Think of your body as a car, when you fill the car with premium fuel it runs at a completely different level. Performing at your peak means you need to supply your body with that same kind of quality fuel. You might have previously been able to “get by” in eating the wrong things or even running on empty. However, if you are looking to make a serious transformation you need to look at what your diet is doing. You won’t reach the same performance heights, or make progress if you don’t start considering what is boosting your workouts.
Of course, the term performance means different things to people. For a powerlifter, it means generating maximal strength for a few seconds spread over several hours. For a long-distance runner, it means avoiding hitting the wall at the 32km point in a marathon.
Depending on what your end goal is, your nutritional approach will vary. What works for a heavy-class weightlifter, might not work for a triathlete! However, there are some basic principles that can be applied to everyone for improved performance.
EAT FOR WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO DO
Fueling your body in anticipation of what you are about to perform is arguably one of the most important factors of performance nutrition. If you want to be your best, you need to make sure your body has an abundant supply of energy and nutrients, which you are about to deplete in your activity.
For strenuous activities, the main source of energy is glycogen. Muscle glycogen is a carbohydrate locked within your muscles. The greater your initial glycogen stores, the longer and more intensely you’ll be able to exercise.
To maximize your glycogen stores, you need to ensure that you consume extra carbohydrates in the days leading up to your event. Combined with tapering, a gradual reduction in training volume and intensity, this will maximize your glycogen levels.
Because your body takes time to convert dietary carbohydrates into glycogen, you should start this process several days out from your event, 5-7 days at a minimum. If you leave it too late, despite consuming seemingly adequate amounts of carbs, your body won’t have the time it needs to assimilate the carbs and store them for your big day.
A pre-event high-carb meal can help top off your muscle glycogen stores, the traditional pre-marathon pasta party for example. Realistically it is what you eat in the days leading up to your event that is of more importance.
While intense or prolonged exercise will deplete your glycogen stores, you can slow that depletion by consuming fast acting-carbs during your event. This could be by consuming high-carbohydrate fluids and foods, or a combination of the two.
Fluids are generally absorbed faster, and easier on your stomach. However, long events could leave you hungry. Solid foods may also be more desirable, or preferable. Sports drinks, energy bars, and gels are convenient to use in these circumstances. They are also engineered to provide a fast energy boost. Regular foods that are high in sugar, such as fruit or candy can also work.
HYDRATION IS CRUCIAL
Perspiration and exhalation can soon lead to dehydration, especially on a hot day or during a long event. Dehydration is known to significantly lower your performance. Your body will not function at optimal capacity when it is overheated. Your blood also tends to thicken when you get dehydrated.
This means your heart will have to work much harder than usual to pump blood around your body, causing you to feel tired more rapidly. This is called cardiac drift and is why your heart rate increases during a lengthy workout despite not increasing your pace.
Avoid dehydration by consuming plenty of water during your event, or more on very hot days. About 500ml per 30 minutes. Increase fluid absorption and replace lost minerals by adding electrolytes to your water. Electrolytes are available in powder form and are also common ingredients in sports drinks. You could also add EHPLabs BCAA’s to assist in hydration.
SUPPLEMENTS FOR INCREASED PERFORMANCE
For optimal performance, food and training must work together in synergy. Other factors such as rest and supplements will also enhance results. If you are going to be taking supplements also make sure you consider the legality of any supplements you use. A product that is readily available could still contain ingredients that are banned by your sport’s governing body. If you are going to be subjected to drug tests, make sure you check the contents of your supplements and compare them against your sport’s list of banned substances. At EhpLab the supplements are WADA compliant, and the third party tested. This means that they can be used to help athletes improve performance and recovery.
Potential performance-boosting supplements include:
Pre-Workouts – High in caffeine for an instant energy boost
BCAAs – Shown to provide energy and spare muscle glycogen during intense exercise
Creatine– A precursor of ATP, your body’s primary energy currency
Energy Drinks – Another source of caffeine, and also contain carbs in the form of sugar.
Beta-alanine – Shown to delay fatigue by lowering PH and buffering lactic acid.
Glutamine– The most abundant amino acid in muscle tissue that may help prevent muscle breakdown during exercise.
HAVE A TRIAL RUN
While all of these tips have the potential to boost your performance, you should not use them for the first time just before a major event. Everybody’s body will respond in different ways, and what gives one person an abundant amount of energy, could make another person sick to their stomach.
Make sure you have a trial run with any supplements, or eating/drinking strategies during training so that you can see how your body responds. The last thing you want to do is sabotage your performance with an untested food or supplement!
Your big day is not the best time for experimentation!
Use these strategies to maximize your performance! Remember though... Training, rest, and your normal diet are the cornerstones of your success! These strategies could give you an extra edge, but they won’t make up for inconsistent training, not getting enough sleep, or eating too much junk food.