I receive questions from Feed athletes on a weekly basis about planning nutrition for a big event. It’s a tough subject, and there aren’t one-size-fits-all answers. Every athlete, every event, and every sport is different. To top it all off, nutrition that works well one day, might not work well the next day.
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Follow these 5 tips and you’ll be on your way to getting your nutrition dialed in perfectly.
1. Plan ahead.
Pro athletes have acquired knowledge over many years of practice that gives them a better understanding of what nutrition does / does not work for their big events. For the rest of us, we don’t have as much experience to draw from, so it’s important to test nutrition well in advance of your event. I recommend backing up from your target event date at least 2 months, 3-4 months is ideal. If your event is on June 1st, start planning and testing your nutrition no later than April 1st.
I’ve been working on reducing sugar and carb intake dramatically during training days, which makes me feel tired, slow and lethargic. During my “event-simulation” days I increase sugar and carb intake during training and usually add a little bit of caffeine. For my event-simulation days, I’m focused purely on maximum performance and not on what’s healthy. The result? I feel AMAZING during event simulations, but if I ate like that every day, I’d likely have type 2 diabetes! I like to try 2 event simulations each month leading up to my event.
Key point: start with something easy, like “eating less dessert” or “eating more vegetables” and see what happens. Starting with small dietary changes is better than making big drastic changes.
3. Be ready to try new things.
You can’t make yourself a better athlete if you never try new things. Training with reduced or no sugar and minimal carbohydrate intake goes against everything that I’ve ever done for the past 20 years as an athlete. I have to test a no-sugar and minimal-carb diet in order to know what the results will be. Remember, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every 2 months, making small changes in diet can also teach you a lot.
4. Trust the process and record what works.
If you’ve already committed to challenging yourself by entering an event, you’re ready to handle good days and bad days in training. Be ready to take the good with the bad and don’t assume that one bad day of training means you’re going to perform terribly on event day. Chances are that the days you perceive as “bad” training days, are also the ones that are making you stronger in the long run. Keep a journal and write down what you ate, how you slept, how stressed you are at work, etc. Recording this information will help you learn and build a better event-day nutrition plan.
5. Never try anything new for the first time on event day.
If you’ve gone through the process of following the first 4 steps, you won’t need to try anything new on race day. Take what you’ve learned and repeat the best nutrition plan that you used during event-simulation days. If you do, chances are your body will respond well and you’ll perform to the best of your ability.