Intermittent fasting – breaking fast, competition and grandmothers

In your daily training regimen, you have probably found a way to make it work, if you follow Intermittent Fasting (IF), whether this means training on an empty stomach(which for 90% of the time I would not recommend) or training after you have broken the fast with some food in the stomach.

But what do you do if you suddenly find yourself entering a competition that is on a different time of the day and maybe even before your normal “feeding window”?

Some people become so obsessed and religious with their approach to both dieting and training. Once they think they have “seen the light” they preach nothing but. In terms of IF this could mean that you under absolutely no circumstance break your fast! Whether your grandmother had been up early baking bread for her birthday breakfast or you are signed on for at high intensity competition – no matter – you will go through it with an empty stomach because all else is a sign of weakness. Utter bullshit!

In the former you are a disgrace to your grandmother in the latter you are a disgrace to your optimal performance. Yes you CAN probably get away with both – but that does not mean it is either optimal or the right thing to do.

Your muscles work optimally when burning carbs so give them carbs to operate at their best. If this means that on competition day you have to break your fast at 8am as opposed to 11am then so be it. Just be sure to have tried it some weeks ahead of actual competition day as explained in “Competition preparation do’s and don’ts” – you should not experiment on actual game day.

In my experience it makes no difference the subsequent days if I break the fast early. My stomach does not suddenly turn back to expecting breakfast at 7am after having followed IF and had my first meal at 11am for 4-5 years. Of course you can still experience some stomach upset depending on what you eat – but that’s why you should try it a few weeks before actual game day. Gather information on how you feel and act/change your approach accordingly.

The backsides of not having anything in your stomach on game day are so astronomically bigger than the downsides of breaking your fast. So break your fast or prolong your feeding window – whatever it takes for you to operate at your best on game day and then get back into the convenience of IF afterwards. IF is not a religion it’s a convenient way to time your eating.

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Competition preparation do’s and dont’s

Preparing for a competition in most sports should be so simple, yet so many people get it wrong – even experienced athletes.

This great quote says it all:

You can’t win a competition in the last week of preparation – but you CAN lose it!

People suddenly get worried that they haven’t done everything right, especially within the last week and the “do more” paradox seems to kick in. This is especially common in this day and age with all the available information at your fingertips.

If you do it right, competition should be no different than your training – except for a bit more pressure of course. But if you prepare in the right way, then the pressure should be the only “new” thing you would have to deal with.

Let’s start with what you should not do and why. I will present my examples in the domain of sprinting – but it could be substituted with just about any sport, even team sports.

Don’t overcompensate in the last few weeks before competition

This can’t be stressed enough. Overcompensation during the last few weeks has led to so many injuries across all domains. Suddenly with a few weeks to go you come to doubt whether you have had done enough of say 300m sprints to prepare yourself for the 200m. This could be because someone suddenly questions why you haven’t had more or you read somewhere that you can’t compete without have x number of 300m sprints. Then you panic and the last week before competition you 10x the volume, run a lot of 300m sprints and either burn out, overtrain or gets injured. This is NOT the way to do it. If the advice is really good – then write it down save it and incorporate it in your long term planning for the next competition – NOT the last week before.

Don’t eat or drink anything special the day before or on competition day

With the rise of supplements, energy drinks and what not this really matters as well. Do not suddenly try a new supplement or energy drink on competition day, you have no idea how your body or stomach reacts. It might be the best energy drink or pre-workout supplement in the world but if it upsets your stomach you will be running for the toilet and not the finish line – that will only win you a fun story – not a medal.

A few weeks before actual competition, try to replicate competition day as much as possible. You shouldn’t necessarily go all out on effort, but replicate your meal- and supplement intake, at the exact time of day. If you for instance always train in the evening, but competition is in the morning, then try to replicate this and see how your body reacts. If you are into intermittent fasting like me, then you might want to break your fast early and have some carbohydrates. But common for all – try it a few weeks before and not on the actual day of competition. Even the meal in the evening before can have an impact. If you have lived of the same 4 meals for months and then suddenly tries something completely different the day before, like very spicy food, then you might be back to the race for the toilet as opposed to the finish line. Just don’t do that.

Don’t change your equipment or strategy on competition day

Don’t suddenly start your sprint with the left leg in front as opposed to your regular right leg because you have seen a Youtube video explaining this as being best – and yes I have actually experienced people who did that. Competition day should as far as absolutely possible reflect your training. Changing something on the day of competition is way more likely to ruin your competition than improve it in any way.

Don’t let other peoples preparation throw you off on competition day

Do not suddenly start your warm-up 1½ hour before competition because some of your competitors does so, if you have always used 45 min to warm-up. Or implement some of their stretching, preparation/warm-up routine. Stick to your plan! I actually caught myself almost slipping in this one a few months back. I always start my warm-up 45 min before a race. I like to keep it short and to the point – too much warm-up either bores me or wears me out. But at a 50 meter indoor sprint competition all my competitors started their warm-up a little more than an hour before the race. Until I caught my own thoughts, this actually made me a little uncomfortable. Had I missed something? Should I be warming up now? Is my warm-up too short? And of course the answer to all those questions is a big capital NO. My competitors preparation had gone inside my head and messed with it. I should do exactly like always and stick to my warm-up routine. It had worked for me in training so of course it would work for me in competition – and so it did – I won the event.

If you have done your training and preparation right then competition is simple. Not easy – but simple. You should not be doing anything you haven’t done before. You should be able to give your full attention to dealing with the stress of competition, the zippers and knots on your training clothes that suddenly jam, the 10 times you have to go to the toilet and try to pee etc. But you will have the mental capacity to deal with this because you know you have done everything else a 100 times in training so no need to worry about that or take any decisions.

Good luck with you next or first competition. Competing is and should be fun – being well prepared helps achieve this.