Nutrition advice for all paddlers
Sport nutrition is where performance fueling comes to life. What you eat and drink, the amounts you eat and drink, and when you eat and drink all make a difference. Your training could be spot on, but if your nutrition does not meet your energy needs you will not see the progress and ultimately the results you expect. Do you begin training or competition feeling energized and do you finish strong? Is your energy level and performance consistent or do they fluctuate? Paddle athletes are already in tune with their body, now I’m asking you to be more aware of subtle body cues like focus, attention, mood, thirst, and hunger.
Foundations of sport nutrition
The majority of sport nutrition research was performed on male cyclists in labs. Sport scientists are able to control the environment so that all the athletes have exactly the same conditions. The lab is set at a certain temperature, humidity, the athletes all have the same training protocol (typically a time trial or time to exhaustion), and they look at the differences in performance associated with what the athletes are eating or drinking (i.e., sport drinks, gels, chews, etc.). Researchers take the common findings and make recommendations. A sport nutrition coach will use those recommendations to create a personalized fueling plan for the athlete adjusting for recovery days, high intensity days, long endurance days, double workout days, competition, and more.
The best recommendation is to plan ahead. Give your body the time it needs to digest so the food or drink is broken down, absorbed, and the energy is ready for use. Meals need about two to three hours to digest depending on the meal size and the type of carbs, protein, and fat in the meal. Sport nutrition bars need about 1 hour. Gels and chews need about 20 minutes and sport drinks need about 5 minutes to digest. Your body has a limited about of stored carbs, also known as muscle glycogen or liver glycogen. Ideally you want to go to training or your race with your energy stores full. It is like filling up your gas tank before you go on a road trip. That is why the meal closest to your training session or competition is important.
If you train or race at 8 A.M. then breakfast will be important. However, if you are not able to or you do not want to eat breakfast at 5 A.M. or 6 A.M., then dinner will be your most important meal. If you paddle at noon, then your breakfast will be most important and I recommend you have a snack or sport nutrition fuel about one hour before you paddle. If you paddle in the evening, then lunch and a small snack will fuel you. Again these are broad recommendations because everybody is different. Work on your sport nutrition during training. Never make any fueling or hydration changes on race day because you do not know how your body will react and you want to perform your best.
The next article in this series will focus on meal and snack recipes for best paddling performance. What questions do you have for me?