If you’re an elite athlete struggling with a plateau or not reaching your performance goals, your nutrition might be the weak link. Our goal is to help you understand this magical machine called the human body and why nutrition is so important. With Nutrition being 90% of the training equation, not eating right is the nutritional version of skipping leg day. While the timing of meals/nutrients isn't as crucial for people exercising less than one hour daily, it can be a huge factor in how elite OCR or endurance athletes perform and recover. By discussing pre-, during, and post-race nutrition (and most importantly, hydration), we hope to guide you into creating better habits to help you peak on race day.
When it comes to preparing for a race, the most common obstacle is nutrition. Eating either too much or not enough can both lead to a lack of performance. The main goal is to keep you from feeling hungry (before and during exercise) and to maintain blood glucose levels for the muscles. Athletes competing in Obstacle Course Racing and endurance sports may need to increase their carbohydrate and protein intake before their workout or race (compared to someone less active) to maximize muscle recovery and energy levels during training and race day. Research shows that intensity remains stronger and recovery time shorter if you’ve been fueling your workout properly.
The body deals with nutrients differently at different times, depending on activity. So what's the best way to eat to ensure you make the most of your workout? When choosing your pre-workout meal, think about what’s going on in your body when you eat. If you eat right before a workout, your energy will be torn between your muscles, (which are trying to exercise), and your stomach, which is working on digesting that food you just ate. The net result? You are left with less energy for your workout.
To avoid that energy drain, eat about 2 hours before a workout. That maximizes fuel for your muscles by maximizing glucose availability and reduces the risk of indigestion. When eating within the 3 hours before your workout or race, the goal is to find foods that help you:
- Sustain energy
- Enhance performance
- Expedite recovery; and
- Preserve muscle mass
To help ensure you’re checking all of these boxes, we’re going go over how different foods are processed in the body and how specific amounts of protein, carbs, and fats before your race will guarantee optimal performance.
Protein Pre-Race Or Workout
Here’s why protein matters: Eating protein before a workout or race helps your body rebuild and repair muscle. Protein also helps your body produce the amino acids you need in order for your muscles to work properly, which means protein offers benefits both during and after your workout ends. (You need your muscles to recover properly so you can finish your next workout strong). Some of the key benefits to eating lean protein are:
- Lean protein can help you maintain or even increase muscle size. This is obviously helpful for those of you looking to improve health and body composition.
- Protein before exercise can help with prevention of muscle injury (e.g., myoglobin, creatine kinase, and myofibrillar protein degradation) or at least intercept the deterioration. The less stress or damage to your muscles, the faster the recovery and the faster you adapt to the workout program.
- And like we discussed above, protein also swarms your blood stream with amino acids just when you need them most. This enhances muscle building.
A popular go to for a pre-workout meal is a protein shake, but research shows that speed of digestion isn’t important. So, any source of lean protein will work (see chart below for some examples). Shakes are great for when you’re short on time and didn’t consume your normal pre-race meal in time.
Carbs Pre-Race Or Workout
You may or may not know this, but our body’s primary energy source is through glucose (sugar, found in carbohydrates). Ingesting carbs before your workout helps feed your muscles and powers your performance, since they get broken down into glucose. This is why a common pre-workout choice includes carbohydrates like fruit, steel cut oatmeal, or whole grain bread, while also incorporating small amounts of protein. The more you use your muscles (i.e., the longer your workout), the more carbs you’ll need beforehand.
As mentioned earlier, a good rule of thumb is eating 1-3 hours before your workout. This is best time to eat a mixed meal of lean protein, healthy carbs, and fat portions (see below for suggestions). If you can’t eat more in that time frame, all is not lost. If you’re eating an hour or less before, a smoothie is best for rapid digestion. And, I think it goes without saying but for pre-workout meals choose foods that make your tummy happy. Never try anything new on race day!
If you’re just looking to finish or “get by”, you don’t need to change your diet, but if you are reading this you’re probably looking to do more than just finish! When looking to boost performance and run a fast time; it's a slightly different story. You can probably even benefit from increasing your carbohydrate intake one or two days (or maybe even three days) before a race.
So, What Should I Actually Eat? How Much Protein? How Many Carbs? What About Fats?
If you've ever had your macros calculated, you should be following that meal plan a few hours before the race. Otherwise, there isn't really a specific one size fits all P+C+F ratio. Men and women have different needs and you'll have to consider your body type and goals. If you'd like your macros calculated, Full Pursuit Health is offering Fierce Gear OCR followers a 50% discount ($25) for a Full Macro Breakdown. But, for a quick fix, you can eyeball it using this hand portion guide. Women need 1 palm of protein, 1 fist of veggies, 1 cupped handful of healthy carbs and 1 thumb size of healthy fats.
Men should double that amount:
So, if you’re ready to perform instead of just getting by and skipping the nutritional version of leg day, I personally recommend doing it slowly and work on creating habits sustainably. For more information, and to learn more about nutrition and personalized coaching for Obstacle Course Racing and Endurance Sports success please visit us at fullpursuithealth.com and feel free to reach out to me personally with any questions - Jessie@fullpursuithealth.com.