Nutrition is often an overlooked or underestimated tool to improve sporting performance, body composition and overall health. If you think of the body as a car and food as the fuel; you wouldn’t fill a diesel car with petrol, similarly, putting the wrong type of food or fuel into your body will prevent you from performing and feeling your best.
When it comes to nutrition for sports performance, it’s all about preparing/fuelling the body’s tank, topping up/maintaining the tank and refuelling the tank to be ready for the next journey/session.
BEFORE EXERCISE: FUEL THE TANK
Carbohydrate is the most important fuel/energy source for intense exercise such as sprinting, jumping, tackling, kicking, dancing. Carbohydrate is stored as glycogen in the liver & muscles; however, these stores (fuel tank) are limited so must be filled before exercise and refilled after exercise with carbs from food, similar to filling & refilling a car with fuel before and after a journey.
The more high-intensity energy you have from carbs, the more intense you can train, the more calories you will potentially burn and the greater chance you have of achieving your performance goals such as becoming fitter, faster, stronger.
Therefore, carbohydrate-rich foods are so important in the day(s) before a game/event to make sure your body’s tank is filled and ready to fuel your performance.
24-36 Hours Before: Carbohydrate Loading
This strategy involves increasing carbohydrate intake in the day(s) before your match/race to fill up the body’s fuel tank/glycogen stores and subsequently delay fatigue in your match or race.
How to Carb Load
2-3 Hours Before: Pre-Match/Race Meal
Sample Pre-Exercise Meals
1 Hour Before: Snack
If you carb load properly and have a high-carbohydrate pre-match/race meal, a top-up snack may not be needed. If you do want a snack, keep it small and avoid high-fibre, fatty or spicy snacks:
DURING EXERCISE: FUEL TOP-UP
Consuming carbs during high-intensity exercise >1 hour will preserve glycogen/fuel stores, helping you to perform at a high-intensity for longer while also maintaining physical performance, cognitive and technical ability during a race/match. Consume 30-60g of carbohydrate per hour (can break this down into 20-30g of carbohydrates every 30 minutes)
What & How Much Carbohydrate?
Easily digested, fast-absorbing carbs such as:
AFTER EXERCISE: RECOVER/REFILL THE TANK
Exercise causes inflammation and oxidative stress which can result in fatigue, muscle damage, and delayed muscle soreness. It’s important to note that short recovery periods between matches/races and/or training without appropriate recovery strategies (carbs, protein, hydration, antioxidant-rich foods) can increase an athlete’s risk of injury. Getting back to our fuel tank once again, glycogen/fuel stores are low after training and matches/events and must be refuelled with carbs to have your stores ready and rearing to go for the next session.
Sample Recovery Snacks & Meals:
The importance of hydration is often overlooked around training and matches/races but believe you me, it’s more important than you think! Beginning exercise in a dehydrated state can:
How Much Fluid?
How to Monitor?
The easiest way is to look before you flush!
Tips for Rehydrating
Hey! I’m Clare, a Health and Performance Nutritionist with a BSc in Human Nutrition and MSc in Sport and Exercise Nutrition.
I am a big fan of wholesome real food which sets the foundation of the nutrition support I provide and nutrition/cookery workshops I deliver to individuals, groups and athletes.
I am a keen sports person where I play Gaelic football for my club and county teams. I enjoy experimenting with nutrition and hydration strategies around my own training, acting as a guinea pig for the athletes I work with!
For more nutrition tips and recipes, find me on Instagram @clarefarrellnutrition or drop me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be more than happy to help with any questions or queries you may have!