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15 Simple Ways To Improve Your Athletic Performance Right Now, Part 3

Thu, Nov  16, 2006 - By Steve Born

Fueling Guidelines That Are Easy to Follow and Incorporate

Part 1 discussed basic hydration, caloric intake, and the problem with simple sugars. Part 2 continued with the topics of protein and electrolytes during training. In this final installment, the topics turn to pre-race, race, and post-race fueling.

9. Don’t use any new supplement or fuel, or supplement/fueling protocol, in a race without having first tested it in training.

This is a cardinal rule for all athletes, yet you’d be amazed how many break it. Unless you’re absolutely desperate and willing to accept the consequences, do not try anything new in competition, be it equipment, fuel, or tactics. These all must be tested and refined in training.

Because all Hammer fuels are specific and formulated to easily combine with one another, you have all the flexibility you need to ensure that you can tailor a fueling program for any length of race, regardless of conditions. You’ll never have to guess or try something off the table in hopes of trying to keep going another hour.

10. Be flexible with your fuel consumption during a race, keeping in mind that what may have worked in training may not be appropriate under race conditions.

Caloric intakes that worked during training may not be appropriate during a race; you may need to consume slightly less in a race than you did during training. Why? Increased anxiety, increased pace, and increased potential for dehydration all contribute to the possibility of a less-than-optimally functioning digestive system. In addition, at the increased pace during a race, more blood is diverted from digestion and directed toward maintaining muscle performance.

When you get to the race it’s great to have a caloric “game plan” in place, but don’t be a slave to it. You may need to alter that game plan (which may mean a slightly lower hourly intake of calories) to accommodate the possibility of a less-than-optimal digestive system.

11. Replenish your body with carbohydrates and protein as soon as possible after each exercise session.

Here’s a statement to remember: “When you’re done training, you’re not done training… at least not until you’ve put some fuel back into the body.” Equally important as your workout (muscle exhaustion and nutrient depletion) is what you do immediately following your workout (muscle repair and nutrient replenishment). If you neglect to refill the tank, you’ll never get the full value out of all the work you just put in… and what a waste that would be.

Increased fitness simply won’t happen, at least not efficiently or effectively, if you ignore your body’s cries for fuel replenishment. Give your body what it needs immediately after exercise, when it’s most receptive to replenishment, and it will respond wonderfully—recovering faster, efficiently adapting to physical stress, and “learning” how to store more and more readily available fuel in the muscles.

An ideal and easy-to-use post-workout fuel is Recoverite, with its 3:1 ratio of complex carbohydrates and protein. Mix a couple of scoops with water, drink, you’re done… simple. You’ve just put the best “finishing touches” on your workout that you possibly could, and you’ve given your body a great head start on tomorrow’s workout.

12. Don’t over-consume food the night before the race in the hopes of “carbo loading.”

It would be nice if you could maximize muscle glycogen stores the night before the race, but human physiology doesn’t work that way. Increasing and maximizing muscle glycogen stores takes many weeks of consistent training and post-workout fuel replenishment. Excess consumed carbohydrates are only going to be eliminated or stored as body fats (dead weight), so don’t go overboard during those pre-race pasta feeds. Eat until you’re satisfied, but not more.

13. Finish a pre-race meal three hours prior to the start of the race.

Let’s assume you’ve been really good – you’ve been training hard (yet wisely) and remembering to replenish your body with adequate amounts of high quality calories as soon as possible after each and every one of your workouts. Great! You’ve now built up a nice 60-90 minute reservoir of premium muscle glycogen, the first fuel your body will use when the race begins. Don’t blow it now by eating something an hour or two prior to the start of the race!

Do you know what happens when you eat within three hours of exercise? Your muscle glycogen stores get burned much more rapidly . . . definitely not performance-enhancing! If you’re going to have a pre-race meal, you need to finish it three hours prior to the start of the race. That’s the best way to top off liver glycogen stores (the goal of the pre-race meal) without screwing up how your body burns its muscle glycogen. Not possible to get up and eat three hours before the race? Read on.

14. Don’t sacrifice sleep to eat a pre-race meal.

OK, you’re convinced that it’s a good idea to eat at least three hours prior to the start of your race. “But wait,” you say. “My race starts at 7 a.m. Are you telling me I have to get up at 3 a.m. or so just to eat?” Well, you could get up to eat if you’re so inclined, but you don’t have to. The fuel you’ve got stored in the muscles? It’s going to be there, full strength, even after a night-long fast (really). In the morning your brain may be saying, “I’m hungry,” but your muscles are saying, “Hey, we’re good to go.”

Bottom line: do not sacrifice sleep just to eat. If you’ve got an early morning race start, the best strategy is:

  • Eat a high quality meal the night before (topping off liver glycogen stores)
  • Get an adequate amount of sleep
  • Have 100-200 calories of easily digested fuel (Hammer Gel is ideal) 5-10 minutes prior to the start of the race

That’s right, 5-10 minutes prior, not one or two hours prior. The key, in terms of muscle glycogen depletion rates, is in the timing. If you must eat before the start of your race, you need to complete consumption three hours prior. If that’s not logistically feasible, have a little something 5-10 minutes prior. Do that and you won’t expend your hard-earned glycogen too rapidly.

15. Consume appropriate amounts of high quality food for your pre-race meal.

The goal of the pre-race meal is to top off your liver glycogen, which has been depleted during your sleep. Believe it or not, to accomplish this you don’t need to eat 600, 800, or 1000 calories or more, as some would have you believe. A pre-race meal of 200-400 calories—comprised of complex carbohydrates, perhaps a small amount of soy or rice protein, and little or no fiber or fat, and consumed three hours prior to the start of the race—is quite sufficient. You can’t add anything to muscle glycogen stores at this time (you’ll just be topping off liver glycogen stores), so stuffing yourself is counterproductive, especially if you’ve got an early morning race start.