Day 17. How Do I Eat to Prep for Competition?
This is a topic we discussed at our group Q&A. Have a question, problem or tip you want to share with the group? Join us Thursday evenings during the BCCC at 6:30pm in the coaches’ lounge!
By this point in the BCCC, hopefully you’re making a pretty solid connection between what you’re eating and how you’re performing….that a big breakfast before 500m sprints on the erg mean you may taste those hash browns twice, that skipping breakfast means you feel a little awful during 20 rep squats at 6:30pm, and eating dinner at 10pm means you can’t fall asleep til 1am which means you get 5 hours of sleep which means the bear crawls at 6am feel like you’re moving through cement.
You’re learning! And you’re starting to create new habits and routines that mean you feel energized and strong throughout your workouts and appropriately slaughtered (for just a few minutes) afterward.
But what to do for special days? For the day-long Rumbles and Throwdowns and oly competitions and CF Totals and half marathons? For the times we actually test what we train for and push ourselves to the absolute limits of our physical capacity? For the days when you know you’ll be at a strange gym or on the road bike for hours and hours with no way to run home over lunch and no ability to eat a full meal? How do you prepare yourself nutritionally to do your best test PHYSICALLY?
The first answer is of course – that the best thing you can do for game-day performance is EXACTLY what you’re doing now. Eating WELL and eating well CONSISTENTLY is the first and most effective foundation you can lay for a good competition. If you’re not eating enough to recover from your workouts, if you’re fighting a chronic health issue that’s exacerbated by something you’re eating, if your dinner consists of nothing but a box of Mike&Ike candy, then you’re not going to perform optimally. Period.
That said, the second answer is frustratingly that this is something that’s HIGHLY individualized (much like everything we recommend people experiment with). We can give you tons of resources to check out, dozens of things that we’ve seen work well in practice with people that are right in front of us, but the reality is that this is something you need to test on yourself*. I can read a million studies and anecdotes that say that eating a cheeseburger before an oly meet will make me lift heavier, but I know that I get horrifically nervous (like stomach flipping, hello-again-burger nervous) before I head up to the platform. So I keep things light. It works best FOR ME.
*DISCLAIMER TIME! When I say “test on yourself” I do NOT mean “if you never drink protein shakes it would be a great idea to down a liter of Muscle Milk before you hit the starting line for your marathon just for sh*** and giggles – and maybe I literally mean that.” Competition/game/race day is not the day to try a new food or a new drink. “Test yourself” means to tweak things during your training. Be kind to your body. You’re asking it to do a lot.
That said, here are two examples that we’ve discussed specifically that require very different forms of fuel. Again, your mileage may vary.
I will be doing a 75-mile bike ride at the end of this month … Do you have any tips or recommendation on what to eat to be able to accomplish this goal? I know a lot of people prescribe “carbing” up before taking on something like this, but since I’m doing gluten free, pasta is out of the question. I also want to know if you have any suggestions on what to eat or drink during the ride and after. I want to avoid all those sugary granola bars, and gatorade. I really want stick to my BCCC plan but at the same time I don’t want to be dead tired on the road and not be able to reach the finish line.
AVENER’S RESPONSE (Second disclaimer – you need to consider these suggestions in the context of your own diet. I (Meg) avoid agave on the regular, so I would choose the raw honey option.)
There’s basically three areas you’re gonna need to worry about:
The second two are pretty easy: Minimum water consumption should be at least 16-20 oz per hour, and to make sure you’re getting enough electrolytes (sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium and calcium), I would grab some saltsticks (http://www.crossfitendurance.com/products/3_fuel__supplements/salt_stick_caps_-_30_ct) to help you retain enough water in and across your body. Electrolytes should be replaced at a rate of 500-2000 mg per hour.
