Eating to Optimize PerformanceKelly Ping-RD Peak Nutrition Clinic
Eating 3-4 hours prior to exercise a meal high in (200-300 g) carbohydrates, moderate in protein (15-20 g), and low in fat has been shown to improve performance. This being said, for cyclists, selecting a few lower intensity, non-essential workouts per week to train in a fasted state will teach your body to burn fat better, thus allowing your carbohydrate stores to last longer on long endurance rides. If less time is available before a workout, the size of the pre-exercise meal should be decreased. It is recommended that an athlete eat at least 30 min-1 hr prior to exercise to allow for some digestion to take place. If this is more like your timeframe, aim for 30-50 g carbohydrates and 10 g or less of protein. Athletes unable to consume solid foods prior to a workout can try ingesting diluted juice or sports drink to meet these carbohydrate needs. If a strength training session is on the schedule, it is important to consume a combination of carbohydrates and at least 10 grams of protein prior to activity. Without consuming adequate carbohydrates and protein, your body will actually start to breakdown muscle instead of building it.
For exercise lasting greater than 1.5 hour, consuming carbohydrates to maintain blood glucose levels helps improve performance. Consuming carbohydrates during exercise becomes even more important if the pre-exercise meal has been missed. Fluid should be consumed every 15-20 minutes in small doses rather than in large quantities less often. Most athletes tolerate a solution that is 6-8% carbohydrate during exercise; going above this level can lead to GI distress. If the same total amount of carbohydrate is ingested, the form of carbohydrate does not seem to matter below 60 g/ hour. If Gu or Shot blocs are your carbohydrates of choice, make sure you are consuming them with water to better achieve this range. Most athletes can tolerate 60 g carbohydrate / hr, but is something that should be experimented with in training. For endurance athletes that are exercising for greater than 4 hours, a higher amount of carbohydrates of up to 90 g/hr is recommended , to maintain glycogen stores. New research concludes that this needs to be done by combining different types of sugars (glucose + fructose) absorbed through different pathways at a 3:1 ratio to prevent GI distress. For most people, the higher the intensity of exercise the less they are able to tolerate during a workout.
Meal timing and composition is dependent upon the type of exercise and duration it is performed. If a strength training session is performed, it is important to get in carbohydrates and approximately 20 g of protein within 30 minutes for optimal muscle gain. Foods containing whey protein are better absorbed than those derived from soy. If you are competing in multiple sessions per day, that 30 minute window is also important as you are better able to absorb carbohydrates and replenish glycogen stores during this time. Foods with a higher glycemic index are the best choices for these scenarios because they are absorbed at a faster rate. If you are not planning on doing another training session within 24 hours, immediate post exercise nutrition is less critical.
Nutrition timing is something that should be included as a part of training for optimal performance on race day. If you are looking for more personalized nutrition timing, contact the Peak Nutrition Clinic at (719)255-4433.