went into that decision. I was fit enough, but I’d given zero thought to my nutrition plan for the “event”. So I ate a big dinner the night before, a decent hotel buffet breakfast that morning, and once we hit the road, the single energy gel pack and water bottle didn’t last long. By the middle of the run, I was lagging. By the end, I was tight, my legs were wobbly, I was hungry, and I was out of gas. All things considered, though, I was doing okay. Until we hit Pike Place near the waterfront and I bought, and devoured, a giant pumpkin cookie from a local bakery.
Man, did that hit the spot! Then, 30 minutes later, I was seeing spots. The cookie hit me like a lead balloon. I was drained, shaky and feeling chilled to the point that a doctor friend of mine took me aside, sat me down and made me eat something healthy. A few minutes later I was feeling relatively normal again.
We all want to be better next year. Go farther, harder, faster, whether you’re running a marathon, competing in a Master’s event or swimming lengths in your neighbourhood pool. Same goes for any sport, at any age: cycling, hiking up that tough trail, heading to the three times a week cross fit / bootcamp / spin class. Nutrition plays a big part in your performance, before the event, during, and in the recovery phase.
Carbs are the fuel that powers our bodies’ engines during exercise – your body stores them the way that batteries store energy. Our bodies break down carbs and convert them into glycogen, which is easy to store in the muscles and in the liver for later use, and easy to convert back into glucose for an instant energy fix. But, like a battery, your body doesn’t have unlimited storage capacity. When your carb stores run out during exercise, you feel fatigued. You can’t train as hard, your performance starts to drop, even your immune system declines. So what’s the best nutrition strategy to boost your sports performance?
The night before:
If you’re planning to work out the following morning, eat more carbs than normal to load up your glycogen stores. Yes, the old carb loading. But not just any carbs will do – focus on low GI carbs to ensure the carbs break down more slowly, avoiding the sugar spike & crash cycle. The meal should be low in fat, quality lean protein and a reasonable portion. Or you will pay.
Breakfast on the day of the event:
Stick to low GI foods and snacks (like Bridgepeak™ Dark Chocolate Espresso Hazelnut Bark, fresh fruit, whole grain toast, oatmeal). Avoid foods that are high in fat, protein or fibre as these can cause stomach discomfort while your body tries to digest them. If it’s only an hour before the event, keep the volumes smaller.
This is the time you should consume high GI carbohydrates for quick energy – sports beverages like Gatorade® and Powerade® can be good. Or Powergels® if you want to keep your fluid intake low.
One to two hours post-event, return to low GI foods and beverages. Your body needs to recharge its batteries by replenishing its glycogen stores. The longer you take to do this, the sooner you feel fatigue. Avoid giant pumpkin cookies drizzled with icing. Fresh fruit is a far better bet (oranges, bananas - loaded with potassium, apples), and, of course, Bridgepeak™ Dark Chocolate Bark.
Snack with Confidence!
Co-Founder – Bridgepeak Nutrition Inc.
Supporting scientific papers:
Glycemic index and sustained energy for physical performance: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Talya Postelnik, Alan W Barclay, and Peter Petocz. GI Foundation, 2014.
Glycemic index, postprandial glycemia, and the shape of the curve in healthy subjects: analysis of a database of more than 1,000 foods. Brand-Miller et al. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009; 89: 97–105
Glycemic index and physical performance: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Talya Postelnik, Alan W Barclay, and Peter Petocz. GI Foundation. 2014
Pre-exercise and low Glycemic Index meals and cycling performance in untrained females: randomised, cross over trial of efficacy. Moore et al Res Sports Med. 2013;21(1):24-36
Effect of dietary glycemic index on substrate transporter gene expression in human skeletal muscle after exercise. Cheng et al. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009; 63(12):1404-10