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.

Intermittent fasting and meal/macro periodization

As I have written many times before, I am a long time follower of intermittent fasting(IF). So long that I have even forgot when I actually started, but probably like 6 years ago. My take on IF is a 16/8 approach – 16 hours without any calories and only black coffee, tea and water, and then the 8 hour feeding window. I therefore eat my first meal at 11am and the last one at around 18-19pm. There are a lot of wild claims behind IF, but my main reason for sticking with it is that it really fits both my goal, my schedule and my appetite. In short it just works for me.

There are however a few areas where this approach is backed by science. First of all, when you wake after a long night’s sleep your body is generally in “fat-burning-mode”. In order for the body to get out of this mode all you need is some carbohydrates(carbs) – but this is not really what I or any other human being looking to stay lean wants. You can start your day with a meal consisting of only protein and fat to counter this “problem” or you can, as I have skip breakfast altogether and thereby your keep you body in “fat-burning-mode” for longer.

Taking this a step further my first meal at around 11am does not really include any carbs either. As long as I do not have to compete in sprinting or anything else where I need to perform at my best (in which case all this goes out the window – but I’ll cover this in a post about both meal, training and psychology leading up to competition) I do not need any carbs at around 11am in the morning. All the physical activity the next hours will be done primarily by my fingers and my brain anyway – the protein and fat will fuel that just fine.

Then moving on to my second meal at around 3pm. This will be the first time of day where I eat any significant amount of carbs as this meal will fuel my training, being either track & field sprinting or strength training. The carbs in this meal is to fuel my performance, but there are however exceptions. In my case I have a leisure/light running session on saturdays for instance. This is around 3 miles in relaxing tempo. Those days I would switch and have the running first – in order to burn fat, and then have the meal afterwards to fill up glycogen and help recover. In other words my carbs are very much ingested for two reasons:

  1. Before an intense workout where the goal is not to burn fat but to perform at my best.
  2. After workout to fill up glycogen and help recover.

The last point leads to my final meal of the day; dinner. This is probably highest in carbs of all meals or close to similar with second meal of the day. This could usually be 180g(before being cooked) of rice. If you are active and needs to perform in any high intensity sport, you need carbs. So dinner is usually where I’ll have most of them, it is also most often right after either sprint or strength training where I’ll have “earned” my carbs.

Periodization of meals or macro’s is not as important as having your diet dialed in, in the first place. But once you are comfortable with how much you need this might be a good second step. It sure has helped me be lean for the last 6 years year round. Whether you want to combine it with IF or not is entirely up to you, it works either way. It just takes advantage of the natural changing of hormones in your body throughout the day into account.

Reduce pre-workout supplement sleep problems

How do you get to sleep normally while taking pre-workout supplements? Some people do not experience any problems, but for a lot of people preworkout supplements messes with their sleep. The easy way to avoid this of course is to just skip the pre-workout altogether, but I know from my own experience how tough this can be. Because pre-workout supplements actually works, you CAN feel a difference. I learned to go without them, but this post will focus more on what you can do if you cannot live without your pre-workout.

If you are having trouble sleeping while taking pre-workout supplements, then first of all realize that you are compromising your sleep and as far as sleep concerns you are starting from a dug out hole. But know that you take your pre-workout, what can you do to optimize your sleep and perhaps counteract some of the negatives from the pre-workout.

You can of course start by trying different types of pre-workout to see if any of them has less negative effect on your sleep. I have detailed my experiences with different types here(which may be where you came from) Trouble sleeping because of pre-workout supplements?. Further more experience with the minimum dose you need in order to feel the effect of the supplement, this may be less than what is actually recommended on the supplement itself.

Studies has shown that coffee after just 1 pm can affect your sleep. As most pre-workout supplements are way stronger than a cup of coffee, this may be something to have in mind. Can you train earlier or perhaps ingest your pre-workout earlier to avoid problems?

