Friday Favorites: Competition Day Eats
Everyone always asks me what to eat on a competition or race day. That’s fair because I am a dietitian who specializes in sports nutrition (hence the CSSD at the end of my name). I think its a fascinating subject because the body is a powerful thing and needs to be fueled appropriately.
The good news is that eating wrong the day of a competition will not necessarily make or break you, especially if you only have one or two events. It’s competitions and races like Ironmans, full day swim meets, full day CrossFit competitions, marathons, etc. that require attention to proper fueling & hydrating.
I once heard someone make the point that you, as an athlete, are in a certain potential window based on your training, talent, etc. Nutrition is important but it won’t necessarily get you to the next window without concerted effort throughout the year and with a different training program based on your goals. What that means is just eating right one day, once in a while, is not going to make you a better athlete overall. It’s the day-in, day-out fueling and training that will ultimately help you succeed.
I am not suggesting you forget about nutrition, after all, like I said, I’m a dietitian. What I am saying is that this is just a guide for the day of nutrition. Please know, you must also fuel yourself day in and day out to see ultimate results in your performance.
How to Eat Right on Competition Days
Every one is different. Heck, my teammate who is 21, ate french fries right before our last event, and did great. Had I done the same, I would’ve had cramps and might not have performed well at all. While I’m not encouraging the consumption of french fries, know that we all have different digestive systems and our bodies require a different amount of nutrients.
That being said, let’s look at some key points for competition day nutrition:
- Plan ahead & pack more than you need. Don’t get in a situation where you need to scavenge for food. You will most likely be disappointed by what is available to you. At many competitions, I see a lot of fried and sugary food options. Save yourself the head (and stomach) ache and bring your own food. If you don’t have a cooler, get one. If you bring more than you need, you can share with friends 🙂
- Don’t try new things today. Competition day is NOT the day to be adventurous. Even if you have an “iron gut” save the unknown foods for a training day where you can experiment. If you have a competition or race you have goals for then you MUST do a test run, treat it as part of your training. You wouldn’t do a marathon without running so why are you going to eat without testing it out first.
- Drink plenty of water. Pack a water bottle or 2. Most places have water fountains these days so that’s a bonus. If you can, make sure to hydrate well the week leading up to your event to make sure you are hydrated AND adjusted to the amount of water. You will need at least 16 oz. for every 1 hour you workout on top of your daily needs which are ~ 1/2 your body weight in ounces.
- Salt & Electrolytes. This is not a time to skimp on the salt, ESPECIALLY if you’re a heavy sweater. If you are, make sure to either snack on food that has salt in it, on it or even sprinkle some salt in your water post-event. Electrolyte tablets, like Nuun, are a good option as well.
- Focus on easy to digest foods. You’re asking A LOT of your body on race/competition day. It will be spending more time in fight or flight mode than it is used to. That means there won’t be a lot of room focus on digestion. Do yourself a favor and look for foods that are low in fiber and fat.
- Know how your body works ad what it needs. Just because a coach says to take a shot of Tabasco before a race (yes, I’ve been told that before) or another says to fast, does NOT mean it will work for you. Know how your body reacts to food, know how it feels before competitions or workouts, know what works for YOUR body and trust it.
This was a team pumpkin muffin break. We had one more event left (until we had 2 more events left) and needed to fuel up without putting too much pressure on our digestion, thank goodness for Pinch of Yum’s Greek Yogurt Pumpkin Muffins.
Competition Day Food (Example)
Since I just competed this past weekend, I figured I’d give you a peek behind the scenes of what I ate. I am new to competing in an all-day CrossFit competition. However, I am not new to all day events. I used to have weekend long swimming, however that was YEARS ago and swimming is a different event than CrossFit. Needless to say, I’m still learning what works for me.
Breakfast @ 6 am (3 hours before 1st event): Bacon, Egg x2 & Cheese Breakfast Sandwich + 1-20 oz water with/magnesium powder + 1 -16 oz. black coffee.
Event #1 @ 9am. This was a 9min event where you were either doing sandbag over the shoulder, burpee box jumps or holding a sandbag.
1 bottle of water ~16 oz.
Event #2 @ somewhere near 10am. We had to go immediately to get in line for this event, it was a shuttle sprint which took ~30 seconds/person. No time for fuel between events, otherwise, I might have seen it again.
Snack #1 10:30 am-ish Fresh berries + 1/2 peanut butter & rice cake sandwich.
Event #3 @ 11:45-ish. This was an 8 min workout where we were running, pulling a sled and doing toes to bar.
1 bottle of water ~20 oz.
Snack #2 @ noon-ish Pumpkin Greek Yogurt Muffin (recipe from Pinch of Yum), berries, and the rest of the peanut butter & rice cake sandwich.
1 bottle of water ~16 oz + a sip of someone else’s coffee because I was dragggggging.
Event # 4 @1:no-idea-ish. This was a 10 min workout of heavy wall balls (20#) and ski erg calories. At this point in the day, the time was blurred. I was hungry yet full. This happens because your body is trying to fight between fight or flight mode and rest or digest mode so it’s not optimally digesting/absorbing food.
Snack #3: a handful of berries, a few swigs of water and off to warm up I went.
Final (Bonus & Unexpected) Event @3 or 4 or what felt like midnight. This was a 2 min on, 2 min off, 2 min on workout of bar Muscle Ups & heavy (too heavy @ 135#) thrusters.
Post-event: I ate a lot of snacks I had leftover in the car as well as my friend’s homemade hummus & veggies. By the time I got home at 7 pm I was so tired I didn’t have the energy to eat. I wouldn’t recommend this. Instead, plan ahead and either get some food to go OR have food waiting for you at home. You need to fuel your body, this is no time to be pounding alcohol, by the way. Instead, hydrate, eat a balanced meal with protein, fats and carbs AND get your sleep.
Other foods that would be good for a competition day:
- Oats & Oatmeal
- Meat sticks
- Protein shakes & smoothies
- Fruit/Veggie protein pouches, like Fuel for Fire
The last thing on your mind when competing is how your stomach feels…so fuel for your body and give your competition all you’ve got!
How Much & When Do I Eat?
The goal is to replenish your body’s glycogen stores on competition day. Don’t know what that means? It means you need to replenish the energy stores in order to recover and get back ready to compete. It is even more critical on days where you go from one event to the next. Carbohydrates, protein, and electrolytes are the three main groups you need to worry about. If you can eat a good solid breakfast and then a well-rounded dinner, the rest of the day can be snacks and drinks to fuel but not overwhelm the body.
For a normal meal, allow at least 3 hours before an event. A small snack (like a pb&j sandwich) 2 hours is okay. For something like fruit 1 hour is adequate. The timing is based on your digestion and what event you are doing. The more intense the event, the more time you want to give yourself. If you are someone with a slower or more sensitive digestive system, you may want to stick to liquid and pureed foods/drinks day of. If you are interested I can break this down further, but let’s leave that for a separate post.
What do you like to eat on a competition or race day? Let’s hear it in the comments.