By Teemu Virtanen
Endurance sports, long distance skiing included, require a lot of energy before, during and after a performance. Everyone knows that one needs to drink fluids and consume gels or energy bars during a long performance, and naturally each person has his or her own way of keeping the performance at the highest possible level. And when finished, one should start the recovery process as soon as possible by consuming various recovery drinks, bars and other products.
But for many amateur or semi-competitive skiers, the big question is the food intake before the race. How much should one eat and what kind of food before the D-day? Many have heard about the so-called carbo-loading, but even that method has changed over the years. Professional athletes don’t really stuff themselves prior to their race anymore, but they make sure that their diet includes enough carbohydrates days before the race.
Let’s take a closer look at the term carbohydrate loading, or carb-loading or carbo-loading. It is a strategy used by endurance athletes, such as long distance skiers, to maximize the storage of glycogen (or energy) in the muscles and liver. Carbohydrate loading is generally recommended for endurance events lasting longer than 90 minutes.
In the past, there have been many different ways of preparing for a race where a skier undertook certain workouts to trim the body for his or her ultimate performance. Some did an all-out training about a week before, then consumed a lot of protein before switching to carbo-loading. The training after that final hard workout was naturally easy preparing for the race in the coming days.
A new carbo-loading regimen developed by scientists at the University of Western Australia calls for a normal diet with light training until the day before the race. On the day before the race, the athlete performs a very short, extremely high-intensity workout (such as a few minutes of sprinting) then consumes 12 g of carbohydrate per kilogram of lean mass over the next 24 hours. The regimen resulted much better results than the “old-fashioned” way (even a 90% increase in glycogen storage).
What is the right diet composition for a perfect carbo-loading? The answer is anything with glucose as fructose is not effective at raising muscle glycogen levels, but it will be metabolized in liver glycogen. Hence, fruits and sugar-based foods are less optimal for the task. Instead, the classic pasta works really well as its caloric content is mostly due to starch, a polymer of glucose. Other high-starch meals, which include bread, rice and potatoes, are also part of the correct regimen.
Many endurance athletes prefer foods with low glycemic indices for carbo-loading due to their minimal effect on serum glucose levels. Low glycemic foods commonly include vegetables, whole wheat pasta, and grains. Since muscles also use amino acids extensively when functioning within aerobic limits, meals should also include adequate protein. Large portions before a race can, however, decrease race-day performance if the digestive system has not had the time to process the food regimen.
So, just remember not to overeat before your race, eat enough good carbs and drink fluids, train cautiously before the race and prepare mentally for the challenge ahead. And when racing, you must drink enough and get carbs into your system during the event. But we will get to that later in the season.