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I receive many questions about what to eat during training and before competition. I’m going to answer some of
these questions in this article, but you must note that this is simply common sense advice. All athletes need a good
balanced diet to maximize their athletic potential which will put them a step in front of their competition. Here are a
few tips for those of you who are looking to improve your performance through an improved diet.
First, you have to eat right most of the time for your diet to be able to contribute significantly to your performance
on race day. You can’t wake up on race day and think that what you eat that day is going to make a huge
difference if you have a poor diet the rest of the time. Yes, it will help to a certain extent, but what you ate
throughout the previous week of training is just as important to your performance.
During the week you need to follow a few basic guidelines with your diet to help you maximize your athletic
performance. I recommend the following general rules for most everyone, non-athletes included, to help create a
healthier lifestyle in addition to becoming a better athlete.
The easiest way to improve your diet is to limit or eliminate the following from your diet:
- food or drinks with excessive sugar such as soft drinks
- products with white flour
- fried foods
- junk food / fast food
- highly processed food (man-made food with a lot of ingredients)
Concentrate on eating a good balance of “natural foods” such as lean meat (chicken, fish, lean beef), fresh
vegetables, fresh fruits, yogurt, milk, whole grain cereal, protein supplements, etc. Divide these foods into 5-6 small
meals per day with a good balance between protein, carbohydrates, and fat. You also should drink plenty of water
throughout each day to stay hydrated for your training sessions. Taking a good multi-vitamin / mineral supplement
every day is also important to insure that your body is able to function at a high level.
For those of you who need to lose weight, cutting back on carbohydrates such as potatoes, bread, and pasta will
help you get started. Ultimately, you have to burn more calories than you eat to lose weight. Eating less and
exercising more is a good, safe means of reducing your body fat level. But, be sensible about it - don’t lose more
than 1-2 pounds per week. If you drop your calories too low, then you won’t have the energy to train properly. All
MX athletes should strive to eat as “clean” as possible throughout the training week to optimize their riding and
You may find it difficult to change your diet for the first week or so, but once you get used to it, you will become
leaner and feel better. If you need to, schedule one or two meals during the week where you can "cheat" a little,
but only limit it to those specific times because what you eat during the week is extremely important in preparing for
your weekend competition.
As you get closer to race day (2 days before), you can add a few more complex carbohydrates such as rice,
vegetables, or pasta (which store glycogen and turn into energy) to each meal to help store energy for your
upcoming competition. However, don’t overdo it with excessive carbohydrates because it can make you feel stuffed
and tired, rather than alert and energetic. You also want to maintain a good balance between protein,
carbohydrates, and fat during this time.
The day before the race you want to maintain this approach of balanced eating along with adding a few more
carbohydrates to the day’s eating plan. Eat more vegetables along with your regular protein intake to increase
your energy stores. Whole wheat pasta (or rice) with meat or chicken is a good choice as long as you don’t overdo
it and stuff yourself. If your body has to work to digest a lot of food, then it won’t be efficient in providing you with
the energy that you need to perform at your highest level.
These are just some basic dietary guidelines. Of course, everyone's specific needs will be different depending on
your activity level and your current physical condition (overweight, underweight, etc.). Some very active athletes
may need more calories, while others may function better on less. Some may need more carbohydrates, while
others may need more protein.
Again, everyone reacts a little different to training and diet. Therefore, you may need to experiment with different
foods, meals, number of meals, etc. before you find the combination that works best for you. You should, however,
strive to create a balance in the foods and meals that you eat.
If you are interested in more information about improving your diet, I would recommend that you research the
subject thoroughly, experiment, and find out what works best for you. However, don’t fall prey to “fad” diets or the
latest popular eating plan. If you are truly serious about your health and athletic performance you may want to
seek out a nutritionist who works mostly with athletes or buy a book devoted to athletic nutrition.
These basic ideas should help you get started on the road to improving your diet for athletic competition.
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