Just as there are nutritional considerations when it comes to body composition and health, there are nutritional considerations when it comes to athletic output and optimal physical performance. At Predator-Diet, I’ve seen far too many athletes think that their strenuous activity level negates any obligation to be calculated when it comes to nutrition, and the opposite couldn’t be more true. The higher the level of athleticism, and the more important your level of competition, the more calculated you need to be in order to ensure your body is fueled properly to kick ass when the time comes. The last thing you want to do is pour months of dedication and effort into preparing for a competition only to ruin the comp day by not feeding your body what it needs to perform.
Competition nutrition is HIGHLY individualized. There is no “one way” to address it. However, when it comes to CrossFit, Powerlifting, or Strongman considerations, you are faced with a unique experience in that your competition day is littered with several “events” or “wods”. It’s not a single race or a single physical requirement- it is a competition comprised of multiple workouts or strenuous sessions over the course of a day or several days and this makes for a unique experience. The following points are suggestions or guidelines to help you figure out how to go about tweaking your own pre competition nutrition. These are tips or principles I use with my Predator-Diet clients, and I’ve found they prove very effective:
- Don’t wait until competition time to “try” your nutrition. I suggest a trial run a few months or weeks out from your competition. Take your body through your “pre competition nutrition” to make sure things flow smoothly and optimally. Pay special attention to how you feel and how your body responds so you can adjust if needed.
- If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. FAR too often I see athletes try to get fancy when it comes to pre competition nutrition. In all reality the LESS change, the better. You’ll want to pick foods that your body is used to, foods it knows and metabolizes well. You don’t want to experiment with new and interesting foods and methods if your body isn’t used to it. When planning pre competition nutrition stick to foods that are common place in your diet. Look to foods that make you feel good, help you perform to your standards and foods that are “easy” to consume.
- Digestion is king. You want to look to foods that are EASILY digested by the body. Digestion takes a lot of energy, and the last thing you want to do when you’re staring a competition in the face is thwart valuable energy to a bodily process like digestion. That energy is going to be needed for the physical activity coming. Poor digestion or digestive upset is also something you don’t want to be dealing with when it comes to competing- if your stomach is upset or struggling it WILL affect your performance. For example, rather than a whole banana or whole yam, I tend to use baby food variations of these items in the pre comp/intra comp protocols of my crossfitters, powerlifters, and strongmen for this very reason. It’s broken down, condensed and low in volume and easily digestible.
- Food volume is the enemy. You do not want to be weighed down with a large volume meal. Training with a belly bloat is simply uncomfortable. I tend to eliminate lots of high volume foods or suggest athletes do so. Eating a huge salad with chicken might seem logical, if it’s something you commonly eat, but you want to look to items that are low in volume yet nutrient dense, food items that are easily digestible, and items that are easy to transport or carry with you on the day of your competition.
The Days and Nights before a Competition
- The week before a competition is usually when I begin to “tweak” an athlete’s nutrition. At 7 days out is a good time to work with bland, plain or easily digestible food items. I keep ratios of carbs, proteins, and fats similar to the ratios that athlete has been using. I do not tweak too much.
- At about 3 days out I begin to adjust the macros of an athlete. The three to four days out mark from an event is critical for success. A high level of athletic performance can be maintained throughout the contest if the body is given 48- to 72-hours to properly hydrate and fuel. This is a good time to stock the carbohydrate stores so that you do not enter into strenuous competition glycogen depleted. Glycogen is a form of sugar stored in the muscle and the liver and it is the main source of energy in high intensity activity like CrossFit. The most important consideration in a pre-event meal is to eat enough carbohydrates to refill the muscle and liver stores.
Water is the other critical factor in the glycogen storage process. The body needs water in order to store glycogen in the muscles and the liver. The ability to produce speed and power over a period of time is dependent on how much glycogen is available to the muscles. I reduce the amount of fats and protein consumed by the athlete and I re-direct those calories into good carbohydrate sources. Meals two nights before leading up to a competition should be higher in good carbs and low in fat. I tend to use the 1/3 to 2/3 ratio of protein to carbs so that glycogen storage can occur. I like to use sweet potato, white jasmine rice, cream of rice, and baby food because of their high digestability. Since these items are already broken down they’re easily assimilated by the body and will not steal valuable energy for the metabolizing and breaking down of food for fuel. I also encourage my athletes to drink lots of fluid with each meal.
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In order to achieve the greatest glycogen storage, pre event eating should start two to three days prior to the competition. This higher carbohydrate diet should be paired with a lower volume of training and intensity over the final two days to achieve the best results. If you want maximum results waiting until the day, or night before, the contest to eat properly is too late.
