The International Olympic Committee (IOC) Consensus Statement on Sports Nutrition states that “all athletes should adopt specific nutritional strategies before, during and after training and competition to maximize their mental and physical performance.”
I believe that this statement also applies to both professional and recreational athletes alike. Olympic athletes have access to not only the top trainers in sport, but also the top sports dietitians. Sport dietitians not only determine the optimal dietary intake for Olympians, but they also organize the provision of all food and fluids throughout the Olympics. Here are some lessons that can be borrowed from Olympians, both for general conditioning and event-day performance.
Lessons from Olympians:
1. Determine your SPECIFIC goals. Olympians often have specific body composition goals; for example weight class athletes must achieve a specific weight on event day, but don’t necessarily maintain this weight all year around. While fluctuations in weight are not generally recommended, setting a specific goal for a specific date can help to keep you on track. Additionally, goals may be more specific to an athletic feat, such as running a personal best in a 10km race.
2. Vary your nutrition intake with your training schedule. Your intake of overall calories, particularly carbohydrates, and water should vary according to your training schedule. Calorie needs can vary up to 8000 kal/day depending on training volume and intensity. Determine what your needs are for each phase of training. If you train more than 60 minutes per day, consider adding in sports beverages and be sure to add additional high carbohydrate, moderate protein snacks (see recipe below) throughout the day. If your training program starts to tapper, remember to also adjust your intake accordingly.
3. Remember the 3 Ps: Plan, Prepare, Perform. Olympians often have tough travelling schedules and making sure that they have a plan in place and that all of their meals and snacks are prepared for is essential to top performance. Whether you travel or not, pick one day each week to sit down and plan your nutrition for the week. When are practices? Meetings? School or work schedule? Next comes preparation: go grocery shopping and pre-make meals and snacks. Purchase snack baggies and partition out snacks like trial mix, fruit, sliced vegetables, crackers and cheese for easy grab-and-go during the week.
4. Prepare for the event. Whether you have one particular event in mind, such as a marathon you’ve trained all
year for, or several events, such as a weekly hockey game, making sure that your fuels and hydration levels are optimal before an event is essential to performance. Include regular, nutrient rich meals and snacks for the days leading up to an event. Consume adequate amounts of carbohydrates (75 to 150 grams, depending on body size) and water (500 mL) at least four hours before the event, and smaller amounts leading up to the event as tolerated.
5. Hydrate during exercise and consider adding in sports beverages. Even a 2% loss in body water during exercise can negatively affect performance. Depending on your sweat rates, consume 250 mL to 500 mL of fluid for every 30 minutes of activity. For exercise lasting longer than 30-60 minutes, and depending on your sweat rates, consider adding in a sport beverage with added carbohydrates (30 to 60 grams per hour) and electrolytes. IMPORTANT: experiment with sports beverages at practices before adding them in to an event day program!
6. Recover. Olympians often have back-to-back events and proper nutrition immediately after an event is essential to optimal performance at the next event. Focus on simple, easy to digest carbohydrates and protein, as well as adequate amounts of water and electrolytes. Within 60 minutes of activity, consume 20-25 grams of protein along with 1-3 grams of carbohydrates per kg of body weight and 450-675 mL of fluid for every pound (0.5 kg) of body weight lost during exercise.