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Fuel for Exercise: Nutritional Considerations for Your Next Event

There are many different opinions on what is the most important element to get you through a sporting event. Some athletes feel that mindset is the key to not just performing, but excelling. Others swear by an unwavering dedication to practice. Whatever your approach, nutrition is a key part of making sure you can thrive during and beyond it.  

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The right fuel can genuinely help you to fulfill your true potential and makes your experience that much more enjoyable. That said, it’s not always easy to know how best to proceed. While every athlete will have different needs, some basic tenets can help you better shape your event-day fueling. Fueling your body for exercise can be categorized into the main sections before, during, and after exercise. Let’s take a closer look at these time periods.

Before the Event

Much of your most important nutritional intake occurs before the event begins. In the same way that you prepare your body with stretching and warm-ups, you also need to apply this attitude toward pre-activity fueling. This begins with hydration. The day before the event, you should be consuming a little more water than usual in preparation. A couple of hours before your activities start, studies show you should be consuming around 500ml (about 2 cups) so that you have reserves to draw to replace lost fluids.     

In terms of food, this depends on the time of your event. Ensure you have a good meal the night before if your activity starts early, and no closer than 3-4 hours before if it’s later in the day. In general, you should be avoiding high-fat proteins before the event, as these will tend to slow you down. Similarly, steer clear of too many high glycemic index items — white bread, potatoes, white rice — as these could cause a sugar crash. Rather, have a balanced meal of low-fat proteins (think eggs, beans, lentils, skinless poultry) combined with a plain carbohydrate.

more about Pre-Exercise Eating

During Exercise

Nutrition during the event can be a difficult one to get right. After all, you want to make sure you have enough fuel to replace what you've expended, but you don’t want to cramp up. As a general rule, you should have a small snack every 1-2 hours on the day. It can be tempting to rely on energy bars here, but these are rarely as effective as you’d like. Rather, try to focus on high-protein snacks, preferably those combined with supplements. This can be particularly effective if you include high-impact superfoods, like chia seeds, sea moss, natural cacao, or beets — this approach helps to extend your energy and enhance your endurance.

Let’s face it, though, there are going to be times that the pressure of an event will see you experiencing some anxiety. This can make it difficult to stomach solid foods. As such, it can be worth focusing on liquid-form nutrition like shakes and blended fruits. The important thing is to space this out, and don’t rely on a shake as your own form of hydration — keep drinking water; don’t wait until you get thirsty.

more about Competition Nutrition

Winding Down

While it’s true that your approach to fueling will be most immediately effective before and during an event, that doesn't mean you should neglect your post-activity intake. It is in the best interest of your ongoing health — and ability to keep performing at a high level — that you understand what your body needs after you've put it under a great deal of athletic pressure.  

In the first hour following your event, you need to consume some carbohydrates to maintain energy, and some protein for your muscles to repair and recover effectively. After about 3 hours, you should also take time to have another balanced meal, featuring lean cuts of meat, seafood, or tofu. This should be combined with a selection of fresh greens, and if you’re having pasta you can include a low-fat sauce. Don’t overdo it on the sugars here. It can be tempting to celebrate your achievement with a treat, but try and stick to fresh fruits for dessert. Throughout the evening, make sure you’re maintaining regular hydration, too. 

more about Recovery Nutrition

Wrapping Up

Whatever sport or activity you’re engaging in, fuel is a key part of your success. Take time to plan your nutritional intake before, during, and after the event. This will help you to maintain high functioning and health, and empowers you to get the most out of your experience. 

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