Nutrition and Performance Part 2 of 3: Nutrient Timings
In the first part of this three-part series, I discussed the importance of hydration, food quality and digestion for optimum performance. In this second part, I’d like to take a look at nutrient timing before a game, event or training session. As a bit of disclaimer: this entire article, eating a proper pre-game meal for the first time may not likely result in an immediate improvement in energy and performance. As with this entire lifestyle, it’s the consistency of eating properly before and after training as well as throughout the day that will ensure proper energy needs are met and recovery can be facilitated. Only when these practices are carried out consistently will the real true results be obtained.
Before our game or event, we want to be sure we provide our body with adequate energy and fluids. We also want to be sure to get this fuel into our body many hours prior as to not have digestion interfering with performance. When we perform at high levels or require a great amount of work from our body and muscles, there is a great amount of our body's blood that gets directed to these working muscles to provide oxygen and nutrients. When our digestive tract is full of food, it also requires blood to help facilitate digestion. Having significant digestion occurring when we train or exercise with high intensity limits the amount of blood that can be delivered to working muscle cells which will hinder performance and can make us feel weak and sick. To avoid this, be sure to eat long enough beforehand to allow most, if not all digestion to occur.
Example: 3 hours prior to a game, it is best to have a little bit of lean protein with high quality and slow digesting carbohydrates. Good choices of carbs are oats, whole grain bread, whole grain pasta or whole grain rice. Try to avoid consuming too much fat as it can slow digestion significantly.
60 Minutes Pre-Game
Sometimes when we eat 3-4 hours before a workout or game, hunger levels will kick in. It’s definitely ok to eat something at this point but make sure it’s a small portion. Even with small portions, digestion will have to occur. As long as your portion is small enough, your digestive tract will not require a significant amount of blood flow to disrupt performance.
A snack, 60 minutes prior to exercise isn’t always necessary but if hunger levels arise, you do not want them to get worse and affect your thinking and performance mid game. Something like a banana is a great nutrient dense snack to have prior that will provide energy without filling you up too much.
Many athletes prior to competition often consume Gatorade however; the science shows that this can negatively impact performance. The reason is its effects on insulin. Gatorade is simple sugars, which cause an immediate spike in insulin levels. When insulin levels are spiked and we have not depleted any stored energy, our body can go into storage mode and start trying to save the consumed sugar for later use. The problem arises after we consume the Gatorade and then begin to exercise. We now have created a situation with conflicting metabolic processes occurring at the same time. Our Body is burning glucose as fuel but also trying to store it. This is clearly inefficient and a waste of needed energy.
To utilize Gatorade properly, I recommend waiting at least 30-45 minutes after starting physical activity before consuming. This will give your body enough time to start tapping into its stored glucose and ensure the sugar consumed gets used immediately. Sip it slowly over the last half of the competition, game or training session to avoid a drastic spike in insulin and to provide your body with exactly the amount of energy it needs.
Stay tuned for part 3 which focuses on post-game recovery and supplementation!
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Kinesiologist || Co-owner/ Founder || Sculpt Health and Wellness
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