There was a time when scientists assumed that the strength of a muscle was directly correlated to its’ size. More and more, we are finding that while size is a significant factor, strength itself is actually a motor skill facilitated not by the muscular-skeletal system, but by the nervous system.
Read that again
it’s your muscle size and you body’s ability to skillfully employ them in a coordinated manner that ultimately make you stronger.
That human beings can suddenly develop near supernatural strength under duress is a verified fact, with multiple well documented cases demonstrating the neural aspect of strength.
Strength output when seen through this lens is then dependent not only upon the quality of your muscles, but the innervation of muscle tissue and the ability of the motor cortex of your brain to control it.
Your brain plays just as strong a role in your athletic performance as your muscles. On ‘game day’ you need to focus on your mind as well as your body.
The strategies outlined below aren’t specific to any subcategory of sport or strength (e.g. explosiveness, powerlifting, speed, etc.) The suggestions will be helpful to almost any athletic output the reader chooses to pursue and will be particularly effective for beginners.
You will need to focus on maximizing both your glycogen and blood sugar in the hours leading up to competition. This will maximize both your athletic output and the effects of adrenaline.
Game day diets are generally higher in carbohydrates than training day diets. Make sure your body has enough fast energy in reserve to help you maximize your output!
Irrespective of your training diet, when it is time to perform you will benefit from having high stores of glycogen at the ready to support output and recovery. This means your game day diet may be very different than what you’ve been using for general training.
The foods you eat need to be carbohydrate dense, easy to digest, and low glycemic index.
Eating large amounts of food is generally discouraged two hours prior to a workout. The digestive process moves a significant amount of blood to the gastrointestinal tract to process what you’ve eaten and transport the new nutrients to your cells.
Eat your last meal two hours before competition. This will make sure you have metabolized all the energy from your food without your digestive processes getting in the way.
You will need to consume a significant amount of low glycemic index carbohydrates to maximize your glycogen stores without lowering your blood sugar. Ideally, these carbohydrates are consumed the night before an attempt at a PR, a competitive event, or a strenuous workout.
If you do choose the “night before” carb load, feel free to choose a high glycemic index carb that won’t be a gut bomb.
The extra insulin will encourage the formation of glycogen, which can be thought of as a sort of fuel tank for sugar that’s released by the adrenaline rush you’re sure to experience.
What you eat in the hours leading up to your event are very important.
You want to fuel yourself but you also don’t want energy diverted to your digestive processes. This is why the two-hour pre competition eating recommendation exists.
The last meal you eat should be carbohydrate rich with very little protein or fats included, as the latter two macronutrients require a great deal of resources to digest. With your blood sugar high, your glycogen stores maxed out, and your insulin drive low, you will be ready to crush whatever is in your way.
Be it a competitor, a tough day at the gym, or an attempt at a personal record.
So what specific foods should you eat? Convenient low-glycemic carbs are readily available. Dried fruit of any kind is excellent as it’s both highly portable and provides a great deal of energy without provoking a severe insulin response.
It can also be used to re-energize during the event itself as it doesn’t require a great deal of energy to digest and metabolize. Oatmeal with fruit also has the right balance of carbohydrates and glycemic index.
Drink at least half your body weight in ounces of water every single day.
The absolute best thing you can take to ensure you are performing at your peak when you need it the most is water. This is far from a joke. Every significant biochemical function in your body is dependent at some step on hydrolysis, breaking down chemicals using water.
This is true for fat metabolism, Kreb’s cycle, body temperature regulation, and all other important functions.
Don’t get so lost in biochemistry you forget to attend to this very basic need of your body.
Aside from creatine supplementation and proper hydration, your supplementation immediately prior to a high performance event will be relatively minimal. Training and competition chemistry are almost totally opposed to one another.
Your day to day supplementation strategies are focused on accumulating strength and developing your muscles, coordination, and joint structure.
This phase requires a different approach.
Supplements that build muscle are more likely to inhibit maximum performance on game day. Creatine is a notable exception to this, as it’s an energy enhancing substance that builds muscle as a side effect.
Along with your final meal before your event, a single dose of creatine should be taken. Other than this, your supplementation regime needs to be minimal. You need to place faith in the hard work you’ve performed to date and your ability to carry out the task before you.
You have done well, and you have depleted your body. You need to manage inflammation and provide your body the fuel it needs to repair your muscles, connective and organ tissues.
Your postgame recovery regimen is important. You need to undo the damage done to your body so you can build on it and come back even stronger next time!
If pre-game supplement usage is minimal, post game should more than make up for it. After a bout of intense output, your muscle-skeletal system and the connective tissue it relies on will have taken some minor injuries.
In addition to the typical post-workout stretching and rolling, you can accelerate the healing process by reducing inflammation.
Fish oil in particular stands out as an active recovery agent. Your body is rife with minor injuries and metabolic waste products which need to be transported into the bloodstream and excreted.
Fish oil assists in carrying these out of the intracellular matrix and allows your system to expel them permanently. It also appears to reduce inflammation by regulating immune chemicals called leukotrienes.
Glutamine, like fish oil, also works with your immune system and reduces inflammation. It also supports the health of your joints following an intense output. While taking glutamine day to day is certainly advisable, taking it immediately following strenuous competition is critical.
You will be exhausted, will have incurred dozens of micro-injuries, and glutamine will begin the process of rebuilding your joints and organ tissues to allow you to come back stronger, sooner.
To maximize performance, avoid stimulants and simple sugars.
Avoid using stimulants on game day, especially those that mimmic adrenaline or dopamine. They’ll make you feel great as they diminish your performance.
Anecdotal “bro science” myth abound when it comes to game day supplementation and diet.
First and perhaps the most harmful is the use of energy drinks to enhance performance. While the stimulants they contain make the body feel energized, the only measurable performance effects they have is to decrease performance among experienced athletes.
While they make a lay person feel more “motivated,” and focused in their athletic outputs, an experienced athlete who has been conditioned to focus without supplementation will have their performance decreased.
This is due to the vasoconstrictive effects of stimulants, particularly those of caffeine and adrenomimmetic drugs such as ephedra or ma-huang.
Simple sugars increase insulin which will take you out of your optimal performance state. Keep your carbs complex.
There is also the notion that an athlete needs to eat sugary foods such as candy bars or sports drinks during an event. While the body certainly needs replenishment during an event or intense training, Snickers and Gatorade both have too much sugar and the resulting insulin spike will slow the body’s metabolism.
Easy to digest carbs such as bananas, or a 50/50 mix of sports drink and water will go much further in supporting maximum output without a sugar induced coma mid-event.
Your diet and supplementation regimes will have to change on game days versus training days. Training is a process of building, competing a process of breaking down. The nutritional and supplemental requirement will differ.
Pre-game diet and supplementation is focused on getting your body into a maximum energy state. This requires that you consume more carbohydrates than normal and avoid nutrients that are more energy intensive to digest. Post game strategies focus on replenishing your energy stores, as well as managing any injuries and inflammation which will allow your body to recover from the rigors it just endured.