Food for Thought: Are You Eating for Peak Performance?
Ultimate tournaments are a great part of our sport, and most of us love getting on the road with our team, playing lots of ultimate, hanging out with other players, team dinners, and going to the tournament parties. But tournaments, as multi-day sport events, can be challenging on the body and our energy reserves. These days are exhausting and, as you know, can often take days to recuperate from.
What you eat before and during tournaments or other multi-day events like weekend-long trainings, or tryouts, can make a big difference in how you feel and perform and in speeding up post-event recuperation time. To that end, I’ve collated useful nutritional tips on how to prepare for tournaments, as well as shared with you some of the science on pre-tournament nutrition and athletic performance.
What you eat two days before counts!
Manipulating nutrition and exercise in the hours and days prior to an important event helps you have adequate muscle glycogen stores, which in turn aids performance. Glycogen (a multibranched polysaccharide of glucose) is how we store carbohydrates in our muscles and livers. Typically, in the absence of muscle damage, glycogen stores are normalized within 24h of reduced training and adequate fuel intake.
Due to the need for long-duration performance at tournaments, the science shows that higher glycogen stores may be beneficial. This can be achieved by a technique known as carbohydrate loading. The timing and amount of carbs needed for loading varies between individuals and energetic needs, but for trained athletes, carb loading can be achieved by extending the period of a carbohydrate-rich diet and tapering training for 48h prior to the event.
Carbohydrate fueling and loading guidelines.
This table, re-printed from Nutrition and Athletic Performance, is intended for elite athletes. Amounts should be adjusted to your level of activity.
In practice, for elite athletes, carb loading is achieved by eating 40-46 calories of carbs per kilogram of body weight for every 24 hours during the 1.5 to 2 days prior to the event. There are lots of wholesome high carb foods that you can eat, such as some fruits, whole grains, pasta, energy bars, and beans. Look at the figure to visualize 50 grams of carbs in some common high-carbohydrate foods.
Lately, there has been a lot of talk about the benefits of doing a depletion phase prior to increasing carbs, which means eating very little carbs for 3 days before loading. However, the science shows that well-trained endurance athletes can achieve glycogen supercompensation without the need for the depletion phase prior to loading. Also, carbs are stored in our bodies associated with water (2 to 3g of water for every g of glycogen), which can weigh you down. The best is always to try different approaches and to see what fits you best… but remember not to experiment just prior or during an important event.
The last 24 hours – think comfort!
Another important goal before tournaments is to ensure gut comfort throughout the event and avoid feelings of hunger or discomfort and gastrointestinal upsets. The day before the tournament, opt for foods with low-fat, low-fiber, and low–moderate protein content, as these are easier to digest and less likely to cause gastrointestinal problems. If you suffer from pre-event nerves or are crazy busy before the event and have no time to think of food, you may find that liquid meal supplements are useful.
Want to know more?
We’ve concluded that nutrition is key to your health and for further adaptation to exercise. This is particularly relevant in the case of competitive events that span many days. The nutrition guides in the Ultimate Athlete Project have a lot more detail on what to eat during tournaments to help with nutritional support. In the end, each individual athlete should choose a strategy that suits their situation and their past experiences, which can be fine-tuned with further experimentation.
As you already know, it is what you do and eat most of the time that counts. That said, the week before tournaments, tweaks to your food and daily routines can help. Besides tapering your training load and getting a good night’s sleep, eat wholesome foods rich in carbohydrates that that you are familiar with. Leave experimentation and challenges around food and exercise to other times.
- Nutrition and Athletic Performance. 2016. Position of Dietitians of Canada, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American College of Sports Medicine.
- Carbohydrates for training and competition. 2011. Journal of Sports Science.
- Fundamentals of glycogen metabolism for coaches and athletes. 2018. Nutrition Reviews.
Sofia C Pereira is an Integrative Nutrition health coach whose highly-personalised approach is based on the premise that each one of us is the best specialist on themselves. You can find out more about her work at http://besthealth.life/.