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Timing of Meals and Snacks Around Training Sessions

If you're training more than once per day then recovery from one training session to the next is crucial. Athletes need to plan their daily food intake to ensure regular snacks and meals are consumed around training sessions. It’s important to have nutritious carbohydrate snacks on hand immediately after training to initiate the refuelling process. Many nutritious carbohydrate foods contain a small amount of protein which aides in the repair of regenerating proteins used in fuel metabolism and muscle damage incurred during exercise.

Carbohydrate Loading

The concept of carbohydrate loading is popular amongst athletes prior to competition. Carbohydrate loading is more than simply eating pasta for dinner the night before competition and certainly doesn't mean gorging yourself with food for the entire week leading into a race. As training decreases leading into a race, energy (kilojoule) and carbohydrate requirements also decrease. During an easy week prior to competition it is important for athletes to taper food intake accordingly to avoid unwanted weight gain immediately prior to racing. To adequately fill muscle glycogen stores (carbohydrate stored in the muscle), athletes need to consume between 7-12g of carbohydrate per kilogram body weight for 24-48 hours prior to competition. The total amount of carbohydrate consumed by an athlete in the days leading into a race will depend largely on the length of the event to be contested.

Pre-Race Eating

The majority of race events start early in the morning so there is the temptation to miss breakfast before race start. It’s crucial to eat a pre-race meal in order to top up muscle and liver glycogen stores. A pre-race meal containing roughly 1-2 g of carbohydrate per kilogram body weight should be consumed about 1-4 hours before racing. The meal should contain familiar carbohydrate-rich foods and fluids that are low in fat and fibre. For instance two English muffins, 1½ tablespoons jam, 1 teaspoon Vegemite and 750 ml sports drink provides 2500 kJ, 125 g carbohydrate, 2 g fat, 14 g protein and only 4 g fibre. Foods like liquid meal supplements, sports bars, bananas and juice are also popular pre-race meal choices.

If athletes have the early morning jitters liquid meal supplements such as PowerBar Protein Plus™ powder provide an easily digested alternative to foods. It is also worthwhile to sip on water or a sports drink during the hour before race start to top up fluid levels. The advantage of competing in triathlons is that you can always urinate during the swim if you drink too much beforehand.

Eating During Training and Competition

Eating food during long training sessions is essential for athletes to help provide carbohydrate to the working muscles, meet daily energy and nutrient requirements and keep hunger at bay. Most long-distance athletes complete "brick" sessions during their preparation, which may consist of a 1-2 hour paddles immediately followed by 1-2 hours of running. Eating during brick sessions is not only beneficial, but essential.

During shorter distance events it is not necessary and certainly not practical to eat foods while racing. Due to the high intensity of racing, athletes competing in these events usually rely exclusively on sports drinks and sports gels to meet fuel and fluid losses. For shorter events, athletes should aim to consume 30-60g of carbohydrate an hour. The athlete’s tolerance will ultimately dictate how much carbohydrate is consumed and should be considered when deciding on a race nutrition plan.

Meeting Fluid Requirements during Competition

During competition, it’s not as simple as drinking as much as tolerated or possible. Recent reports in the scientific literature have shown that some athletes may drink in excess of hourly fluid requirements during an event. Drinking in excess of hourly sweat losses may result in hyponatremia or low plasma sodium. Slower athletes, particularly females contesting events in cooler conditions are most at risk of drinking in excess of hourly fluid requirements. So how do you know how much to drink? You need to monitor your individual fluid balance during training and competition sessions to develop a plan for subsequent exercise sessions.

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