Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pre-Race Fuel and Carbo Loading: Eat Like An Elite

It can be said that the American who made the most history at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games was Michael Phelps. (I hear you ladies - hooting in the background!) He won eight gold medals, more than any other athlete in a single Olympic game. He may have been born with the perfect body to assist his swimming ability. He also has some of the most knowledgeable coaches in the world to guide his training. However, there is one thing you can control that can make you perform like Phelps. You can't argue against the fact that his diet greatly helps his talents in the pool, and you too can use food to fulfill your greatest talents while running a race.

Extreme super athletes who are the best in the world, like Phelps, require extreme super diets. So what does Michael Phelps eat that keeps him in tip top shape? Up to 12,000 calories per day. It sounds outrageous, but according to the New York Post article titled Phelps' Pig Secret: Boy Gorge on August 13, 2008, “Phelps lends a new spin to the phrase 'Breakfast of Champions' by starting off his day by eating three fried-egg sandwiches loaded with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise. He follows that up with two cups of coffee, a five-egg omelet, a bowl of grits, three slices of French toast topped with powdered sugar and three chocolate-chip pancakes. At lunch, Phelps gobbles up a pound of enriched pasta and two large ham and cheese sandwiches slathered with mayo on white bread - capping off the meal by chugging about 1,000 calories worth of energy drinks. For dinner, Phelps really loads up on the carbs - what he needs to give him plenty of energy for his five-hours-a-day, six-days-a-week regimen - with a pound of pasta and an entire pizza. He washes all that down with another 1,000 calories worth of energy drinks.” [Long quote] An Olympic athlete such as Phelps, who trains consistently and is a professional, has extraordinary fueling needs to perform well at his sport. Although you may not train as often or for nearly as long as Olympic athletes, us mortals still need a proper diet leading up to our race that prepares our bodies for optimal performance.

What is the proper nutrition preparation you need for a goal race? Well, you want to be at the start line with a body that is well-fueled and well-hydrated. According to the book Endurance Sports Nutrition by Suzanne Girard Eberle MS, RD, “if you've trained properly and eat a normal diet the few days before the event, you can expect to store roughly 2,000 calories of glycogen [which is] enough fuel for approximately 90 to 120 minutes of vigorous activity.” Your muscles depend on carbohydrate as fuel at this time, as well as the efficient breakdown of fat, so it makes sense to carbo-load at this time to boost your glycogen stores.

There are, however, a few misconceptions out there about how to carbo-load. Many of us think that the best way to carbo-load leading up to a race is to eat pasta. A LOT of it. The best way to carbo-load in a way that your body can handle best is to eat until you are full, and not plate upon plate of spaghetti. According to Runner's World's article The Right Stuff in their October 2008 issue, “Flooding your system with more carbs than it can process may lead to digestive problems that will have you running to the porta-potty every mile.” They say to consume moderate amounts and not huge servings for several days before. “Massive amounts of any food throw your system a curve ball,” says Beth Janquet, RD, a nutritionist for Cherry Creek Nutrition in Denver. Think about what carbs you like best at each meal. Breakfast could include a bagel, pancakes or oatmeal; at lunch some potatoes or a few slices of pizza; [with] a plate of spaghetti for dinner. “Eat just to fullness, so you don't get indigestion or have trouble sleeping,” says Tara Gidus, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

Another mistake is to believe that you need to consume large amounts of water the week before the race. This is also not true. From the same Runner's World article, it is stated that “not only will chugging too much water before a race leave you feeling bloated, but it will also dilute your electrolytes [which are] minerals responsible for optimal muscle contraction. Diluted electrolyte levels can cause muscle weakness or cramping, and, in extreme cases, can lead to hyponatremia, a life-threatening condition triggered by abnormally low sodium levels.” Generally, follow the same guidelines as you would for carbo-loading. “For days leading up to the race, drink fluids as you normally would to stay hydrated. These can include water, sports drink, juice, even coffee and tea.” Then again on race day morning, drink a glass a few hours before the race. Then drink another cup of water or sports drink about ten minutes before the gun goes off. (I personally prefer sports drink so I have some extra electrolytes and calories to help my performance.)

What particular fuel you eat leading up to your race is very important as well. Not only is it smart to stick to more carbohydrate-rich foods, it's also vital that you stick with the foods your body knows. Avoid exotic foods you've never had before, such as fancy foreign cheeses or raw sushi (celebrate with interesting food AFTER the race), especially the night before. Runner's World says “You won't know how a food affects you until you've tried it - and last minute experimentation could send you bolting for the bathroom and leave you dehydrated.” Eat what is familiar to your body the whole week before the race. Find out what sports drinks and carb gels are going to be handed out at the race so you're sure you can use them along the course (and if you don't like them, bring your own). Also, it's completely your call when it comes to the typical pasta dinner the night before the race. If pasta's not your thing, many other good carb rich dinners include lots of vegetables, pizza, rice, potatoes, and bread. Actually, it's also recommended to go ahead with a glass of wine or a bottle of beer to help you relax prior to your race, that is, if it's part of your normal routine. When Deena Kastor dines on her pasta with pesto the night before a race, she toasts her friends and family with a matching glass of her favorite red wine!