Then work on your sleep hygiene. As you are compromised on some areas, work to improve on others. Good sleep hygiene includes the following:

  • Pitch black room
  • Absolute silence
  • Cold or at least not too hot
  • Go to sleep and wake up same time everyday
  • Avoid light from pc’s, mobile devices, tv’s etc. before bedtime
  • Shower before bed
  • Trigger point massage
  • Read fiction before falling asleep

One of the problems during summer is you need to have your windows open to keep the temperature down, which potentially gives problems with light and noise. First pitch black room – is literally pitch black. If you can’t get pitch black with curtains, consider using a night mask – that helped me. To cancel out most of the noise from having open windows, I sleep with earplugs as well.

Your body likes regularities. You probably get hungry just about the same times everyday(of course determined by what you eat), and the same goes for sleep. If you get into a good pattern of going to sleep and waking up the same time everyday, then both falling asleep and getting up will be a lot easier.

If you have to work in front of your computer at night, then install f.lux. But really consider skipping all devices an hour before going to sleep and have as little light as possible as this automatically provokes tiredness.

The shower before bed can really help, but should you go with hot or cold? My experience is that if you shower at least an hour before going to bed, the cold shower can work. But if you shower just before going to bed I would go for the hot shower, since the cooling of the body afterwards again provokes tiredness.

As Kelly Starrett said somewhere; “How do you feel like after getting a massage; like hitting somebody?” And of course not, you are relaxed and tired. You can replicate some of this yourself. Get a tennis ball or anything similar, lay on the floor and roll around on it; on your back, thighs, standing on it and massage the underside of your feet etc. You are not aiming to do any specific changes, just roll around for 5-10 minutes, this may help you relax.

Lastly, if you read in bed before falling asleep, which I would strongly encourage, then keep your reading to something that won’t give you to much to think about. Which means this is not the time to read your business books, Feymans lectures on physics or any of the sort. Read fiction or anything you can consume without having to think too much about the content afterwards. You are aiming to calm your mind, not fuel it with ideas.

These were some tips on how you might reduce your sleep problems when taking pre-workout supplements. They really helped me, so I hope they can do the same for you. Feel free to add any of your own tips in the comments.

Correct use of pre workout supplements, habits and sleep

There is an increasing focus on supplements, not just in the fitness industry but across all genres and levels of working out. You have got to give credit to the marketers of these supplement manufactures. They have made it mainstream for even girls to use supplements as part of their daily workout scheme. They are successfully pushing the mantra, that in order to be fit you have to add all these supplements to your workout regimen. But in the midst of all this supplementation, are we missing some important points, only to make the companies happier by buying more of their stuff, totally missing the key word “supplements”  – I was.

There are lots of products to focus on, but for this piece I will concentrate on pre workout supplements. I will by no means say that they lack effect – if only they did, then the problem would not be as profound. Lots and lots of these really offer a potent effect and make a real impact on your focus and energy-levels. They CAN have their rightful place.

But it starts to be a problem, when you cannot train without having one of these pre workout drinks. If all your workouts are fueled by these. You will probably, like I did, tell yourself, “why risks not having a great workout”; and thereby justify your repeated use.

Pre workout supplements are great for when you feel tired, are in need of that extra energy and really needs to perform. But it should NOT be your default.

I had this habit of 45 minutes prior to my workout, I would stop working and mix a pre workout shake. Then I would read t-nation or any other training/fitness site for 20-30 minutes with some high energy music in the background – all in order to get myself into the right mood and mindset for working out. This was, and is highly effective – but I would even do this on days where I was not tired at all. Mix pre workout, music, read – go. It had become part of a habit and ritual.

Apart from increasing the amount I spent on pre workout supplements, it also kept giving me problems with sleep. As I have written in a prior article, pre workout supplements can very well mess with your sleep patterns. And judging by the amount of people who read that one, it seems to be a quite widespread problem. One very, very obvious solution to this problem – that I for a very long time totally missed – is to not take the pre workout supplements in the first place. Use them when needed, but avoid having them as the default.

Take a step back, look at your use of supplements and reconsider your use, with total awareness. You can be in a period of high workload and therefore in need of the extra energy, but then remember to back of once the load is gone. We humans are very habitual, be aware of it and make conscious choices instead.

What is creatine?

The best way to learn, often is to teach. If you want to figure out just how thoroughly you know a subject – try explaining it to someone else. I was actually going to write a post about creatine and coffee, but after reading through a lot of studies I took a step back and thought about how I would explain what creatine was and what it does in a simple way. Unable to give any good explanation, I read into it, and will now try to give you a short, un-scientific, enables-you-to-explain-it-to-others description of what creatine is and does.

