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  • By Dr. Justin Lafreniere, ND

Basic Athletic Nutrition

Proper training leading up to a race or athletic event is extremely important for successful completion and prevention of unnecessary injuries. However, proper nutrition and hydration is as, if not more, important than the training leading up to a race. Athletes need to carefully plan pre-competition eating to prevent fatigue during events and to maintain optimal energy levels throughout.

Hydration Hydration is critical to performance as well as ensuring that illness or injury does not occur. Quite possibly the biggest factor which could negatively affect performance is dehydration. Losing as little as 1% body water can impair exercise performance by as much as 10%. (FYI: A loss of 1% body water is roughly the amount lost before you feel thirsty.) Properly hydrating yourself before and during a race can help prevent dehydration, prevent fatigue, and enable you to push yourself to successfully complete a race without the risk of injury. Here are tips for proper hydration:

  • Drink a minimum of 2-4 litres of water daily. Use an electrolyte replacement mix such as Endura in your water.

  • Pre-race: Consume 1/4 to 1/2 litre of water 2 hours prior to a race, then just a few gulps immediately before the race.

  • During a race: 1/2 cup (a few gulps) every 15 minutes.

  • Post-race: 1/2 litre for every pound of body weight lost or until your urine becomes light yellow or clear.

  • Avoid diuretics such as coffee and alcohol. If you do drink them, add an extra cup of water to your daily intake for each cup consumed.

Sport drinks are a great way to replenish electrolyte loss through sweat which, when depleted, can also lead to fatigue, muscle weakness, cramping, and more serious illness. I encourage athletes to rehydrate with a high-quality electrolyte replacement formula such as Endura. Not only does it replenish electrolytes, but also contains carbohydrates, which can be used to sustain energy during a race or event. Fueling for Energy Despite their recent bad reputation, carbohydrates serve as the body’s primary high-energy fuel source for all activities. The most significant contributor to your endurance performance is the amount of pre-exercise glycogen stores, found in the muscles and liver. The more stored glycogen you have, the more endurance you’ll have. To ensure you have adequate levels, it’s important to consume good, complex carbohydrates. About 50% of your daily caloric intake should be comprised of carbohydrates. The best types of carbohydrates to consume prior to an event are low-glycemic, complex carbohydrates (i.e., legumes, whole grains, vegetables, and some fruits). These carbohydrates are slowly digested and absorbed, thus providing consistent glucose levels and reduce the chance of reactive hypoglycemia that is often experience when consuming high-sugar sports drinks. Complex carbohydrates should be present at every meal and snack throughout the day. “Carbo-Loading,” AKA Glycogen Storing Carbo-loading (e.g., large pasta feasts, etc.) the day before an event is common practice and can be effective for providing endurance performance. However, this type of strategy only becomes critical in endurance events that last more than 90 minutes such as marathons, triathlons, etc. For shorter distance events such as 1/2 marathons, 10 and 5k, it is more important to ‘carbo-replete’ regularly during training, post-workout. Simple sugars, or “high-glycemic” carbohydrates, are best consumed after a workout or activity when glycogen stores are low and the muscles are looking to refuel. Replacing glycogen is best done with simple sugars and is enhanced with protein such as whey. The insulin released into the bloodstream will help transport about 90% of the carbs and protein eaten post-exercise directly to the muscles for replenishment and recovery. For best results, I recommend drinking a post-workout shake within 45 minutes of exercising. Post-Workout Blender Drink Recipe 30g Protein Isolate (Rice or Whey) 1 Scoop Endura 1 Tablespoon Ginseng/Royal Jelly Extract 1 Tablespoon L-Glutamine Powder 1 Teaspoon of High-EPA Fish Oil 1/2 Cup of Your Choice of Berries or a Banana Water or Ice Pre-Competition Meals There is no “one-size-fits-all” diet that works for every athlete. One thing that does hold true is eating foods that your body can easily digest, leaving you free of uncomfortable symptoms during your event. In the last 24 hours leading up to a race, you want to avoid foods that slow gastric emptying, and that provide poor sources of energy. These foods include fast food, sugary snacks, and high-fat foods. It’s a good idea to avoid trying anything new or ‘strange’ prior to an event just in case in doesn’t go over so well! Solid meals consisting of complex carbohydrates and protein should be consumed no later than 2 hours before your start time. This will allow proper digestion and reduce an upset stomach and/or cramping during your race. Meal-replacement shakes containing carbohydrates and protein are more easily digested and may prevent digestive upset. With a liquid meal, timing is also less critical as it will empty your stomach much quicker, while still providing essential nutrients. Protein Another essential nutrient that should not be overlooked by endurance athletes is protein. Unfortunately, a common misconception among endurance athletes is that protein is only necessary for bodybuilders. This isn’t true. Protein not only serves as the building blocks for muscles and tissues, it is also necessary for building a strong immune system, stabilizing blood sugar levels, facilitates in energy production, increases storage of glycogen in the muscles and liver, aids in recovery and repair of muscles, etc. The average active person should consume 0.8-1.2 grams of quality protein per pound of body weight. This requirement can go up to 1.2-1.5 gram of protein per pound body weight in strenuous training. Too little quality protein leads to muscle weakness, poor strength and development, hormonal imbalances, low immunity, and fatigue – all of which can significantly impair performance. If you’re not doing so already, add a good quality protein powder to your daily food intake, such as in the post-workout shake above. Whether you’re a seasoned competitor or a weekend warrior, proper nutrition and hydration should be top priority. Fuel up on good quality food, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate, and I assure you your training will pay off.

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