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Pre-camp and pre-tournament nutrition planning

Pre-camp and pre-tournament nutrition planning


An athlete who is well prepared at the start of a training camp has every chance of maximizing his or her level of performance. In the previous article, we saw how important it is for a field hockey player to replenish his muscle and liver glycogen reserves before the 1st day of training. In this second article, we’ll focus on meal and snack planning for the entire training camp or tournament. This allows athletes to consume foods they normally eat to limit digestive discomfort, and always have the energy sources they need when they need them.

Preparing for a training camp or tournament is not just about the food you eat in the days leading up to the event, as explained in a previous article, but also about planning the meals and snacks you will eat before, during and after each physical effort during the event.

Food intake planning maximizes performance while promoting digestive comfort (1). Ensuring that you have sufficient quantities of regularly consumed food (well tolerated during regular training sessions) on hand, and eaten at the right time, helps to maximize and maintain energy levels throughout the sporting event.

Here’s what good food intake planning can do for the athlete(2, 3,4):

Before an effort
Provide the energy needed to replenish the body’s energy reserves (glycogen in muscles and liver)
Ensuring adequate hydration
Ensure a feeling of satiety during exercise (not feeling hungry)

During an effort
Provide the energy and hydration needed to maintain performance levels
Maintain adequate blood sugar levels
Avoid hunger

After an effort
Replace fluids and electrolytes lost during exercise
Replenish muscle and liver glycogen reserves to ensure maximum performance during the next effort
Repair muscle micro-tears caused by exercise

Once the location and schedule of the competition or camp are known, there are many questions to ask about the food products available. This can also help to offset any unforeseen circumstances that may arise during this period:

  • What’s on the cafeteria menu?
  • Are there vending machines?
  • What snacks are available on site?
  • What sports drinks are available?
  • Is there space available to keep food fresh?
  • What restaurants are nearby?
  • What are the eating habits of the athlete’s host family?

Poor or omitted planning can have immediate and long-term negative repercussions on sporting performance (1). For example, if there’s only an hour between two matches and the player has nothing to eat (solid or liquid), he’ll start the second effort with reduced energy reserves. It is more difficult to refill reserves to the maximum during subsequent meals or snacks, especially if there are other physical efforts planned for the day or the following day.

Where to start?
The content of meals and snacks depends on the time available for digestion before physical exertion (1,2,3). Overeating (high calorie intake) can be detrimental to an athlete’s performance. In such a situation, the body concentrates more energy on digestion, reducing the energy available for sports performance (2,5). As a general rule, the closer you get to exercise, the more sources of fat, protein and fibre should be reduced or even avoided, since these nutrients take a long time to digest and can cause digestive discomfort (1,2,3,5).

As each person’s digestive tolerance is different, dietary tests should be carried out before starting activities (2). The tests are useful for identifying which foods are tolerated and which are not, as well as the ideal quantities to consume. They also help the body to get used to digesting food and avoid intestinal discomforts such as diarrhea, gas, bloating, etc. To avoid these digestive problems, no new foods or supplements should be introduced into the diet during camp or competition (2).

In concrete terms, the following diagram illustrates how athletes can plan their meals and snacks according to the time available before and between different physical efforts. The choice of food should be based as much as possible on food tests and well-tolerated foods before the start of the event.

When athletes train more than once a day, the following five types of meals/snacks should be part of their daily diet to maximize energy levels, avoid digestive problems during exercise and optimize recovery (1):

Full meal
Sportsman’s plate (1/3)
Ex. Pasta, chicken and broccoli, fruit or dairy-based desserts or milk substitutes (e.g. vegetable drinks)

Light meal
Easier to digest when time is limited before training
Ex. : Less chicken and broccoli, moderation of fats

Energizing snack
Complex and simple carbohydrates as tolerated, moderate fiber intake
Ex: Muffin + fruit

Recovery snack: reserves energy and maintains bone mass
Carbohydrates + Dairy products/alternatives enriched with calcium and vitamin D
Ex. Date granola balls + glass of milk

Recovery snacks: build muscle, store energy and maintain bone mass
Protein + Carbohydrates + Dairy products/substitutes enriched with calcium and vitamin D
Ex: Smoothie: egg + fruit + milk

The recommendations can be applied as follows in a camp where there would be two on-ice training sessions of 1h30 followed by two off-ice training sessions of 30 to 45 min. Afterwards, a more detailed menu can be drawn up, indicating the foods you plan to eat.

Planning meals and snacks is important, but so is planning hydration.1,2 An optimal state of hydration helps, among other things, to digest and absorb energy, control body temperature, facilitate blood circulation and eliminate metabolic waste (2,4,5).

Urine color is a good indicator of hydration status. The paler the urine, the better the hydration level. A minimum of 2 liters of water a day should be consumed to ensure optimal body fluid status (2,4,5). A common mistake is to wait until you feel thirsty before drinking, as a strong sensation of thirst can indicate a degree of dehydration (2,5). Small quantities (150 to 250 ml) should be consumed every 15-20 minutes during exercise (2). Sports drinks are suitable for efforts lasting over an hour, but water is the best choice for other times of the day (2.5) For more details on hydration, see the article “Optimum hydration for sports activities”.

Finally, planning food and water intake ensures that the athlete has what he or she needs at the right time and in the right quantities to ensure optimum sporting performance.

Planning each food intake throughout the camp or tournament according to the activity schedule also gives the athlete the peace of mind to focus on being at his or her best during training or competition. Being well-prepared and aware of food options also makes it easier to adapt to unforeseen circumstances. As every athlete has different digestive tolerances and requirements, it is important to adapt the above recommendations to the specific needs of each individual.

Written by Geneviève Rioux, Dietitian-Nutritionist

References :
1. Nerenberg P. A Sports Nutrition Guide to Prepare for Hockey Camps or Hockey Tryouts. HNN, 2016
2. Ledoux M. and Lacombe N. Sports nutrition. Clinical nutrition manual online. Ordre professionnel des diététistes du Québec, Montreal, 2016 Edition.
3. Ledoux M. et al. Nutrition sport et performance, 2nd edition. Vélo Québec, Québec, 2009, 283 pages.
4. Burke L. and V. Deakin. Clinical sports nutrition, 5th edition. Mc Graw Hill Education, Australia, 2015, 828 pages.
5. Lamarche B. and J. Soulard. Le soulard des sportifs, Les éditions La Press, Montreal, 2016, 253 pages.

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