Nutrition for before, during, and after Comrades

Not long until the rooster koekelekoes! By this time, you are at your fittest, most athletes are at their skinniest, and you are doing everything possible not to get sick. If you are a bit confused about what to eat and drink and what to stay miles away from, STOP! Stick to the BASICS!

Here are a few basic, but clinically proven guidelines that may put your mind at ease:

  1. Boost your immune system

Since your GIT (gastro-intestinal-tract) forms a major part of your immune system, recruiting an army of good bacteria, called Probiotics, may help fight off disease-causing bacteria. Invest in a good Probiotic supplement and take it daily. You may also benefit from probiotic-rich food such as yoghurt, kefir, sour pickles (in salt water, not in vinegar), miso, etc. Include food rich in prebiotics as well to help “feed” the live probiotics. Prebiotic-containing food include bananas, oats, apples, beans, etc.

2. Have a daily vitamin C supplement of 200mg

3. Follow a balanced diet

Balanced? Yes, include ALL the different food groups in your daily intake:Five to 7 servings of fresh fruit and vegetables, starchy foods such as whole grains and starchy vegetables, lean protein and legumes, and low-fat dairy products.

4. To load or not to load

Intakes of carbohydrates in the range of 8-11g/kg/day for 1-3 days before competition have been shown to increase muscle glycogen concentration among athletes. This increase in muscle glycogen translate into performance benefits ONLY when exercise duration is longer than 90 minutes (which is not even the quarter of time that most Comrades athletes spend on the road on race day. Therefore, it is advised to aim for a target of 36-48 hours of 10-12g/kg of carbohydrates per 24 hours.   This is about 600 g/day for an average 60kg female athlete and about 750 g/day for an average 70kg male athlete.

These are general guidelines that should be fine-tuned to the athlete considering individual energy needs, training, and performance. And remember, tapering down, as described by our Physiotherapist Juli-Ann Riley, is also part of carbo-loading.

Easily digestible, lower fibre carbs are usually better tolerated before events. These include potatoes and sweet potatoes, pasta, pizza, basmati rice, etc. Its important to have at least 9-12 cups of water per day in order to prevent constipation.

5. On the road

During ultra-endurance exercise of longer than 2.5 – 3 hours 90g/hr of carbohydrates are recommended. This can be consumed in liquid, gel, or solid form, whichever meets your individual needs for hydration, fuel, and gastro-intestinal comfort. Read labels for carbohydrate content per serving to plan your race accordingly.

Athletes seldom replace fluids fully due to sweat loss. Fluid intake in small amounts before your race is also helpful to your body to absorb fluid. Start off with about 1-2 cups 4 hours before your race, and if you haven’t urinated have another ½ cup of fluid 2 hours before your race. Proper hydration during your long run will enhance performance, avoid ensuing thermal stress, maintain plasma volume, delay fatigue, and prevent injuries associated with dehydration and sweat loss. As fluid needs may vary due to speed of the athlete, sweating rates, weather conditions, weight and size, etc., more accurate/precise guidelines are difficult to predict. Athletes should drink between 400-800 ml/hr of a solution containing carbohydrates and Na(+) (sodium) (0.5 – 0.7 /litre of fluid), higher rates for the faster, heavier individual on a warmer day, and the lower rates for the slower, lighter person competing on a cooler day.

6. Replenish

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dieticians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend about 15-25 g of protein (for most athletes) within the first two hours after exercise and every three to five hours over multiple meals to optimize and stimulate muscle protein synthesis rates. Combine protein with about 1-1.2 g/kg body weight of carbohydrates for glycogen resynthesis.

Up until now your body has given you everything it has, now it is your turn to make it up by giving your body the best quality and appropriate quantity of nutrients it needs to help you perform.

“Be the best athlete you can be, eat the best you can eat.”

PEN, The Global Resource for Nutrition Practice

American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand: Exercise and fluid replacement.

All the best to all the champions who are running the Ultimate Human Race!

 Contributor: Melissa Ludick RD(SA), Dietician at FEMINA HEALTH

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