If you’re only focused on race-day nutrition, you’re missing the big picture, says Littleton, Colo.-based Bob Seebohar, who served as the personal sport dietitian for the 2008 U.S. Olympic triathlon team and author of Nutrition Periodization for Athletes: Taking Traditional Sports Nutrition to the Next Level.
“You have specific physiological goals associated with each training cycle, such as increasing endurance, speed, strength and power, and improving technique, tactics and economy,” Seebohar said. “You should have specific nutrition goals as well.”
Those goals might include losing or gaining weight, losing body fat and increasing lean muscle mass, reducing inflammation and improving overall health. To achieve your goals, Seebohar recommends periodizing your nutrition plan just as you would your training. “Look at your nutrition as a function of your energy expenditure and physical goals associated with each training cycle to guide your nutritional choices,” Seebohar said.
Seebohar shares five tips for fueling during your competitive season, when you have the highest energy expenditure needs.
1. Warm Up Your Gut
Warming up the gut means identifying the food and drink that sit best in the digestive tract before training. As training intensity increases, blood flow to the digestive tract is minimized as it’s shifted to the working muscles, leading to less efficient digestion. The food that you ate before your training sessions in the previous cycle may not work the same now that you are training more intensely.
2. Simulate Race Day In Training
The stress hormone response encountered at the beginning of a competition sometimes alters certain body responses, such as digestion. It is extremely important to account for this as much as possible by placing a few training sessions at competition intensity, where the specific nutrient timing plan (before, during and after) can be tried.
3. Less Is More
Although it is true that your body likely requires more carbohydrates during training sessions, teaching your body how to oxidize fat during pre-season workouts will train it to use fat stores as an energy source during endurance efforts. By consuming fewer or no carbs during select training sessions, you will become more metabolically efficient.
4. Fine Tune Your Plan
If you compete in different environments and race lengths, your hydration and electrolyte plans may need to change. However slight the change, you should test it out during intense training sessions before competition rolls around.
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5. Avoid Temptation
Most often, temptation comes during travel to races. Because your routine and schedule are disrupted, it is easy to stray from your normal nutrition plan. It is very important to avoid this and take the time to prepare your fueling strategy before traveling. Be sure to locate grocery stores and restaurants and bring any cooking tools and food that you will need in order to be self-sufficient and stay in control of your diet.