From Wiki:

Creatine is naturally produced in the human body from amino acids primarily in the kidney and liver. It is transported in the blood for use by muscles. Approximately 95% of the human body’s total creatine is located in skeletal muscle.

To get this one out of the way; never confuse creatine with creatinine as the latter is a waste product.

Creatine helps turn ADP back into ATP. If you have read some marketing material of creatine, you may have bumped into this statement. It is very true, but unless you have a medical degree you probably are pretty lost on what it actually means.

All of this is part of the krebs cycle, that is our body’s way of extracting energy from the food we ingest. If you want a really good and easily understandable explanation of this, then take a few minutes to see this presentation by Doug McGuff in the middle of his very long speech – it is the most easily understandable explanation I have ever come across. However if you are only interested in the short explanation, then skip the video.

I will try to be true to the name of my blog and keep it simple. Your muscles needs energy to function. This energy comes from the food you consume. When you are rested and start max effort work, your muscles will be provided with energy through ATP. ATP is short for Adenosine triphosphate, which is only interesting because; upon delivering energy to the muscle, it gives away one phosphate(the energy), and thereby ends up as Adenosine diphosphate(ADP).

Locally in the muscles working, there is a very clever, limited recycling system, that can turn ADP back into ATP. This extends the time your muscles can deliver max effort briefly, if the system is working overtime, as in max effort lifts or sprints. What enables this is phosphocreatine, that reacts together with the enzyme creatine kinase – forget the names but this is, as you may have guessed from the names – where creatine comes into play. Creatine kinase is relatively abundant in the muscles, or at least not the limiting factor. But phosphocreatine is where supplementation with creatine works it magic.

Your stores of phosphocreatine are limited, so given our max effort lift or sprint – when your supplies of phosphocreatine runs out, you are no longer able to produce the same amount of effort by recycling ADP into ATP. Your body will then switch to another energy system, which can run for longer, but not produce the same peak effect.

Therefore, what you do with creatine supplementation is make your phosphocreatine stores larger, which enables you to run your max-effort energy system, a little longer. Think of it as a bicycle with an electric motor, that recharges from your pedalling, and has it energy stored in a battery. When you activate it, you can cycle faster because of the joint effort of your legs and the electric motor, but only for as long as the battery holds power, then you are back to rely on only your legs, until the battery is recharged. Then what creatine does it giving you a larger battery along with a larger generator, so you can recharge as fast as before but run max effort longer.

This was the performance part of the equation, but creatine has even more positive effects up its sleeve. When it comes to building muscle, a lot of people, myself included, think of creatine as only pushing water into the muscles and not actually giving any real size gains. That the gains would only come from the increased ability to train harder. But a lot of studies actually point in another direction. Without going into too much detail, creatine should help decrease the breakdown of muscle and increase the growth of “fast twitch” muscle fibers – this was something that I did not know, before researching for this post.

Furthermore creatine helps your muscles absorb more glucose(carbohydrates) and carbohydrates actually helps your body store more creatine – so that should have you ingesting the two of them together, if you are not already.

What further surprised me, was that studies even have shown positive effects on both intelligence and longevity. Creatine is surely one of the most well known and well documented performance enhancers of all time.

I will not go into any details about how and when to ingest, since I during this research also found some rather interesting information about a slightly different approach, than the one preached for decades. My plan is to try it out and then get back with an evaluation.

One thing I however will do is answer a question that seems to be present in the comments of every article about creatine – what sort should we ingest? Stick to creatine monohydrate – that is the most researched form of creatine, that has been around as supplementation since the early nineties. The other fancy forms of creatine, has to the best of my knowledge not been able to prove any of their claims in studies, yet.

The great thing about creatine monohydrate, is that it is possible to find really cheap. Like this for instance; a great amount from a renowned brand: NOW Foods Creatine Powder, 2.2 Pounds

Trouble sleeping because of pre-workout supplements?

One of the most important factors behind a good workout, is energy and a focused mind. One of the most important factors behind muscle growth and enhanced performance is adequate sleep. But could your pursuit of a good workout be limiting your ability to get a good nights sleep?

