There is a lot of evidence concluding that a pre-event meal, consumed 1-4 hours prior to an event, should be high in carbohydrate food and drink, particularly if the athlete has low carbohydrate stores due to prior events, training schedules or if the event is long and strenuous. Generally, low to moderate GI foods are suggested for pre-event meals. Why? If the foods have a high GI, the rise in insulin would therefore be high. This elevated insulin level suppresses the breakdown and use of fat as a fuel, that in turn increases glucose demand and usage at a time when we are wanting to save the carbohydrate for the event.
Research suggests there is no negative effect of such a practice in most athletes when they consume carbohydrates an hour before exercise. However, we always suggest that athletes should try their own pre-event strategy in training first, in order to monitor how they feel, and how their body reacts to certain foods. The guideline below should be considered when planning a pre-event meal:
- Food should be taken 1-4 hours before the event, depending on personal preferences, experience, event intensity, length and starting time. The closer the meal to the event, the smaller the meal should be.
- Choose foods that are high in carbohydrates to maintain blood glucose and maximise muscle and liver glycogen stores.
- 200-300 grams of carbohydrate for meals 3-4 hours before exercise have been shown to enhance performance.
- Include 500-600ml of fluids.
- Choose familiar foods that are easily digested.
- Lowering fat and fibre intake helps stomach and intestine emptying and minimises gut upsets.
- Be moderate in protein and save protein for muscle recovery after an event.
- Keep a food diary so you know what works and doesn’t, and practice the planned strategy before the major event.
Examples of pre-event meals might include:
- Cereal with low-fat milk and fruit
- Matcha Green Tea Pancakes with honey, jam or maple syrup
- Pasta or rice with vegetable sauce or stir fry vegetables
- Rice cakes with peanut butter and a banana
- Fruit salad and yoghurt, seeds and nuts
In the 1-3 days leading up to an endurance event, the following pre-event tips are suggested in order to maximise the levels of carbohydrates within the muscles and liver:
- Increase carbohydrate intake three days before the event
- Spread the intake of carbohydrate foods and drinks over smaller and more frequent meals or snacks – try 6 smaller meals a day
- Reduce fat and protein intake to leave more room for the carbohydrates
- Increase fluid intake as carbohydrate need water to be stored
- Avoid alcohol in the 24-48 hours leading up to the event
During the Event
It’s important that you keep up carbohydrate (muscle glycogen) levels when taking part in an event, to maintain the blood glucose that supplies energy to the working muscles. The dreaded feeling of ‘bonking’ can hit athletes, which makes it impossible to maintain intensity, as carbohydrate stores have run out, leaving athletes shaky and feeling empty.
For events over 1 hour, carbohydrate intake needs to be well organised. Training pouches and other accessories mean that it is easy to transport snacks. Aim for between 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour (depending on the intensity of your ride, sport, exercise or event). 30 grams can be provided by the following:
- 500ml bottle of commercially available isotonic sports drink
- 1 and a half carbohydrate energy gels
- Small handful of jellied sweets
- 1 large banana
- 1 large cereal bar or carbohydrate based energy bar (low fibre)
Both proteins and carbohydrates are important for recovery after training and events. Carbohydrates are the body’s main fuel and are stored as glycogen (in the muscle and liver). With limited stores, these need to be replaced before the next training session.
Protein is vital for the growth and repair of muscle tissue. Hard training and endurance events cause the breakdown of the muscle tissue (made from protein), therefore, it’s important to consume protein after an event to provide the building blocks (amino acids) for growth and repair, which also help to reduce muscle soreness the next day! It is usual for some athletes not to be hungry at this time, so use fluids in your recovery strategy if necessary.
20 grams of protein is an average amount that you need to hit to optimise the recovery process after training. The following are good examples of recovery snacks. Consider combining snacks or increasing the portion sizes after heavy training:
Snacks that provide 20g of protein are:
- 80g of tinned tuna
- -120g of scallops
- 80g of turkey
- -87g of chicken
- 182g of egg whites (about 5-6 egg whites)
- 75g of shrimp
- 33g of spirulina
- 140g of Quorn