Nutrition Strategies for the Vermonster
A lot of folks have been asking about what they should plan on eating during the Vermonster Competition. While it’s impossible to come up with one perfect game plan that’ll work well for everyone, we thought it’d be helpful to post some basics of refueling and nutrition to help everyone come up with both a game plan and a shopping list. Here goes…
When carbohydrates are eaten and digested, two things happen: blood glucose levels rise, and the pancreas secretes insulin. Upon reaching the liver, blood glucose enters liver cells (hepatocytes), where it interacts with insulin to create long chains of glucose molecules. These longer-chain molecules are temporarily (for the next 8-12 hours) stored in the liver until they’re needed for activity. When the body begins working hard, these molecules are converted to glycogen, and effectively become the body’s primary fuel source for individual muscle groups deplete their local stores of glycogen and ATP.
Why’s all this important? A few reasons:
1.) Inconvenient or not, these are facts. The process described above is – admittedly in in pop-science terms – the process that dictates how your body performs when training/competing. Just as a competition has rules of engagement, so does your body. While you can game them a little, and figure out how to make them work to your advantage, you can’t change them, or re-write them by eating a strict diet of Kale and Bacon. Don’t get me wrong – this is NOT a slam on Paleo, The Zone, or any other nutrition plan. Many of these plans employ sound scientific (and holistic) principles that work well for our day-to-day lives….but this isn’t just another workout. It’s a competition. Which brings us to point #2…
2.) This is a competition – not a WOD. Competitions, present a different environment than those we’re challenged with daily. You normally don’t do three to four WOD’s in a sitting; if you do, you’re usually not going 110% for all of them. Because the situation is different, your nutrition strategy should be different.
3.) You’re participating in this competition. Admittedly, everyone’s goals for this competition are different. That said, everyone should be doing everything they can (within reason) to ensure that they’re realizing their goals for the competition. Developing a nutrition strategy that accounts for the demands you’ll face on game-day is a simple, effective, and healthy way to ensure that you’re set up for success on game-day.
With this in mind, let’s talk strategy.
Gaming the System
Again, we’re not advocating that folks immediately adopt a high-carb diet. Too much blood glucose leads to too much energy being pushed into the cells, eventually causing insulin resistance, and type II diabetes (hence the reason why Paleo works). We are suggesting that folks learn these and a few additional rules so that we can apply the science & use it to our advantage on game day. Let’s discuss these additional rules:
1.) The Glycogen Window. Slick as glycolysis sounds, it doesn’t always work as well as we’d like. Stored glycogen can be converted to things other than fuel for muscle tissues, like fat. There is, however, a time-period when our bodies are better at converting blood glucose to muscle tissue glycogen stores. Studies have shown that food consumed immediately after exercise is more readily converted to glycogen, more readily replenishes depleted glycogen stores in muscle tissues. Of particular importance to us: Glucose does a better job replenishing muscle glycogen than fructose, which replaces liver glycogen (used during aerobic activities); the closer to the activity you consume your fuel, the more pronounced the effect; when accompanied by protein in a 4:1 ratio, the effect can also help expedite the repair of damaged muscle tissues.
2.) The 3-hour rule. The liver doesn’t store glycogen for all that long (maybe 8 -12 hours) before it starts to convert it to something else. This underscores the importance of starting each day cf competition with a good meal, and following up with at least one meal between WODs – you’ll need those stores, and then some. Also remember that when we get to the start line, we’ll be going hard – VERY hard. Almost everyone in our community has experienced what happens when you go hard with yet-to-be digested food in your stomach (if you haven’t, just ask Coach Andrew about his car ride in California – he’ll fill you in). It takes the average human body roughly 3 hours to digest a reasonable meal – if you have a sensitive stomach, you should consider this when timing your breakfast and lunch each day. Also, remember that the more fat you consume, the longer this digestive process will take (hot-tip: don’t skip fat altogether. Your body needs it to help recover. Just be choiceful about when you eat it). If you’re a paleo kid, you may want to move your breakfast back even further.
3.) Water? Yes. Sodium? Yes Please. You will sweat during the day. A lot. When you sweat, you don’t just lose Water – you also lose sodium and electrolytes. You’ll need to replace them. Consider this when evaluating hydration and re-fueling choices.
Now that we know the rules of engagement, let’s come up with a valid strategy for game day.
