When I first started out on the MAF method, eating fewer carbohydrates, training more slowly and eating more fats, I struggled when it came to races. In half-marathon run races, sprint-distance and Olympic-distance triathlons, my training partners and competitors would all be devouring mountains of quick-cook pasta the night before a race, and forcing down cereals and toast with jam in the early hours of race day. I, on the other hand, was torn. I’d heard all the advice suggesting that your body needs to be fully stocked on carbohydrates in order for you to perform to an optimum level, and that on race morning you want some simple carbohydrates, which will be easily processed by the body, so you’re not feeling heavy or likely to get indigestion during the race. However, my MAF method reading was telling me to ditch all the refined, processed, carbohydrates you find in bread and pasta – everything my competitors seemingly couldn’t get enough of in the final 24hours before a race. So what should you do if you’re fuelling for a race on the MAF method: relax on the low-carb diet and try to pack in as much simple carb-fuel as possible or continue eating fats and hope you’re fat-burning engine delivers on race day?
Stick to What You Know
Rule 1 is don’t change anything drastically before the event – do what you’re used to and have done before. If it’s your first race and you’re sitting there thinking that you’ve got no clue about what to eat before you race, just stick to what you’ve been eating during training. If you’ve been doing all your training avoiding breads, pastas, cereal bars or whatever, don’t suddenly try and pack in as many of those to your diet as you can. Chances are that your stomach will be pretty confused by the sudden delivery of carbohydrate and isn’t likely to perform at its best. If you want to try something new for your races, try it in training first – simple!
On the MAF Method
The idea behind the MAF method isn’t to eliminate carbohydrate, or paint carbs as the bad guy or the reason you’re still overweight, but to suggest that training your body to be able to burn fat, as well as utilising stores of high-quality carbohydrate, should allow you race harder and for longer.
One of the keys of nutrition on the MAF method is not spiking your blood sugar too high that it impairs the body’s ability to burn fat. If you’re blood sugar is high the body isn’t going to break down stored fat for energy, it’s going to use the available fuel coursing through your bloodstream – the body’s smart like that. That’s part of the reason why people who have a high-sugar diet pile on the pounds, or can never seem to lose the last bit of flab – the body doesn’t need to break down fat if you keep pouring in easily-useable sugar – but that’s another story. The key is to eat foods that provide the necessary carbohydrates (which are broken down into useable sugars) for top-end, peak performance, but don’t spike your blood sugar like white bread, white pasta and certain fruits do.
One way to slow down the release of sugar from your food, and thereby not spike your blood is combining fibre and fat with the carbohydrate. This is why carbohydrate sources like porridge oats are a brilliant source of carbohydrate as the high-fibre content slows down the release of sugar from the stomach to the blood stream – hence it’s known as a slow-release carbohydrate. On the other hand, fruits like oranges, ripe bananas and dried fruit are packed full of easily digestible sugars that pass quickly into the blood stream and impair fat-burning. But how are you supposed to know which foods spike your blood sugar? Helpfully, some clever people have created the Glycemic Index (GI), which compares foods on how quickly they release sugar into the bloodstream. You can just google the foods you’re eating before a race or workout and see whether they could be affecting your ability to burn fat. Low GI foods like raspberries and blueberries are good, high GI foods like sultanas, white bread and oranges should be eaten sparingly, if at all – I personally try and save these foods for after a tough, anaerobic, sugar-burn workout when my blood sugar is likely to be dropping.
There is a consideration to bear in mind with the lower GI foods, and eating more fibre and fat before a race or workout – the fact that they do take longer to digest. Whereas the simple sugars found in a banana, or a piece of white bread with jam, will be quickly digested within a couple of hours, a meal with more fat, fibre and complex proteins take much longer. If you’re happy getting up at 2am on the morning of your race for a cheesy omelette or a steak and chips then you can stop reading here. If not, carry on reading.
So What are We Looking For?
We’re looking for a meal that provides us with adequate carbohydrate for peak performance, yet doesn’t spike our blood-sugar and impair fat-burning, whilst not taking too long to digest.