In fact, there isn't one perfect way to fuel for any one person, since everyone's body and diet is different. It's a personal process. In the July/August 2008 issue of Running Times, an article called What the Elites Eat outlined the various foods elite marathoners eat the week and the night before their race.

Peter Gilmore, 31, who took 5th place at Boston Marathon in 2006 says this of his pre-race diet: “If the race is on Sunday, I'll typically start overloading a little at dinner on Wednesday. What I've learned being coached by Jack Daniels is that you can't just eat one big meal before a race because your body is only going to be able to store an extra 300 calories worth of carbs each day. So you have to eat a little more each day and then you can really top off your tanks. Really we're only talking about an extra bagel or an extra bowl of Grape Nuts.”

And Tera Moody, 27, who placed 5th place at women's US Olympic Trials Marathon eats as follows: “In the week before, I actually cut back on carbs for a couple of days and eat a lot of nuts and protein and fats. Then a few days before the race, I try to eat just simple carbs with only a little bit of protein and fats. I eat a lot the day before a race. At the trials in Boston, I had a corn dog and French fries the night before the race. My theory is, and it might just be a mental thing, that pasta doesn't really have enough fat in it. For a marathon, you're going to burn off carbs pretty fast, and what works for me is having a high-fat meal that is going to stay with me and fuel me for the race.”

So trust your body and go with what you know your stomach can handle, but do your best to eat more carbs leading up to race day. The key is to top off your glycogen stores so that you can do your best. You owe it to yourself since it's a component of race preparation that you can control - and it can have a huge impact on how well you do! Accompany all of your hard training work along with a good pre-race nutrition plan and you'll for sure have a great race. And who's to say you can't be like Michael Phelps someday? One can dream, right? Of fried egg sandwiches...or a pound of pasta...or an entire pizza...
I am quite surprised, however, to NOT see any peanut butter in this super athlete's diet! To make up for that, I've included a recipe from American record-holder for the fastest mile, Alan Webb, below, where the main component is PB. Along with it are other elite's carb-rich recipes. Enjoy!

From Scott Jurek, seven-time winner of the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run:

Sweet Potatoes with Garlicky Greens
Sweet Potatoes
4 sweet potatoes, sliced in wedges
1 TBSP olive or canola oil
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp rosemary
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss potatoes with oil and seasonings. Arrange on a preseasoned baking sheet. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes until potatoes are cooked through and lightly browned.

Garlicky Greens
1 TBSP olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, deseeded and minced (optional)
1 bunch of kale, collards, or chard, deveined and coarsely chopped
1/2 tsp of sea salt
Preheat skillet and olive oil. Saute garlic and pepper for one to two minutes. Add greens and salt. Saute for five to eight minutes. Serves 4.
Per serving: Calories 230/Carbs 38g/Protein 4g/Fat 7g
From Deena Kastor, America's fastest female marathoner and Olympic medalist:

Deena's Caramelized Onion and Fig Pizza
Pizza dough for 1 pizza
1 TBSP olive oil
2 yellow onions, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1 TBSP brown sugar
1 TBSP balsamic vinegar
1 cup arugula leaves, packed
6 dried figs, sliced
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
Roll out dough to fit baking pan. Preheat over to 450 degrees. Heat oil and saute onions with salt until brown. Add sugar and balsamic vinegar. Cook for 10 minutes. Spread onion mixture over dough, leaving an edge for the crust. Top with arugula, figs, and crumbled cheese. Place in oven for 15 minutes or until crust is golden. Remove from oven. Drizzle balsamic vinegar on top. Slice into sixths and serve.
Per serving: Calories 190/Carbs 24g/Protein 6g/Fat 9g

And of course, since we all love peanut butter:

'The Webb' Sandwich, by Alan Webb
2 slices whole grain bread
4-6 TBSP peanut butter (chunky or smooth - your choice!)
2-3 TBSP applesauce
Toast both slices of bread. Spread 2-3 TBSP PB on each piece of bread. Spread on a heaping TBSP of applesauce on each piece, over the PB. Try to spread on the PB and applesauce fairly quickly after toasting, and serve while still warm. Since the applesauce is refrigerated (unless you just got it from the store and it's at room temperature) when you eat it, you get warm toast and cool applesauce.
Per serving: nutrition facts based on type of bread, peanut butter, and applesauce you use.

This article is meant to give education on the nutritional content of certain foods. It was not written by a licensed nutrition professional. Please consult your doctor if there are changes you'd like to make to your diet.

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