Nutrition and Track: Competition Day, Hydration and Nutrition Periodization
May 5, 2006
Nutrition is a key for an athlete's performance and will help them optimize their potential through proper nutrition. Competition day varies for track and field athletes as some may participate in more than one event and they have to make sure they are properly fueled to compete all day long and on back-to-back days.
Hydration plays a big part in performance for track and field athletes and will help keep them from cramping while competing as well as adjusting to different environments. Hydration status varies somewhat with these athletes as they are competing indoors or outdoors and environmental factors may affect their performance.
Finally, nutrition periodization can affect performance whether the athletes are training with high volumes and intensities or during seasons when they aren't training as hard. With training volumes changing, nutritional needs are changing as well.
Pre-competition meals provide the nutrients and fluids needed to compete as well as give the athletes energy needed for competing. Proper nutrition throughout competition days will keep athletes from feeling hungry, prevent injury, provide fuel for muscle and keep athletes mentally alert and focused, which will help with their performance.
Pre-competition meals should be eaten at least 3-4 hours before playing if consuming a large meal. Smaller meals may be tolerated 2-3 hours before and a small snack or liquid consumed as close at 30 minutes to 1 hour before competition.
Foods that the athletes like and are used to eating are the foods that should be eaten prior to competing. Choose foods that are high in carbohydrates and fluids such as breads, rice, pasta and vegetables. Carbohydrates digest at a faster rate. Choose foods that are low in fat and moderate in protein as they take longer to digest.
Snacking is also important with track athletes since they may be competing in multiple events in one day. The snacks will help to provide energy needed to recover from one event as well as give enough energy for the upcoming event. Snacks should also be foods that the athletes are used to and need to be low in fat, moderate in protein and high in carbohydrate so they can be digested properly. A few examples may be half a bagel with peanut butter or cream cheese, cottage cheese and fruit, trail mix, peanut butter crackers or a granola bar.
Example of Pre-Competition Meal:
Choose carbohydrate rich foods as soon as possible after competing, such as fruits, juices and high carbohydrate drinks. The carbohydrate rich foods will replenish glycogen stores quickly. Be sure to replace fluids that have been lost while competing. Follow the rule of thumb of 2 cups of fluid for every 1 pound that is lost. Athletes need to be sure to replace potassium or sodium lost by using foods. Potassium can be found in fruits and vegetables while sodium can be found in salty foods and sports drinks (Powerade). The post-competition meal should be eaten within 15-60 minutes after competing. The carbohydrate intake should be increased right away but should return at the next meal. The food eaten after competing can affect one's recovery, such as combining carbohydrates and protein. Protein helps muscles recover more quickly when combined with carbohydrates. Rehydration also helps replenish the glycogen stores.
Examples of Post-Competition Meal:
The amount of liquid one consumes is also very important as dehydration has a negative effect on performance. The athlete needs to make sure they consume enough liquid before, during and after competing to prevent dehydration. Before exercise aim to consume 16 ounces of fluid 2 hours prior to a competition. During exercise consume eight to ten ounces every 15-20 minutes. After exercise drink 16-20 ounces for every pound of body weight that is lost with exercise. During the day, the athlete should habitually consume water and other fluids. All fluids, such as water, milk, juices, tea, etc., count towards fluids needs, but try to stay away from drinks high in sugar. Sports Drinks, such as Powerade, are strongly recommended for all athletes during activities lasting more than 1 hour. Sports Drinks are recommended as they contain carbohydrates and sodium. Carbohydrates are needed as they aid water absorption in the small intestine. They will help supply fuel for exercise which lasts longer than one hour and will also help improve performance. Sodium also helps water to be absorbed more quickly. It enhances the palatability which helps encourage the athlete to drink. Sodium also helps to prevent hyponatremia in athletes who consume too much fluid. Finally, sodium helps to decrease urine output. If one is dehydrated, performance can be negatively affected. A 1-2% weight loss which is due to water can equate to a 5-15% decrease in performance. With dehydration comes the reduced blood flow to active muscles as well as increased glycogen use which depletes carbohydrate stores resulting in early fatigue.
One of the difficulties with track and field is that training volumes and intensities are constantly changing throughout the competitive season. As a result nutritional needs are constantly changing too. During the competitive season athletes must balance hard training with tapering and recovery to allow for optimal performance on weekends at competitions. As a result, athletes must be educated on how their nutritional needs change from hard training to light recovery. Energy intake must be greater on hard training days with the majority of calories coming in the form of carbohydrates and protein. Post-workout nutritional needs for these nutrients will also be greater. As training volumes and intensities decrease athletes must continue to practice sound nutritional habits such as being consistent eaters, good refuelers, good hydrators, and consume balanced and varied diets. Nutrient dense foods need to continue to be the focus. Often times energy intakes on light training days need to continue to be high to supercompensate for inadequate energy intakes on hard training days.