Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pre-Tourney Eating: I Disagree With BLW

Note: I have a lot of respect for Ben. He's a really smart guy and a wonderful human being. He first publicly posted his pre-tournament eating recommendations almost five years ago, and I'm guessing they were written well before that. Much of the science is wrong, but his recommendations do make some sense.


Monday/Tuesday: Protein Loading
Why: Body cycles protein slower than other food constituents. Protein loading allows storage of long-term energy.
What to Eat: 3/4 meals per day, with at least one meal being primarily a main protein source (meat, eggs, tofu). Better if two meals focus on protein. Avoiding fat is nice, but no more necessary than any other day. Omelette for breakfast, chicken or fish for dinner will do it, as long as everything else is balanced.
When this will help: Throughout the weekend, but primarily after burning through daily reserves. Think "second-wind" on Saturday/Sunday afternoon.

Your body is very efficient at storing energy as fat and can store essentially an unlimited amount. Your body can store a few thousand calories worth of carbohydrates as muscle glycogen. Your body is not very good at storing protein. If you are gaining a pound of muscle per week (that's 50 pounds per year), your body is only actually storing about 15 grams of protein per day. If you eat a large amount of protein in one meal, most of it will end up being used for energy or converted to glucose. Also, If you are using stored protein for energy, that means you are breaking down muscle, and that's bad.

Your body is constantly breaking down and rebuilding muscle. The difference between the two rates can be measured by nitrogen balance:
This measure is an indication of the state of protein anabolism [building] or catabolism [breaking down] in the body. Positive nitrogen balance refers to the situation where the dietary intake exceeds the amount of nitrogen lost from the body by excretion, exfoliation, and so forth. Under theses circumstances-which are seen during childhood growth, pregnancy, and recovery from illness [and muscle building]-net synthesis of body protein and thus retention of nitrogen occur. In conditions of caloric inadequacy, as in prolonged fasting, the body proteins will be broken down to provide for energy demands and gluconeogenesis; hence, less nitrogen may be taken in than that which is excreted. This state is termed negative nitrogen balance, and it will be observed in wasting diseases or when dietary protein is inadequate in quantity or quality. The omission of a single essential amino acid from the diet, for example, will result in negative nitrogen balance, since the presence of every natural amino acid is required to maintain the biosynthesis of proteins. [from Essentials of Human Nutrition, p.214]
Basically, you want to maintain a positive nitrogen balance as much as possible so you can repair damaged muscle. This logic lead to recommendations from bodybuilders that you need to eat large amount of protein every 2-3 hours, but that really isn't necessary. As an athlete, you should eat about 1.4-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight (0.65-0.9g/lb) to maintain a neutral to positive nitrogen balance. Eating more than that probably isn't going to improve protein synthesis, but there are other benefits to a reasonably high protein intake.

Take-away point: You should eat a moderate amount of protein with every meal, every day.

Wednesday/Thursday: Vitamin Loading
Why: Body processes require vitamins to function. These cycle more quickly than protein, but can still be stockpiled during the week.
What to Eat: At least one large, complex salad each day. Focus here is on eating balanced meals that will allow intake of excess vitamins and minerals. Drink a smoothie. Balance the other food groups, make sure you get some protein (especially because you will likely be recovering from a practice or workout on 3-4 of these days). Steam, don't boil, your vegetables...and drink the juice. A Vit C pill isn't a bad idea. Garlic is amazing.
When this will help: Any injury or illness you pick up over the weekend needs to be fought off quickly, which your body is fully able to do given the right materials. Saturday night you body will heal as fast as you allow it to through what you eat on these days.

Me: Vitamins from fruits and vegetables are good for you. Your body can store fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), so a large amount once a week will have the same effect as smaller amounts daily. Your body can't store water-soluble vitamins (B and C), so you need a continuous supply. If you consume large amounts of water-soluble vitamins, your body takes what it needs and you lose the rest in your urine.

Here's the nutrition information for a pound of mixed salad greens (try eating a pound of mixed greens in one sitting):

There's a lot of good stuff there, but you aren't really loading up on many vitamins. If you want to give your body sufficient micronutrients, you need to eat a variety of different fruits and vegetables.

Take-away point: Eat lots of vegetables and some fruit with every meal, every day.


Thursday Night/Friday: Carbo Loading
Why: The levels of enzymes that use carbohydrates to make energy can be raised by intaking large carbohydrate meals, and this will also store energy in the short term in sugar form.
What to Eat: At least one full meal of a carbohydrate like bread, pasta, or rice. The more "hippie" it is, the better, meaning go for whole-grain instead of bleached white. Keep balanced meals. Get more fluids to help digest (and to hydrate). Keep hydrated, but DO NOT drink gallons and gallons of water solely. This throws your mineral/water balance out of whack just as much as losing all of your water. Actually, pounding salt-water mixes helped a former team of mine. Hyperhydration is a serious threat in hot temperatures: it manifests as the same symptoms as dehydration (cause the same water/mineral imbalance is happening) or as heat exhaustion except without the raised body temperature.
When this will help: Your maximum stored energy will be on Saturday, and this might give you an extra boost in terms of energy usage.