I still use some fats at breakfast and before bed in my athlete’s diets but I pick fat sources that are (again) easily digestible. For example almond butter over almonds since it’s already broken down.
I may use some fruit, but in moderation and usually rely more on baby food rather than whole fruits. Whole fruits are high in fiber which is a digestive stall. If you have to do fruit look for fruits like watermelon or bananas.
The night before I like to have the athlete consume a higher carbohydrate meal with just a MINIMAL amount of protein to slow any crazy insulin response. I use something with some sticking power- yam or redskin potato, maybe cream of rice. I want the carbs to carry over into the morning when the athlete wakes up. Other solid options include something like a Larabar or other condensed form of carbohydrate fuel.
- On the day of the competition the athlete should be up at least two to three hours before the competition starts so that they can eat at least 1.5 hours prior to. The meal should be high in easily assimilated carbohydrates and a decent amount of water should be consumed as well. Avoid fluids like orange juice, or any high acidic drink. Apple or grape juice is alkaline or ‘basic’which can help reduce acid, and buffer lactic acid being dumped into your stomach. If the competition is later in the day the athlete should try to eat four to five hours before the event. A light high carbohydrate snack can be eaten 1 to 1 ½ hours before the contest. Again, hydration is paramount; the athlete should drink 8 ounces of water thirty-minutes before the start of the event.
Food items I like to use for the first meal would be maybe boiled egg white, plain chicken breast, 10-15g protein powder in some water, cream of rice, sweet potato baby food, banana baby food, etc.
- Throughout the day I tend to let the athlete dictate their food requirements. Some people train better or worse on a full or empty stomach. You need to do what works for you. I do suggest the athlete bring a recovery meal for after each WOD or event (lift, strongman event, etc) Preferably, this should be a recovery along the same lines of what you may do during your general training, because as I said earlier, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” The recovery meal should be low in volume and consist of easily digestible protein and carbohydrates. You don’t want a lot of fat in this meal, because you don’t want to slow absorption. I like larabars, baby food, protein shakes, boiled egg whites, plain chicken breast. A pancake made in advance works well too- I have had athletes make sweet potato protein pancakes they can easily eat cold between events.
- What the athlete DRINKS is equally as important. I like to see my athletes hydrate well, and often, with water and BCAA ( branched chain amino acid) supplementation to prevent catabolism and to fuel the body with vital micronutrients and electrolytes which may be lost during intense training sessions. Trace Minerals make an electrolyte supplement I love that can be added to water and I always recommend a BCAA supplement like Scivation Xtend or MRM Reload.
- POST competition nutrition is important as well. If you are at a multiple day event, which most powerlifting, strongman, and crossfit events tend to be, then what you eat at the end of the day is important. I DEFINITELY like to see some fat in these meals for restorative purposes, to help stall catabolism, stave off hunger, and guard against any incurring muscle trauma. Still, look to easily digestible fat sources- coconut oil, almond butter, MCT Oil in a shake or coffee, etc. I often use yam with coconut oil or almond butter, or if the athlete isn’t Paleo, something like Ezekiel Sprouted Bread with coconut oil or almond butter. A healthy dose of protein is important too- steak, chicken, eggs or egg whites are great options. Don’t burden your body with aggressive sauces, seasonings, or anything else which could irritate the gut or offset digestion.
I hope some of these tips can help you in your competition preparation. The last and final thing you will want to do is get your mind right. Whatever you need to do to find your center, your focus, to motivate yourself and give you a stable perspective moving forward- do it. I like to actually NOT think much about the competition itself. I like watching a movie- in fact I have a stack of my “go tos” that I watch before a competition because they’re favorites- they lighten my mood and uplift my mind. Whatever you do to get your mind focused make sure that once it’s in a positive spot it stays there.
Remember every athlete is different. What works for one doesn’t work for everyone. You will need to figure out precisely what works for you, but hopefully this article gets you started off in the right direction.
Beast Mode- ON!
Allison Moyer-Fahrenbach is a nationally and internationally published fitness model, well known NPC figure competitor, CrossFit and strength athlete, entrepreneur, motivator, nutritionist and performance dietary specialist based out of Lancaster, PA. She holds a Bachelors in Wellness and Sports Science as well as multiple certifications including her C.P.T, C.S.N, C.S.C.C, and her CF-L1 and CF Weightlifting. She can be contacted for appearances, talks, seminars, posing classes, training and more through her website www.alli-fitness.com or by email, AllisonMoyer@live.com.