Whether it’s a local charity run, a Tough Mudder or a triathlon, planning well will help you stay healthy and be in the best condition to perform at your peak, as well as enjoying the sense of achievement. Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top five tips for being both mentally and physically prepared.
It’s all in the preparation! And this is so true when it comes to preparing for your chosen sporting event! Your training regime may take more than a year or it may only take a few months; however long your ‘build-up’ period, the better prepared you are, the greater your chances of the event being a success. And you’ll enjoy it even more!
A recent study published in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, found that too many mental challenges prior to a workout or an event deflated the body’s mental ability to push through any physical barriers. It showed that people who had just vegged out in front of the TV prior to taking up a physical challenge, actually performed better! Whilst this might not be entirely practical immediately prior to an event, it’s a good reason to ‘sweat the body’ in the morning where possible, as opposed to later on in the day when the brain is much ‘busier’. Equally, ensure you build in some key relaxation time in the lead-up to an event as this is clearly very important.
Dehydration poses one of the most common nutritional problems occurring in sport. In most cases, fluid intake during an event, particularly an endurance event such as a marathon, will not match the rate of sweat loss. Therefore it’s imperative to start an event or training session really well hydrated.
If you consider that optimal water intake from all sources, including fruits and vegetables, should be around two litres daily, your water needs are going to be considerably greater than this when undertaking exercise (i.e. replacing the water that leaves the body as sweat). If you’re planning to take part in an endurance event, you should also be drinking more in the days leading up to the competition.
A great way to ensure you’re properly hydrated is to include some well diluted sugary drinks into your routine; diluted concentrates or cola drinks would be good choices. Whilst this is generally not recommended on a daily basis, the body rehydrates much more quickly using this method rather than drinking just plain water, therefore it’s a very useful tip before, during and after an event.
Protein and carbohydrate requirements will vary from sport to sport and depend on intensity of the activity. However, in most sports or events the hour leading up to the event is the most important time for eating a high sugar snack; a banana or a jam sandwich made with white bread would be great choices. Whilst the daily diet should contain predominantly low glycaemic (slow release) foods such as whole grain rice, wholemeal bread or pasta, and whole foods such as beans, this is the one time when quick energy-releasing foods will really count.
At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s worth noting that every sport and, indeed every person, is different. Therefore, whatever foods you choose to eat pre-race or pre-event, make sure to include these in your ‘practice sessions’; there’s been many a competitor who has suffered with digestive troubles because they’ve eaten something pre-race that they are not used to!
The night before an event is absolutely key. No wonder there are so many pasta parties prior to a marathon and for very good reason! There’s been copious amounts of research carried out on ‘pre-event carb loading’ and the conclusion seems to be fairly unequivocal. The night before your event, your carbohydrate to protein ratio needs to be around 70/30. Therefore, a large bowl of wholemeal tuna pasta is an example of a great pre-event meal. On the day of the event itself, an example of a good breakfast would be wholegrain porridge made with coconut milk, which provides some additional energy, together with some blueberries.
Sally Gunnell, the World famous British Olympic hurdler, made no secret of the fact that she visualised herself winning the Barcelona Olympics in 1992; she effectively imagined herself crossing the finishing line in first place. Of course, this could never have happened had she not have been hugely talented in her sport, but in an event where the difference between coming first or not is so small, it is believed that at least 60% of this fine balance is down to the right mental approach.
Everyone has pre-event nerves or uncertainties, particularly if you’re new to competing. So a strong, positive mental attitude is absolutely key, and visualising your win can be an extremely effective way of helping you cross that finish line.
Whatever your sporting event, make sure to enjoy your preparation and with a little extra planning you’ll be feeling on top form when you take your place on the start line. Good luck!
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1] Patterns of Change in Psychological Variables Leading up to a Competition in Superior Versus Inferior Performers. Boat R, Taylor IM. J Sport Exerc Psychol. 2015 Jun;37(3):244-56