The CrossFit Open just 3 weeks away marks the start of a new competition season for many within CrossFit and Functional Fitness more broadly.
What should we eat before and during a competition to support maximum performance?
Typically, not the same as in training!
An effective training programme stimulates the training adaptations that enable us to perform at our best in competition. In competition, we are there purely to perform. The training adaptations have already taken place. The nutrition that supports optimum short term performance in competition is distinct to that which supports long term health and training adaptations.
In competition, our food needs to provide rapid fuel and substrates so that we can be as fast, strong and explosive as possible. And so we can recover quickly to do it all again a few hours later, in multi-event and multi-day competitions. This typically translates to low fat, low fibre, fast digesting carbs and protein. And potentially anti-inflammatories and antioxidants to reduce pain. This is contrast to our training diet which absolutely requires fat and fibre, and typically avoids anti-inflammatories and excessive antioxidants as they can interfere with training adaptations (see the blog here, or message me for more on these topics!)
So, what does this mean practically?
Carbs!! Carbs are the primary fuel for high intensity activity longer than 1-2 seconds, i.e. pretty much any CrossFit or Functional Fitness event I can think of. This means you want loaded carbohydrate stores and optimal blood sugar levels going into your event. This is particularly important in multi-event competitions, as it is unlikely you will be able to completely refuel between events.
In the 36-48 hours before your competition, consider increasing your carbohydrate intake to between 6-12g/kg bodyweight per day. If you are undertaking a high intensity or long session in this time, consider taking in at least 2g/kg bodyweight in the 120 mins after the session, as you may benefit from supercompensation. This is where your body ‘overloads’ its carbohydrate stores in response to carbohydrate intake after carbohydrate depletion through exercise.
Low fat and fibre!! In the 12-24 hours before your competition, lower your fat and fibre intake. Fat and fibre slow digestion, and you want to minimise the amount of food that remains in your gut going into your competition events. As these may cause gastro issues and slow you down.
Leave a gap!! Ensure your last meal is at least 2 hours before your competition. For example, if your first event is at 9am aim to have breakfast at 7am. As well as high carb, low fat and low fibre, aim for moderate protein. This provides substrates for repair of tissue you are about to stress on the competition floor, and may also help accelerate storage of the carbs in your meal. Something like porridge made with skimmed milk, egg white and honey is a great pre-competition breakfast!
In multi-event and multi-day competitions you need to refuel between events.
What to eat! As above, stick to low fat and low fibre, high carb and moderate protein intake. Aim for a ratio of 0.8g carbs : 0.25g protein, and aim to eat as close to this per kg of bodyweight in your meals and snacks through the day. The protein helps accelerate uptake of carbohydrates into the liver and muscles when carbohydrate intake is sub-optimal for maximal refuelling … which it is likely to be, as sufficiently high intake is likely to make you far too full to compete well in the next event!!
Eat soon!! Eat as soon after an event as you can, and – where possible – at least 60 mins before your next event. This is to give the food as much time to digest and refuel you as possible, and to reduce the risk you still have food in your stomach that may make cause gastro issues when it comes to your next event.
Caffeine!! Caffeine intake of 3-8mg/kg bodyweight 30-60 minutes before an event may help enhance performance (see blog here on caffeine and performance). It may also help accelerate carbohydrate refuelling in the liver and muscles between events. Other ergogenic aids that may be considered in advance of competition are creatine (see blog here) and b-alanine (see blog here), depending on the individual.
Pain and inflammation!! You are leaving everything you have on the floor. It is going to hurt and it is likely to cause stress and inflammation in the muscles. In a multi-event and multi-day competition, anti-inflammatories, antioxidant supplementation, and CBD oil may help reduce the stress and inflammation. These are very much individual and circumstance specific, and so speak to your nutrition coach or get in touch with me to discuss further! Athletes subject to drug testing should be particularly cautious about use of CBD oil that may contain trace amounts of banned substances (see blog here).
Test, don’t guess
The final thing I want to leave you with is this: Trial run your competition eating! You need to be sure that the amounts, timings and content of your food provides you with the fuel you need to perform to your best … and without gastro issues! You may find you need to tweak the standard guidelines to find your optimal fuelling strategy. Everybody is different!
It might sound obvious, but a trial run is particularly important when your competition is at a different time of day to your typical training session. If your body is used to training at 5pm after 3 meals and 4 coffees, but your competition starts at 8am you need to test the hell out of your fuelling strategy!! Because your body may react differently when you start to move at that time of day, even on foods not too dissimilar to your standard diet.
So there you have it. Take these ideas, test them out, and optimise the fuelling strategy that sees you perform to your potential in whatever competition you take on next!!