How I Came Up with My Pre-Race Meal
The short answer is experimentation. Over the past couple of years I’ve tried different foods, at varying times before a race and made a notes of how I felt during the race – whether I felt a little empty, whether I felt overly full, whether I spent more time-in the race-day Porta-loos than a Westerner spends on the toilet during his first trip to Delhi; the standard stuff.
For my half-marathon races and triathlons I personally wanted a reasonably sized meal before the race, containing some fat to ensure my blood sugar didn’t spike and that I didn’t feel hungry by the start of the race. When I first started recording my pre-race meals, I would have a couple of eggs followed by bowl of porridge oats with a banana and blueberries. I would also have that all important coffee. Initially I started having it with a little bit of cream to make sure I had enough fat in the diet – I later cut this out as it made me feel a bit sickly. This meal would provide me with plenty of carbohydrate but with some fat and fibre (from the oats) to ensure I didn’t spike my blood sugar. I varied the time of the meal from 2hrs before the start to 4hrs before the start, to see what worked best. People can digest foods differently to others and at different rates, so you personally may be able to eat an hour before a race and feel great, but I’m not one of those people, so I need a little longer. From then I would sip on water or orange squash to until the start. However, after finding out that the orange squash I was using had only trace amounts of sugar/carbohydrate, I adjusted my diet – I felt so dumb, I’d been using that orange squash for years as a sports drink!
For my most recent sprint-triathlon (60-90mins) my pre-race meal was:
- Black Coffee – to stimulate metabolism and wake me up in the morning
- Smoothie – 2 eggs, 1 green banana (lower GI than a ripe banana), beetroot and raspberries – for a source of a little fat/protein in the eggs; useful nutrients and carbs in the banana; low GI carbohydrate in the berries.
- Porridge oats with blueberries and sultanas – high carbohydrate but high fibre to ensure slow-release energy with blueberries for low GI carbs, and the sultanas for an extra little sugar (high GI but offset by the fibre in the oats…I hope).
- Sip on water and a carbohydrate drink (500ml of water with a couple of teaspoons of natural honey added); it won’t spike your blood sugar but is a great source of fuel – a 6-8% carb solution is ideal.
This tends to work out at about 400-500 calories, and 50% carbohydrate, 30% fat, 20% protein. During a normal training day, my macronutrients tend to be nearer 25% carbohydrate, 55% fat, 20% protein.
On this pre-race meal I set a new PB of the triathlon course, setting triathlon-personal bests in the swim, bike and run. I was particularly pleased with the run as I completed the 5k course in 18.02, only 6 seconds off my 5k PB of 17.56. I felt well-fuelled for the race, with plenty of energy for the race, and I didn’t feel hungry or dehydrated. I ate about 3.5-4hrs before the race – this window seems to be appropriate for me, after using this time frame for my last few races. During the race I had 200ml of the same carb-solution I had been drinking before the race. This is what I’ve found works for me, but I’m still tweaking it, searching for improvements. If you’ve got any suggestions, let me know!
A Note About Beetroot
A few studies recently have suggested the eating beetroot could lead to performance gains. The evidence seems to suggest that the nitrates in beetroot are converted to nitric oxide in your body, which helps increase blood vessel dilation, allowing for increased blood flow and helping your muscles work more efficiently. There is some debate over how much beetroot you need for this to have any effect on your performance, but I’ve started incorporating it into my racing nutrition – worth checking out if you’re curious!
- Practice your race nutrition
- Don’t spike your blood sugar if you want to utilise your fat-burning engine you’ve developed in your base-training
- Experiment with different foods at races that are less important to you – invest time into establishing what works for you
Remember to train smart, not just hard!
|Monday:||Off||Swim: 4x400m (off 7mins)|
|Tuesday:||Cycle: Over-gear commute to work|
|Wednesday:||Off||Run: 8×400 (1min walk rec.)|
|Thursday:||Workout: Core||Cycle: 2x10mins race pace +
Run: Tempo 5k
|Friday:||Swim: 2×500, 1×750||Off|
|Saturday:||Cycle: Commute to work @155bpm||Off|
|Sunday:||Run: Easy 2 miles||Off|
|Weekly Totals:||Run: 11miles||Cycle: 53miles||Swim: 5,300yds|
Follow my training daily here: https://www.strava.com/athletes/4115074