1.) Friday Dinner. Eat as you normally would. There’s nothing you can do at this point to give yourself a big advantage, bt there’s a lot you can do to screw-up your system. Big rule of thumb – don’t make changes. If you’ve been eating Paleo, eat Paleo. If – like Matt Myers – you still pronounce it Puh-lay-yo, stick with your normal diet. And if you are like Carlton Dunn, and don’t often eat rich food, then don’t go to Leuning’s Friday night. Bottom line: keep is simple, keep it traditional, with perhaps a dash more of carbohydrates than you’d normally go for. While it’s true that athletes who don’t typically have a lot of carbs can cram more glycogen in their muscle tissue stores when they hyper compensate a few days prior to their event with a dramatic intake in carb consumption, it’s also true that said process can also stop-up a carb-starved athlete faster than a Health-Care bill can stop the Gub’Ment or Capitol Hill. Best to play it safe.
2.) Saturday Breakfast. Again, eat like you normally would, with a bias towards carbohydrates (perhaps a bagel or some fresh granola and/or oatmeal with your eggs and cantaloupe…?), and watch the timing. If you eat too close to when the gun goes off, you might get queasy. However DON’T LET THIS BE AN EXCUSE TO SKIP OUT ON EATING. You’ll need fuel today; this will be your best opportunity to get it. Eat Up!
3.) Saturday Snacks.
- Electrolyte Replenishment. Gatorade will absolutely work in a pinch. Our favorite, though, is Nuun. It comes in fizzy tablets, and carries sodium and potassium. It does not contain sugars, however, so don’t look to use it as a fuel to replenish your glycogen stores when your glycogen window is open.
- Quick-acting Glycogen replenishment: If you’re to capitalize on your glycogen window, you’ll need some glucose-rich sugary foods immediately after each workout. This isn’t an excuse to chow down on chocolate. Quality counts, as does quantity – you don’t need a ton of pure sugar, but rather something that’s carb-rich, nutrient dense, and perhaps a little sweet. Our favorites are:
i. Cliff-Blocks. Packaged in small cellophane tubes, they look (and to a certain degree, taste) like giant, healthy gummi bears.
ii. Gu / Powergel. Although a little more scientific, gels can be tough to get down if you’re not used to them, and tend to require quite a bit of water. That said, if you’re accustomed to them, by all means rock them. Our personal favorite is carboom.
iii. Stretch Island Fruit Leather or Dried Mango. If this works for you, go for it, but don’t experiment. I know one Coach who’s stomach does not react well to Mangoes. Just saying.
- Long-Acting Glycogen replacement: along with your quick sugar fix, also be sure to have either something to help expedite your recovery (see below), or something a little more substantive that can sit in your belly for long-term glycogen replacement without upsetting the tummy. Whatever you get for this, make sure that it’s something that you’ll be ok eating even if you’re not hungry. Often when you’re cooked, the last thing you want to do is eat. When this occurs, you need something you can force down your throat without it being a chore – this pick should be that food. Our faves:
i. Cliff Bars. If you get Chocolate Mint, watch-out – coach Tyler and Coaach Andrew have been known to polish entire boxes in a sitting. You’ve been warned.
ii. ProBar Whole Food Bars. If you’re Paleo, these are a great bet. Although not paleo, they’re much closer to natural food than a Cliff Bar. And despite having a little less sugar, being a lot more nutrient dense, and no artificial ingredients, they’re pretty darned tasty…especially Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip.
- Recovery Drink. After each WOD, we recommend you make yourself a protein shake. The cumulative effect of the weekend will start to catch-up to everyone come Sunday evening – having one of these post WOD will do wonders for you come Monday. Best Bets:
i. Stronger, Faster, Healthier (SFH) Recovery. Available at Healthy Living, it’s the most nutrient-dense, all natural whey formula you can get. Plus, on Thursdays, it’s 15% off!!!
- A 1:1:1 Protein-to-Carb-to-Fat Meal. This could be kebabs, veggies, and trail mix, or cut up chicken breast with some fruit and nuts – again, stick to what you know – but whatever it is, make sure it’s something you can nibble on throughout the course of the day. This is why we opt for pre-grilled chicken breast slices, Stacey’s Naked Pita Chips, and almond butter over a sandwich – if you plow though a sandwich all at once, you’ll be in a food coma, whereas if you nibble a little bit here or there during lulls, you’ll never let your glycogen stores drop too low, and you won’t run the risk of weighing yourself down. Our personal favorites:
i. Tortillas with almond butter and bananas (pick a protein);
ii. Dancing Star Honey Pistachio Energy Chunks;
iii. Garret County Turkey Snack Sticks, or any other form of Natural beef or turkey jerkey.
Almost everything we’re mentioned is readily available at Healthy Living; to help you and them, we’ve made-up a cheat-sheet that’ll be available to you shortly by clicking a link on this page. (UPDATE: link now active – check it out).
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