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Should I change my diet before events?

The answer is normally yes. One should always keep in mind that it can depend on a few factors such as the type of sport, competition days (is it a multi day event?), the athlete’s body composition and if he/she is resting for the event and resting in between events.

Preparation events: We can expect the athlete to have a few difficulties (some can be planned such as not being able to shift gears during a race or not having easy speed) and many can be unplanned such as the high level long distance swimmer (that does have the capability to produce higher levels of lactic acid than his/her counterparts) that, for some reason, trains harder than he/she should and end up with his/her lactic acid production capability exhausted, and feels fatigued overall.

I’m not saying the nutritionist or the athlete should be a physiology expert but as you get to know the possible cause of complaints, it gets easier to interact with the other members of the interdisciplinary professionals so the athlete can have the best nutritional support possible.

It’s important to remember that more anaerobic type of work demand more glycogen as the energy source so the nutrition must be adapted and serve as support to the training phase and the specific changes made by the coaches to planned and eventually unplanned difficulties. Another example could be either a judo or taekwondo or football player having coordination difficulties and loss of biomechanic form during meets.

For these events (in season) a higher carbohydrate intake is usually implemented about 3 days in advance. On a basic level it means increasing pasta, potato, yam, changing a few supplements (we will talk a bit more in the next paragraphs), decreasing red meat consumption as well as a few foods known to increase lactic acid production. The goal should be to emulate the diet you will be doing at your taper meet/competition.

A special attention should be given to the supplements used (in this text I’m not going to be talking about supplements tested by batch by Wada specialized labs in order not to have contaminants or prohibited substances) but supplements that are commonly used as support for better recovery.

These supplements usually don’t have an immediate impact on performance. They serve as a support for better recovery from stimulus placed during practice and sometimes take weeks to note any benefit. Such examples are: amino acids (such as, for example, arginine, leucine), enzymes (such as alpha lipoic acid), vitamins (such as the B complex).

The other way around is also true. There are several different supplements that can act on a short time and better endurance (old Vo2 or A3 as you call it), muscle power and concentration, for example.

Even through these supplements do not seem important at in season meets (non important meets) it’s important to try out and get used to them before trying it out at big meets. It’ always important to say that one should always seek the help of a nutritionist/doctor who is acquainted to the Wada guidelines.

Also important is the period about 30-40 min before the race. The carb should be easily absorbed (meals hard to digest can concentrate the blood flow, oxygen, nutrients in the intestines instead of the muscles).

The most common pre event is the use of gels or other similar products. Too much carbohydrate may make you feel sleepy and too much carbohydrate (liquid or gel) may actually contribute to dehydration (and cause gastro intestinal distress).

This can be specially important at events held in closed gyms, at high temperatures. In the case of long events the foods/supplements taken to competition should always be tested during long workouts and in season meets beforehand. When designing a pre event diet/supplement routine it’s also important to take into account what the athlete will have access the week before (in cases where he/she needs to travel to compete somewhere else).

One such example on how the pre event differs from athlete to athlete is the case for events where concentration is the most important asset. As we said, high carbohydrate meals tend to make us feel sleepy (so for these athletes in particular the pre event meal differs from the diet done the week or 3 days before. Just before the event the carbo content is lower and protein higher. Providing there’s not a health condition present).

The goal meet: Diet changes usually take place 7-10 days earlier. Interaction with the coaches is crucial to get to know taper time (for example boys sometimes have different rest from girls and the same can happen between age groups).

For those athletes who have to pay special attention to weight (sometimes get weighted not once but twice or more at different days before competition) one of the greatest concerns is to stabilize blood sugar levels and to avoid meals that could cause fluid retention (all in a way that the weight gets stabilized without the athlete having to go through any gruesome process to lose weight). In fact it can happen if proper planning is not done during preparation.

Many times knowing the proper food combinations and choices may help in the process. One is to always have a little source of protein at every meal (it helps to retard the carbohydrate absorption so maintenance of weight is easier).

Foods that can help stabilize blood sugar levels by themselves include sweet potato, yacon potato, oats/oatmel. Even at this type of situation (meets where several weight in sessions happen) the athlete still benefits from a pre competition use of gels (without caffeine, with water) and the alike about half of an hour before the event and right after) as well as those fast acting supplements.

During the events/meets (for most sports) easy to digest foods should be the priority such as white bread/bagels, isotonic sport drinks, starches such as yam, potato, cooked.

After cool down (up to aprox. 30 min. after the race), try to replenish the energy sources by consuming high carbohydrate foods such as granola, fruits, açai. One example could be: A bagel sandwich + fruits, granola, honey.

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