It will come as no surprise that different sports require different types of fuel to maximise performance.
While good nutrition is always going to be a priority for sports and fitness activities, following the right feeding strategies for endurance or strength-based sports can potentially have a significant impact on results.
The focus should be on safe as well as effective fat loss and muscle gain. When carbohydrate loading or fat loading, it’s a good idea to take professional advice to ensure that you only do what is beneficial and won’t cause harm.
What is carbohydrate loading for endurance events?
This is when you increase your intake of carbohydrate in advance of competing in an event. It’s beneficial when taking part in endurance events, for example a running or cycling competition that takes more than two hours to complete.
Bread, potatoes, rice and pasta are all high in carbohydrate, but should be accompanied by a balance of vitamins, protein and fat.
Carbohydrate loading over three days ahead of the event will increase the glycogen stores in your muscles. This will delay fatigue and help to improve your performance, particularly as you reach the final stages of an endurance event. You should also take in additional carbohydrate during an endurance event, through drinks or food, to prevent fatigue. After the event, a high-GI carbohydrate will aid recovery.
The general recommendation is 7-12g of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight. Bear in mind that carbohydrate loading will not help performance in events that are shorter than two hours or in anaerobic activities, and that you should only carry out carbohydrate loading up to four times a year.
What is fat loading for endurance events?
Like carbohydrate loading, this is when you increase the amount of fat in your diet ahead of an endurance competition. Fat loading requires increasing the fat in your diet to 60-70% over five days, before carrying out three days of carbohydrate loading prior to your event.
Good sources of fat are dairy products such as chocolate, cream and cheese. In studies, endurance athletes have seen increased performance after an intake of medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oils along with carbohydrates, although side effects such as diarrhoea have also been reported.
After competing, you should ensure that you replace fluid and electrolytes lost, as well as sodium and potassium.
Feeding strategies for strength-based events
The key for strength-based events is to keep up the levels of fuel and liquid in the body at the same time as avoiding gastrointestinal issues that will affect performance.
Foods that are nutritionally beneficial should be consumed while training for your strength-based event. Carbohydrate consumption needs to be aligned with your training programme so that your energy stores remain high enough for your performance and recovery, both while training and on the day of competition.
A day of rest or only light training prior to competing can allow the body to restore its glycogen levels. Whether you are competing in one or several events, make sure you have planned out the food and drink that you will be consuming during the competition to ensure you have the fuel that you need to hand.