In Chapter 12 of my new book Beyond Training, I fill you in on all the hidden things you should avoid on race day if you want to maximize performance without gastric distress.
But what kind of crucial, performance-enhancing or gut-stabilizing foods or nutrients should you actually eat before your workout or race? Here are five of my top recommendations.
1) Blended & juiced foods.
When you blend or juice foods, you make things much easier on your digestive system, allow foods to empty more quickly from the stomach. Blending or juicing also helps to pre-digest the food so your body doesn’t have to work as hard during digestion. This frees up precious energy for you to be able to devote to breathing, moving and contracting muscles. Cell walls are broken down and nutrients are quickly released (especially from greens like kale, or dark root vegetables like beets and carrots.)
When you use these strategies, you’re essential “chewing” your food much more thoroughly than you may have been able to with your teeth, and many foods that would normally have given you digestive trouble – such as a bunch of carrots or a big spinach salad – will digest just fine when blended or juiced. So I recommend a high-speed quality blender such as a Vitamix or OmniBlender, an Omega masticating juicer, and a Magic Bullet for travel. Two of my “go-to” recipes for pre-workouts are a kale smoothie blended with coconut water or coconut milk, or a carrot-ginger-lemon juice with a touch of olive oil added in.
2) Small amounts of caffeine.
Caffeine can definitely help with sports performance. This may be why 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine, more popularly known as caffeine, is the world’s most consumed natural pharmacological agent. Caffeine has been shown to improve endurance and time trial performance in cyclists, increase endurance in runners, and improve performance times and boost power in rowers. Caffeine has also been shown to improve performance in cycling and running events lasting 5 minutes or more, and to increase power output, speed, and strength in sprint and power events lasting less than 10 seconds (incidentally, caffeine has been shown to have no effect, and may even be a negative factor, in sprint and power events lasting anywhere from 15 seconds to 3 minutes)
In tennis players, caffeine increases hitting accuracy, speed and agility, and overall success on the court. And players reported feeling more energy late in their matches. Caffeine also reduces your “rating of perceived exertion”, or how hard you feel like you’re actually working – which essentially causes you to push harder and faster.
Unfortunately, most people are averaging 238 mg of caffeine every day — which is the equivalent of 2–3 cups of coffee – and 20–30 percent of people consume an enormous 600 mg of caffeine daily (with about 71 percent of it coffee, 16 percent from tea, and 12 percent from soft drinks and energy drinks). And when we shove high amounts of caffeine into our system prior to a workout or race, it’s just extra stress on the adrenal glands. So as mentioned earlier, I recommend a minimum effective dose of caffeine – about 0.5mg per pound of body weight or 1mg per kg of body weight. For a 150lb athlete that’s the equivalent of a small cup of coffee. I personally just add one serving of X2Performance Natural Sports Energy about 30 minutes prior to my race, and repeat for 7 days leading up the race.
3) Easy-to-digest carbohydrates.
White potato, sweet potato, yam, taro and white rice are the top five carbohydrate sources that seem to be best tolerated by athletes prior to hard workouts. But if you’re adhering to the carbohydrate/fat/protein ratios I recommend in this article, then you know you don’t even need ample amounts of these. So how many carbs do you actually need?
Let’s say you wake up on race morning. You’ve primarily burnt through your liver’s glycogen stores while sleeping. The average human needs (at most) about 400 calories of carbohydrate to completely top off those stores (assuming you haven’t been starving yourself, your muscles are already full of glycogen and ready to rumble) (4). So if you eat 100 grams from any of the starch sources mentioned above, that’s all you need. To put that number into context, that’s about 2 cups of cooked white rice, or a couple large, boiled sweet potatoes or yams. Liberally add sea salt to either of the foods above, throw in a few tablespoons of the healthy fats and proteins you’ll learn about momentarily, and you have a perfect pre-race or pre-marathon meal!
I’m also a big fan of including some source of pinitol (which you can also get from X2Performance) in the morning after your carbohydrates, which has an effect similar to insulin in terms of its ability to help drive glucose from carbohydrate energy sources into cells for rapid creation of ATP.
4) Easy-to-digest fats.
In contrast to fats that take a long time to digest, such as eggs, bacon, cheese or yogurt, medium chain triglycerides from sources such as MCT oil, coconut oil or the solid form of coconut manna actually bypass the normal process of digestion and instead get absorbed directly into your liver – where they can then be metabolized to provide a quick source of energy. This makes MCT‘s a valuable addition to your “before” meal. For joint and heart health, you can also include small amounts of a concentrated source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 essential fatty acids from a cold-press plant-based oil such as Udo’s Oil or Panaseeda Five Oil Blend (you can simply include these in your smoothie or poured over the top of your carbohydrate source).
5) Easy-to-digest proteins.
Like many fats, proteins also take a long time to digest and require lots of energy to break down – which is why a pre-race meal of steak and eggs is a recipe for gut disaster or sub-par performance. But for efforts of greater than 3 hours in duration, your body can use up to 15 percent of its energy requirements from protein. In addition, high blood levels of amino acid during exercise can lower your rating of perceived exertion and significantly decrease post-exercise soreness.
For this reason, I recommend that prior to your big workout or race you include any or all of the following: A) 20-30 grams of a hydrolyzed whey protein, which is a type of “pre-digested” protein that is more expensive, but much easier to absorb and assimilate compared to regular whey protein (I recommend Mt. Capra’s DEEP30 protein); B) 5-10 grams of essential amino acids, which have an extremely high absorption rate (I recommend Master Amino Acid Pattern); C) 10-20 grams of a hydrolyzed collagen protein source. For this, I recommend you either use an organic, clean powder such as Great Lakes or Bernard Jensen, or simply drink a cup of bone broth with your pre-race meal. Compared to eating a steak, these type of protein sources are far less stressful for your digestive system to break down and absorb. Remember – you don’t want to be making your gut work any harder than it needs to.
So let’s tie this all together:
Two hours prior to your big race or workout, you would eat a large (preferably mashed or blended) sweet potato or yam with a tablespoon of coconut oil, a few pinches of sea salt, and a little raw honey for flavor. You would also have a glass of water or coffee with hydrolyzed collagen added to it. About 60-90 minutes later, you would chase this all down with one serving of X2Performance, which you preferably should have been loading with for the seven days leading up to the race.
My new book at “BeyondTrainingBook.com” is jam-packed with even more meal ideas, so be sure to check it out!
To get more tips on how to use X2Performance, or to learn more about how to incorporate nutrition and strength training into your triathlon training, sign up for X2Performance’s live Q&A webcast with six-time Ironman world champion Dave Scott on April 12 at 5 p.m. EST. Everyone who signs up for the webcast is automatically entered into a contest to win a number of prizes, including a free entry into a select 2014 Ironman race as part of the X2Performance triathlon team. You can sign up for the webcast HERE. Send your questions into firstname.lastname@example.org, and if your question is chosen, you will receive extra prizes!