The correct sports nutrition can have a big impact on your performance – important during training, but especially so when you are competing and you need to push yourself to the limit.
Properly fuelling and hydrating prior to the start of your training or competition can make a huge difference to the success of your performance. You want to be on the starting line having consumed the appropriate nutrition in the build-up to an important event.
Carbohydrates supply the majority of energy for muscles during exercise and training. Carbohydrate is stored for energy in the muscle and liver cells. The human body has enough capacity to store glycogen for up to 90 minutes of moderate to high-intensity exercise. For a lot of endurance sports, however, it is very common to be training or racing for much longer than 90 minutes. This is where fuelling during a training session or a race becomes essential.
There are occasions where training in a glycogen-depleted state can be desirable, for example when aiming to use fat as a fuel source. More often than not, however, to achieve the intensity during training in order to gain the desired physiological adaptations, high levels of muscle glycogen are required. Being properly fuelled before heading out for a run means you can train harder for longer, ultimately helping you to achieve your goals quicker.
Two very important aspects for optimal preparation either for training or racing are hydration and carbohydrate (more specifically glycogen) availability.
Adequate hydration is as important to performance as what you eat prior to a race or training session. It is important to drink a blend of essential electrolytes to help replace the essential salts lost during exercise. Studies suggest that adding electrolytes to water or a carbohydrate drink can better maintain adequate hydration levels during exercise than water alone.
Drinking water on its own during an endurance event can dilute sodium levels in the blood as salt is lost through sweat during exercise. This can lead to negative side effects such as dizziness, nausea and hyponatraemia. While training or racing, having an Electrolyte in your bottle will ensure that both carbohydrate and electrolyte levels are boosted during exercise.
Depending on the intensity and duration of exercise, it is important to have additional carbohydrates with you in order to keep you adequately fuelled to the end. If you have prepared properly, muscle and liver glycogen levels will be fully topped up. The body is able to store approximately 400-500g of glycogen, which should supply enough energy for around 90 minutes of moderate to hard intensity activity. If you’re training for less than 90 minutes hydration is the most important aspect of nutrition to consider so long as you have eaten properly beforehand. A carbohydrate-electrolyte drink gives you the best of both worlds, keeping you fuelled and hydrated.
When a training session or race lasts longer than 90 minutes, fuelling strategies become very important. The body can absorb about one gram of carbohydrate per minute, therefore it is essential that you eat and drink little and often instead of a whole bottle or bar in one go.
During long distance events aim to consume at least 60g per hour from your preferred source. The advantage of drinks is that they contain carbohydrates, fluid and electrolytes.