I can’t really recall when I first experimented with pre-workout supplements, but I have this incredibly clear picture of the first time my training partner, at the time, had a scoop. We sat home at my place, he had stopped by to pick me up, on the way to the gym, and he was literally not feeling like going to the gym. Long day at work, didn’t feel like he’d being run over by a bus, but more like he had pushed a bus – with flat tires – over a sand dune. He really needed some energy if he was going to do anything else, than sleep on a bench, at the gym. I had just got my hands on some pre-workout drink and said he should try it. With quite some skepticism, he tried it. We put on some good energetic music, I packed my bag and we went on our way to the gym.

At first it did not seem as though it had helped all that much, but after like 20 minutes into the workout, he was like reborn and filled with energy. He almost seemed like the slightly drunk version of himself – in a good way. Cheering on people, screaming out the last reps and psyching himself for every lift. Yes pre-workout supplements do work. They of course bring energy as promised, but even more profound is the mental focus, you just do what you came for; no messing around.

Now this is not going to be a post only highlighting the benefits of pre-workout supplements, but actually more look at one of the adverse effects of some of them. I have noticed that even though 2 brands may deliver somewhat the same results in the gym, they still can be very different in the adverse effects department. My philosophy has always been to find the supplement that gives the most of the effects I DO want and the least of the effects I do NOT want – the positives should be as high as possible with minimal downsides.

At one point I wanted to try something different than the product I had used for some time then. I switched to this(at that time) new NO-Xplode that promised – as all supplements do – even greater performance, pump etc. etc. The effects was as good and perhaps a little better, than the other product I had used up until that point. But what was most certainly different, was the effect it had on my ability to fall asleep. I have never been good at falling asleep, but even though I had taken a scoop of this at 15-16 in the afternoon, my body still felt almost restless at 23 at night. There was something in this product, that just would not get burned during my workouts, which left me energized and restless, when I needed to be relaxed. I abandoned it.

After a few months I tried it once more, but with the exact same results. I asked some of my friends who used it if they has any similar problems – but none of them had. So it might be something unique for me, but I am sure not using that brand anymore.

After NO-Xplode I went for Biotest Power Drive, which is also a very old product by now. This product really gives the same mental focus as the others but without the same boost in energy. Not to say it does not deliver energy – it does, but not as profound as the others. If I had to train in the evening and needed some pre-workout supplement, this would be my favorite choice or if you are really bothered by pre-workout sleep problems – this could be the solution.

But the product I keep returning to is Super Charge by Labrada Nutrition. It gives me all the energy and mental focus I could ever need. And most importantly it does not affect my sleep. It is not something I would use just before going to bed, but having a serving at 17.30 does not mess with my sleep in any way. I feel like it fuels my workout but does not leave me restless or artificially energized once the workout is done – just what I look for in a pre-workout supplement.

As stated earlier I have never been that good at falling asleep, so my case may be rather unique, but if you experience some of the same symptoms, I would consider trying to look at your supplement list or change your training schedule. If you are not having a good night sleep you are not giving your body the needed rest, to reap the benefits of those hard earned hours in the gym!

I am very skeptical at both taking sleeping pills and taking supplements to counteract the effect of other supplements, but if you can’t live without your pre-workout buzz, then melatonin might be worth a try. It is a natural hormone that is released in the evening signaling your body to start getting tired and preparing for sleep. You take a little dose before heading to bed and it may help you fall asleep. But it’s one of those supplements where more is not better. I bought these NOW Foods Melatonin 3mg pills and they initially did not help me get to sleep easier, on the other hand they made me feel slightly hangover the day after. But after some reading I tried separating the pills and only taking half dose – this worked way better, both in terms of falling asleep and no side-effects the day after. Therefore my recommendation would be these Now Foods Melatonin 1mg as you then can start with 1 mg and feel the effect.

And finally remember this; that pre-workout supplements are just that – supplements – don’t use them everytime. It is quite possible to have an amazing workout without them. They should not be your default choice.

*Edit if you want more tips on how to reduce the negative effect of pre-workout supplements on your sleep, look here: Reduce pre-workout sleep problems