Nutrition is where things get more detailed. Seventy-five miles will likely take you quite a bit longer than 4 hours, which is the general time hack for when intensity really starts to lower. We’re probably looking at 6-7 hours of low-intensity work. For that kind of stuff (as opposed to, say, a one rep max deadlift) your body runs on fat rather than carbs. However, if you’ve already started fueling earlier on with carbs, its going to create a vicious cycle in which your body keeps needing carbs. Moral of the story here: don’t eat any more carbs on this day or in the two days before than you normally would. Because of the lower intensity of efforts longer than 4 hours, your heart rate will stay much lower than it would during something with higher intensity, like a CrossFit workout. This lower heart rate means that even in the middle of your ride, your GI will still be functioning and you’ll still be able to digest protein and fat. At higher heart rates, your GI can only digest carbs. What that means is that you’re free to eat real food. Some sliced meats (ham is particularly fatty) or even bacon would be great, as would some avocado – really anything that is both fatty and portable. Stay away from all the gu and cliff shots and all that junk – it’s just sugar and carbs that you don’t need and that are going to make you crash about 4 hours in. If toting around real food sounds a little too weird, you can make your own bars (nuts and seeds tend to be particularly fatty):
This is what I sometimes make for myself:
2-3 tbsp raw sprouted sunflower seeds
2-3 tbsp raw sprouted pumpkin seeds
2-3 tbsp raw sprouted flax seeds
2-3 tbsp raw sprouted chia seeds
6-8 dates or figs (figs are pricier, but a little more delicious)
1 tsp raw honey or agave
1tsp coconut oil
pinch of salt, ginger
other options can include cashews, almonds, almond butter, cacao powder
I put it all in my magic bullet blender (which is really clutch, all of the time) and grind it up pretty fine. It should be a bit moist. If its too dry, add either almond butter, a little water, or honey. Put it on wax paper on a plate and then cover it with another sheet of wax paper. Knead it around a bit and flatten it with the back of a spatula or a rolling pin or whatever you have. Put in the fridge overnight and then cut it into squares.
I use raw honey and seeds because the less processed they are, the easier it is for your body to digest them. You can get most of this stuff in the bulk food aisle at Whole Foods, and some of it for a bit cheaper at Trader Joe’s. TJs definitely has cheaper agave, dates, and coconut oil, not sure if they have chia seeds though. Total nutritional content of the batch is around 1000 calories, 53g fat, 70g carbs, 25g protein. If you wanted to throw in a little protein powder, since you’re going longer than 4 hours, that probably wouldn’t be a bad idea.
How do I best prepare for an olympic lifting* meet? How about the Crossfit Total?
*First things first, this answer assumes that you’re not attempting to cut weight for an oly meet.
I cannot impress upon you enough how important it is to keep your digestion SETTLED leading up to and on the day of an oly meet or the Total – ESPECIALLY if you’ve been BCCC’ing and your eating has been as clean as a whistle. Seriously, and yes, you can say we are super mean about the timing of this, but if you suspect you take issue with gluten and dairy, and you’ve ditched them for the month, I would caution you VERY MUCH against deciding that the weekend of the Total is a good time to eat an entire cheese pizza washed down with a pitcher of beer. Yes, even though the BCCC is “over.” You do not want to discover that dairy makes you constipated and then realize that you FINALLY have to go…just as you set up for your heavy deadlift. Really.
That said – something like this type of exertion is highly individualized. As Erin suggests “…the food you eat before can be something you test out throughout the week. When do you feel at your best? After one coffee at about midday? After no coffee in the morning? After a meal? A carb heavy meal? A protein only heavy meal? After a lot of sleep? After just enough sleep? After eating? After eating with an hour of rest? If you’re looking for optimal results all of the above are VERY individualized but they can be tested throughout the week so you know what works best for you.”
Over the past couple of years of Totaling – I know that I feel most on point after I’ve eaten a protein/fat heavy breakfast that includes a little bit of carbs, and definitely coffee (weep!). My 300# deadlift was pulled after a breakfast of bacon and eggs and some sweet potato. I think I sipped on coconut water and coffee between lifts, and of course stayed hydrated throughout the day. But that’s just me – and I learned that by training at all times of day, both fasted and fed.
What kind of prepping do you do for competition day? What’s your favorite type of portable food to pack for all day events? Leave thoughts in the comments!