It’s finally here. The AFM FITTEST competition is taking place this month, and the training and nutrition strategies you have employed up to this point should have you adequately prepared. Nevertheless, a few crucial mistakes made the day of competition could cause you to preform below your potential. Don’t let this happen to you: Follow the guidelines below to plan out your nutrition strategy for the competition ahead of time.
“Carbohydrate loading” is a powerful, yet often misunderstood, strategy for optimal performance. Carbohydrates are your primary source of energy and are stored in the liver as glycogen. Your glycogen storage can be considered your gas tank, and the objective of carbohydrate loading is to ensure that gas tank is full when you begin your first competition.
Carbohydrate loading does not mean bingeing on an all-you-can-eat Italian buffet. As always, an excess of calories can mean fat storage and unnecessary weight gain. You may go into the competition feeling sluggish and heavy, which can negatively affect performance in the first few events. Conversely, a little weight gain is a good thing. You amass up to three grams of water for every gram of glycogen you store. This extra fluid will help you stay hydrated during the event.
The actual amount of carbohydrates required will vary according to body type and normal activity level. As a good rule of thumb, eat a carbohydrate source at each meal and snack the day before competition. Choose foods that are very easy to digest, and avoid meals with broccoli, beans, or a lot of raw vegetables. Be liberal with salt, since sodium is a necessary electrolyte for proper hydration. Eat a simple, carbohydrate-rich meal at least three hours before going to bed, with an optional high-carb snack before bed if you are hungry. A great example is a stir-fry with a little lean meat, a few cooked veggies, soy sauce, and a healthy portion of rice.
You carbohydrate loaded yesterday and ate a simple dinner, so you should wake up feeling fueled and hydrated. The objective of any food intake this morning is to simply replenish your glycogen stores that were burned off while sleeping; in other words, the goal is to top off your gas tank.
Aim to eat a meal two to four hours beforehand and a snack just one hour before. The meal should give you about 50 to 100 grams of carbohydrate with very little protein, fat, or fiber. A good example is a bowl of Cheerios with skim milk and a banana. Remember to stick to foods you know you tolerate, and don’t try anything new. The snack should provide 30 to 60 grams of carbs, which is easy to get from liquids or supplements (see Figure 1 below). This will lead you into competition with a full gas tank, ready to dominate.
Prepare to compete for one to two hours on the day of AFM Fittest. The length of competition and the stop-and-go format necessitate proper nutrition to maintain blood sugar and energy levels and enhance your physical and mental stamina as you power through each event. Plan to consume 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour during the competition (see Figure 2 below). As advised for before the competition, continue to avoid excess protein and fat since these are inefficient sources of fuel. Be sure to get one last dose of carbohydrates before the one-mile run to help your muscles fire through the final event.
Don’t neglect proper hydration either. Research shows a decline in performance with a 2 percent loss in body weight through sweat. It is common for temperatures in June in Austin to reach 90 degrees. Although shaded areas will be provided, chances are it will be hot and sunny, increasing the risk of dehydration. It is essential to hydrate early and regularly. Choose foods or drinks with sodium and potassium to replenish the electrolytes lost in sweat (see Figure 1 below).
Celebrate! Stop by the vendor tent to try some local Austin food or head to your nearest favorite restaurant to refuel and rehydrate. For proper non-celebratory post-exercise nutrition guidelines, refer to Part Two of the AFM FITTEST Nutrition Series on the AFM FITTEST website. See you out there!