Eating and Competing
What you eat on a day-to-day basis is extremely important for training. Your diet will affect how fast and how well you progress, and how soon you reach a competitive standard. But once you are ready to compete, you will have a new concern: your competition diet. Is it important? What should you eat before your competition?
When is the best time to eat?
How much should you eat?
Should you be eating during the event?
And what can you eat between matches?
A lot of research has been done in this area, and it is clear that certain dietary approaches can enhance competition performance. The following gives guidelines about eating and competing which should help you to perform at your best during the 4 Nations and beyond.
What should you eat in the week before the competition?
During the week before a competition you should fill up your glycogen stores so that you begin your competition with a full fuel supply. The way to increase your glycogen stores is to taper training during the final week before a competition, and to increase carbohydrate intake. Eat plenty of complex carbohydrate foods, especially those with a low glycaemic index to help boost your glycogen stores. For the last three to four days try to eat a small meal or snack every two or three hours. Plan each meal around high- carbohydrate foods, for example baked potatoes, bread or pasta. Your total energy intake should remain about the same as usual. Eat smaller portions of high-protein foods such as meat, fish and eggs. Keep fat intake to a minimum and eat larger amounts of carbohydrate-rich foods (i.e. potatoes, pasta, cereals, etc). During these last few days you should, ideally, be getting 60-70% of your energy from carbohydrates.
What should you eat before competing?
Hopefully, by the morning of the tournament, the previous day's eating will already have filled your glycogen stores. Your pre-competition meal should be high in carbohydrate, low in fat, low in protein, low in fibre (i.e. not too bulky and filling), enjoyable and familiar. Eat complex carbohydrates as these release energy slowly. Avoid simple carbohydrates as these release energy quickly but trigger the release of insulin which can soon make you feel tired. Suitable types of food include: breakfast cereals, porridge, bread, rolls, toast, fruit juice, fruit, rice cakes, plain crackers, boiled rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, boiled pasta, dried fruit, oatmeal biscuits, plain wholemeal biscuits, muffins and carbohydrate drinks.
Must you eat a pre-competition meal?
Many competitors feel nervous on the day of the competition and do not want to eat. However, it is not a good idea to avoid having a pre-competition meal. Your liver glycogen stores will be low and could adversely affect your performance in the last stages of the game. The liver can only store enough glycogen to last 12 hours, so if you eat nothing after the previous day's evening meal your liver glycogen stores will be considerably depleted. If you really do not feel like eating, try to have a liquid meal such as a carbohydrate drink, some fruit juice or commercial sports drink.
Should you eat just before the game?
Studies have shown that eating a small amount (about 50 gms) of fast-absorbing carbohydrate just before exercise helps to delay fatigue and improve endurance. Carbohydrates with a high glycaemic index are absorbed relatively quickly into the bloodstream and cause a fairly rapid rise in blood-sugar levels. If you start exercising within about five minutes, an increase in insulin will be prevented and your blood-sugar levels will remain slightly raised for longer. Some people are more sensitive to blood-sugar fluctuations than others, so you may find that this last-minute snack does not suit you at all.
Should you eat or drink during a game?
As you are competing for more than an hour, you may find that taking extra carbohydrate during the game helps to delay fatigue and maintain exercise intensity, particularly during the later stages. If you take small amounts of carbohydrate at regular intervals during the game, blood- sugar levels will be boosted and glycogen stores will not be depleted so rapidly. Whilst this is not always practical, unless substituted, you could look to take on more carbohydrates during Half time.
Make sure you are well hydrated before the competition having your last drink about 15-20 minutes before the start. Drink at regular intervals (150 to 300ml), ideally every 15 minutes or whenever you have a break during the game. Do not wait until you feel thirsty, you will already be dehydrated. Water is fine or you may prefer to use a commercial carbohydrate drink (Sports Drinks) as this will also refuel your glycogen stores.
What should you eat after game?
Following training & competition your glycogen stores are depleted. In order to replenish them you need to consider the speed at which carbohydrate is converted into blood glucose and transported to the muscles. The rapid replenishment of glycogen stores will be important on the Saturday as we have two games.
Studies have shown that consuming high GI carbohydrates, approximately 2g/kg of body weight, and 40g of protein within 2 hours after exercise speeds up the replenishment of glycogen stores and therefore speeds up recovery time. It appears that the muscles are more receptive to and retaining carbohydrate during the two hours after exercise so take on carbohydrates as soon as you feel able to after the first game.