What should I eat before a big CrossFit competition? What can I do to optimize my performance, whether it be a 5K Race, WOD, or a 3-hour bike ride? These are the questions I’ll try and answer for you in this post.
What you eat before competition can make or break your performance. The longer the workout, the greater the impact pre-workout nutrition will have on a positive finish. With shorter events like 5K races and competitive fitness events, improper meal timing and composition can have a greatly deleterious effect, whereas on events upwards of two hours, proper meal structure is essential for success. So in order to function properly, what should I eat for each event?
Scenario 1: 5K Race
With a 5K race, the biggest mistake is overdoing the carb-load. Carb-loading will really only benefit races pushing 1 to 2 hours (ideally your 5K is not lasting that long). The reason why carb-loading won’t be important for your 5K is because the race will be over long before muscle glycogen levels are significantly impacted. The best thing you can do is eat a complex carbohydrate based meal that is low on fiber and fat about 90-120 minutes before the race. High fiber and high fat meals require more blood flow, slow digestion and increase GI energy demands, which would all take crucial nutrients away from the working muscles.
For a 5K race, try eating some applesauce mixed with a paleo friendly protein powder and a banana. Wash it down with plenty of water to increase digestion speed. Furthermore, adding caffeine pre-race aids most runners, so add coffee to the meal or caffeine pills (as tolerated). As the race nears, sip a sports drink and water to maintain hydration levels, but avoid gulping down an entire bottle of the sugary beverage, as this will cause hypoglycemia (blood sugar crash) and pre-race fatigue.
Scenario 2: Competitive Exercise Event – Traditional ‘WOD’
Similar to a 5K, the impact of a single meal on an individual workout is more likely to be negative than positive. Shorter workouts (under 5 minutes) are generally best completed on an empty stomach; so having a similar, complex carbohydrate based meal 2-3 hours out is ideal. Long workouts up to 20 minutes can be treated exactly the same as a 5K.
Of the variety of supplements out there, on a single event, caffeine is one of the few supplements outside of illegal stimulants and blood doping that can increase performance by delaying fatigue.
Over the course of a day-long competition, it is important to eat primarily carbohydrates, as all WODs are fueled primarily by muscle glycogen (sugar). Sticking to unprocessed carbohydrates like starches (sweet potato, banana) and fruits is generally the best tolerated. Protein intake will be roughly 5-10% total intake, and fat will be minimal as well.
Scenario 3: Longer Event – 2 hours or more
Longer events are where pre-workout fueling can have a much more positive and direct impact on performance. Research generally supports an 80% carbohydrate meal containing about 150g or more of carbohydrates 3-5 hours ahead of time. Within 30-60 minutes of the race, a steady drip of water, caffeine and sports drink is recommended by many professionals.
What ever the scenario, overthinking or overdoing your pre-workout nutrition is probably the worst thing you can do. When in doubt, just listen to your body and consume what ever sounds good at the time (within reason!)
Any questions or comments? Post below!