Pre-Event Nutrition Strategies
There is no doubt that a pre-event meal 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 or training or if the event is long and/or hard. In general, low to moderate GI foods are suggested for pre-event meals. Why? If the foods were high GI, the rise in insulin would 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.
Despite the popular belief that carbohydrate in the hour before exercise should be avoided, the majority of research suggests there is no negative effect of such a practice in most athletes. However, as always, athletes should try their own pre-event strategy in training. In any case, ensure that the carbohydrate-rich food used is low GI. The following guidelines must be considered when planning your pre-event meal:
- Be taken 1-4 hours before depending on personal preferences, experience and event intensity, length and starting time. The closer the meal to the event, the smaller the meal.
- 200-300 grams of carbohydrate for meals 3-4 hours before exercise have been shown to enhance performance
- Include fluids (400-600 ml)
- Low in fat and fibre to help stomach and intestine emptying and minimise gut upsets
- Be familiar foods
- High in carbohydrate to maintain blood glucose and maximise muscle and liver glycogen stores
- Be moderate in protein
- Know what works and doesn’t work for you and practice the planned strategy before the major goal.
Examples of pre-event meals might include:
- Cereal with low-fat milk and fruit
- Bread, toast, muffins or crumpets with jam, honey or banana
- Pancakes with honey, jam or syrup
- Pasta or rice with low-fat topping
- Rice cakes or bread rolls with banana
- Sports bars
- Commercial liquid meal supplement
- Creamed rice
- Fruit salad and yoghurt
In the 1-3 days leading up to a major endurance event or series of matches at a tournament, the following pre-event tips are suggested in order to maximise the levels of carbohydrates within muscle and liver:
- Increase carbohydrate intake three days out
- Spread the intake of carbohydrate foods and drinks over smaller and more frequent meals or snacks
- 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
For the long distance endurance athlete (e.g. marathoner, Olympic distance or longer triathletes, ultra distance athlete), the principle of carbohydrate loading might be considered. Chapter 16 of The Masters Athlete has a detailed discussion on the three methods used to carbohydrate before endurance events.