Me: Real carbohydrate loading can require you to consume 3000+ calories from carbohydrates per day. Since your body stores 3 grams of water with each gram of glycogen, carb loading can cause you to gain 5-10 pounds of bodyweight. There's a lot of evidence that carb loading improves performance if you aren't able to eat during prolonged exercise. If you're able to consume carbohydrates during exercise, carb loading probably isn't necessary.

The day before a tournament probably isn't the best time to completely change what you're eating. If you get everything exactly right, you may benefit from carb loading and manipulating your salt/water intake. Getting it wrong could result in indigestion, cramping, or other bad stuff.

Take-away point: Stick to basically your normal diet the day before a tournament. If you're going to carb load, figure out what's going to work for you by trial-and-error. Don't try it for the first time the day before Sectionals.

Saturday Morning: Pre-Game Meal
Why: You are about to play 4 games. You must have fuel.
What to Eat: A mix of carbohydrates, simple sugars, and protein. Fruits/vegetables will help keep mineral levels high, but right now you are mostly concerned with energy for the day. Pancakes/waffles make for good carbohydrate energy. Do not neglect protein, though- fats and proteins make for longer energy throughout the day. No sense in crashing after game #1. This is why Sausage McMuffins and the like are more than just a humorous choice- they actually give a pretty good spread of carbs, protein, and fat.
Those with "weak" stomachs will want to eat at least an hour before you hit the field to allow digestion and give blood that localizes to the stomach time to spread back out. This requires, of course, that you get up earlier.

This is pretty much right. You should eat a meal that's mostly easily digested carbohydrates with a some protein and minimal fat. Your body has plenty of fat stored if it needs it, so you don't need to worry about eating fat for energy.

To give your body time to digest before you play, you should eat about three hours before game time. If you're eating smaller meals, you can eat a bit closer to game time.

Take-away point: Eat a high carb, moderate protein meal before your first game. Give yourself enough time to digest the meal before you have to play.

On-Field Meals: Recovery and Fueling
On the field, you need a mix of fluids and food. Quick energy like "Goo" is great when you have to have it now, but if you can, try to eat immediately following games, to maximize digestion. Drink sports drinks or something similar to keep water/mineral levels high. Get some protein: sausage or Clif Bars are good for fat/protein intake. A head of lettuce (green) is basically like eating a cup of water with a vitamin pill in it. Pickles, a tried and true favorite, are great for salt (minerals) and for vitamins from the vegetable. Drink more.
Do not allow yourself to EVER feel hungry on the field. Hunger will lead to your body pulling resources back for safety, leading to lowered energy availability. Eat before you are hungry.

Me: During a tournament, you may be playing for 8 hours straight with only a couple 10-15 minute breaks between games. You need to be consuming a lot of calories, but at the same time, you don't want to be running around with a lot of food in your stomach. Similarly to your pregame meal, you don't really need any fat. You want to be getting lots of carbohydrates for energy, along with some protein to aid in recovery. This is a very good summary of what you should be eating and why. The recommendation is:
As a baseline, start by ingesting 30g carbohydrate and 15g protein (in 500ml water) per hour of training. This means if you’re training for one total hour, you’re sipping your 30g carb and 15g protein drink during that hour. And if you’re training for two hours, you’re sipping your first 30g carb and 15g protein drink during the first hour and your second 30g carb and 15g protein drink during the second hour. And so on…
Since you don't want to have lots of food digesting in your stomach, it's best to get your carbs and protein in liquid form. You can do a sports drink mixed with some whey protein powder. Chocolate milk actually has a pretty good mix of carbs and protein.

If you're drinking mostly sports drinks, you probably don't need to worry about getting extra salt (electrolyes=salts). If you're drinking mostly water, you should add some sea salt. I mix 1 teaspoon of sea salt in a gallon of water, and use that for my carb+protein drinks.

Take-away point: Drink 30g of carbs and 15g of protein during each hour of playing.

Saturday Night Meal: Recovery Mode
One day down, one to go. You need to heal all the damage you have done and maximize your chances of waking up Sunday feeling good.
Eat soon after playing. Cagging at the field is fun, but you have a 90-minute "glycogen window" after exercise in which to replace sugars, or else the body will start to break itself down to feed metabolism. If dinner is going to take a while, eat something right then, to stave off the breakdown.
Eat a balanced meal. You need some of everything to maximize your recovery: minerals, vitamins, protein, carbs. A big plate of Mexican food gives a great mix of resources. Indian food is good. Saltworks II is optimum. Drink water and sports drinks.

Me: I completely agree with this. Since you don't usually end up eating dinner until several hours after you finish eating, you should have a meal composed of mostly carbs and protein before you leave the fields. For your dinner a couple hours later, eat lots of healthy foods. You've been eating lots of carbs throughout the day, so you shouldn't need to load up on carbs at this meal. You should eat a good mix of carbs, protein, and fats, and include some fruits and vegetables. I don't think there's any need for sports drinks at this time.

Take-away point: Eat a meal of carbs and protein right after you finish playing. Eat a big balanced meal a couple hours later.