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June 25, 2002

Nutrition and Competition
by Paula Robertson - HBSc. Nutrition and Nutraceutical Science

This is a short summary for those who are participating in long competitions and are out to have a little fun in the process.

Camelback hydration systemMaintaining hydration is very crucial to performance whether it be from water or sports beverages. As a rule you should drink as much water as you sweat out during exercise. You should not wait until you are thirsty because at this point you are already experiencing dehydration. This can result in decreased endurance, decreased strength, and decreased mental function.

Sports drinks are recommended but they should follow certain guidelines:

  • contain 6-8% carbohydrates (carbs)
  • contain sodium and potassium
  • be isotonic (contain electrolytes)
All of these are important in replenishing what has been lost during exercise.

There also is the possibility to "hyperhydrate" temporarily by ingesting a large volume of water 10-30 minutes prior to exercise. This is more practical than running the risk of being dehydrated early on in the exercise if beverage intake is not easily attainable.

CarbsCarbohydrates are the main source of energy for your body. They are easy to find and are already pretty abundant in our diet. The immediate purpose of food intake is to maintain the body's carbohydrate stores which is why the focus is mainly on carbohydrate intake. Some popular guidelines are outlined below. Amounts should vary depending on your body size; the larger more muscular should opt for larger amounts and the smaller or newer athlete should go for smaller or medium amounts. It is important to remember that everyone is different and what works for someone else might not work for you. Start by following guidelines and then adjust your routine as needed.


Carbohydrate loading

  • 6 days before the event eat about 50 % of the day's calories from carbs.
  • the last 3 days eat about 75 % of the day's calories from carbs.
In most cases, this doubles or triples the amount of stored energy that the body can use when needed.

Hydration - it is a good idea to start hydrating about a day before the event.


  • consume fructose 6-12 hours prior to promote liver glycogen storage important for glucose retrieval in the body
  • fructose is a sugar found in honey and fresh fruits
  • fructose not too useful during exercise
  • too much tends to cause cramps, gas, diarrhea
  • 3-6 hours prior eat 500 kcal of carbs or 75-350g carbs (an example would be 3-4 pancakes, syrup, fruit yogurt or a large serving of chili, extra kidney beans and vegetables, 2 slices whole wheat bread...add more if still hungry)

During competition

It is vitally important to continue dietary intake throughout the competition, even though you may not feel like eating. It is much easier to eat many small portions throughout the competition rather than one or two large meals.

A guideline for food consumption throughout the competition:

  • 30-60g carbs/hour
  • about 500 ml of sport drink
  • glucose is recommended to maintain energy levels (**see below for approximate carb levels in common foods)
  • glucose can be found in candies, puddings, snacks etc (check the label)
  • energy gels can also be useful, particularly for the solo rider
A guideline for an individual who is part of a relay team:
  • make sure to continue hydrating during the break
  • eat the recommended hourly carb intake after 20-30 minutes of rest
  • depending on the length of the break you should continue carb intake to maintain hourly quotas, stop eating at least 30 minutes prior to continuing the race
  • about 20-30 minutes prior to continuing it is a good idea to increase energy levels by ingesting glucose

A guideline for a solo rider: energy gel

  • make sure to continue hydrating throughout the competition
  • consume the recommended hourly carb intake in liquid form (energy drinks/gels)
  • keep up energy levels by ingesting glucose

Recovery (Post-Event)

  • try to avoid fructose for the first 24 hours after a competition
  • try to maintain a normal intake of protein
  • consume about 600g in 24 hours so not to shock your body too much
  • ideal is 100g carbs in first 15-30 min and 50-100g every 2-4 hours for a total of 600g carbs in the first 24 hours.
**Here is a short list for examples of the weight of carbs in a serving of the more popular food choices.
  • medium apple - 20g
  • 1 c. oatmeal - 26g
  • 3 pancakes - 24g
  • 1 c. kidney beans - 39g
  • 2 slices wh. wheat bread - 24g
  • 1 c. pasta - 34g
  • 1 c. plain yogurt - 16g
  • 1 c. fruit yogurt - 43g
  • 1 c. rice - 45g
  • 1 tbsp. jam - 13g
  • 1 slice cheese pizza - 16g
  • 1 c. spaghetti - 33g
  • bran muffin - 12g
  • english muffin - 27g
  • plain bagel - 31g
  • potato - 32g
  • 1 c. carrots - 16g
  • orange - 15g

  • caffeine Supplements are sometimes considered in sports. Caffeine and coffee are popular concerns since some people tend to rely on either one to stay awake. Caffeine has been shown to increase both endurance and speed . Coffee contains quite a bit of caffeine, but is not as effective as pure caffeine and you would have to consume several cups to reach any sort of desired effect. The studies indicate 4.5 mg pure caffeine per kg body weight for results. Too much could be counter-productive causing you to become distracted and unable to concentrate. It is important to note that caffeine is not a nutritional supplement and is definitely not generally recommended for athletes. In some competitions it is considered a drug; urine tests could check for increased levels.
    An idea of caffeine amounts:
    • 1 cup (5 fl. oz) standard-brewed coffee - 80 mg (perk), 130 mg (drip)
    • 1 cup (5 fl oz) instant coffee - 60 mg
    • 1can cola - 38 mg,
    • 1 cup(5 fl oz) tea brewed 5 minutes - 46 mg.
    Protein and fat are also important parts of a healthy diet. Protein is excellent for long term energy and fat for long term stored energy. However, these are not so much the focus for short-term training.

    One basic thing to remember when training is moderation; everyone has their indulgences and there is no need to completely omit these from your routine. If you desire a beer a day or two before the competition go ahead it will not throw off your schedule. If you desire intimate relations with your significant other go ahead, chances are you will not be so exhausted as to harm your chances of succeeding (some studies have even shown positive outcomes). Similarly, if you desire a couple wings while hanging out with friends go ahead. It's all about moderation and finally, be sure to get plenty of rest and ultimately have fun.

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