This is not meant to be an overly in depth post on this subject, and I am certainly no mad scientist when it comes to game day nutrition and recovery techniques. Rather, this is more of a rundown of what I like to do during an event to combat fatigue and exhaustion. In anticipation of the upcoming sectional qualifiers in March and to follow up the competition just finished in Copenhagen, and in response to questions on the topic, it seemed a fitting time to raise the issue.
These days tend to be very long, with a few breaks of an hour or so in duration, so timing food and recovery snacks proves to be one of the more important considerations. My attitude towards this is simple: Eat big early; eat easily digestable nutrients in small portions throughout the day; and LIE DOWN.
The reason for the big early meal is because this is really the only chance you will have to let your body properly digest some real food. Chances are, you can get up early enough to give yourself 2-3 hours processing time before your first event whereas the rest of the day will not afford you this opportunity. I don’t advise eating anything out of the ordinary. It’s probably not a good idea to experiment with some radical “energy” food the day of an event. Stick with what your body is used to and give yourself enough time to be ready for the first WOD.
By eating easily digestable nutrients I mean protein, creatine, amino acids, electrolytes, and other supplements immediately after an event to speed recovery; but also trail mix, fruit, sweet potatoes, and other “real” foods in small quantities to give you energy throughout the day. Again, it doesn’t pay to experiment with things your body isn’t used to. If you never drink protein shakes after workouts (you should), don’t start doing it during a contest. If you don’t take creatine or amino acids (you should), don’t go out and buy a bunch of it for a qualifier. Same goes for snacks. Eat what you’re used to, just more frequently and in smaller portions. The idea behind eating small quantities, in addition to avoiding the risk of throwing up, is to avoid pushing too much blood to your stomach as it digests your meal. Necessarily, there would then be less blood available to help your muscles meet their imposed demands, lowering your level of performance. For me, whey protein mixed with creatine, amino acids, and Gatorade is the go-to shake after an event. For snacks, bananas, sweet potatoes, almonds, raisins, apples, and maybe some deli meat constitute the bulk of it.
It should go without saying that if there’s a 3-hour break in the event, you should go eat a real meal, similar to what you normally would.
Regardless of how well you snack and replenish during a day filled with taxing events, it’s just as important that you get off your feet between workouts. It’s easy to get caught up in other heats or watching friends compete, which is all well and good. But giving your body time to recover and to use the nutrients you’re pumping into it is invaluable. This goes beyond simple muscular fatigue, so even if your legs feel fine, go lie down. Just consider the total time your body is expected to work and focus during a typical qualifier, and compare that to what it’s used to on a typical day. In Copenhagen, for example, I was at or near 100% effort for close to 37 minutes. Imagine what sprinting for 37 minutes would do to the central nervous system. Or what being in a 37-minute match of tug of war does to stress levels. Day 1 of last summers Games was even worse: just over 70 minutes of maximum concentration and effort. The simple act of not quitting is hard after that much time under pressure. My nerves were just as fried as my muscles, if not more.
More specialized recovery tools include massage and ice. If you have access to them, use them. Ice baths are amazing. They utilize the body’s natural reaction to the lowering of extremity temperature by pumping blood to the area in an effort to warm it back up, involuntarily circulating nutrients that help your muscles recover. It is the most effective way to keep legs fresh, in my experience. Massage is great as well. Circulation and relaxation of affected areas in between workouts helps prepare the body for the upcoming load to bear. Foam rollers, Sticks, a masseur (if you’re lucky enough to know one), whatever. Find them and use them.
That’s about all I’ve got on nutrition and recovery. There are many other sources out there far more scientific and better researched, so you don’t have to take my word on any of these things if you don’t want to. These are just methods that I have learned from personal experience to work well. If anybody has other ideas/methods that they know to work, please share them.
(Reading back over this, I failed to mention water. Duh. This should be obvious, but I’ll say it. Drink as much as you can. You’ll never have enough.)