Taekwondo is a Korean art of self defence which requires a high degree of fitness and co-ordination. Taekwondo competition consists of 3 x 3 minute rounds involving a rapid series of punches and kicks with 1-minute rest in between each round. During a tournament athletes maybe required to compete from 5-8 times over a day to reach the finals.
Competition therefore requires a level of anaerobic fitness but a high level of aerobic fitness is also needed to enable the athlete to recover and maintain performance throughout several rounds and over a tournament.
Taekwondo is a weight-category sport (see table below for weight divisions). Athletes are required to ‘weigh-in’ the day before competition. As with many weight-category sports, athletes often aim to compete at the higher end of the division weight range to gain an advantage over lighter opponents.
To achieve this, athletes often train above their competition day weight. This means that prior to competition athletes need to decrease their body weight over a short period of time in order to ‘make weight’. Some methods used by athletes to rapidly lose weight are inappropriate and impair performance.
It is important that athletes select a weight category based on previous weight/skinfolds, growth, competition goals and the minimum weight that will not compromise health. Maintaining a fully hydrated body weight of no greater than 3-5% of their competitive weight is a good goal for most athletes and will prevent the need for extreme weight loss practices.
|Fly weight||< 49 kg||< 58 kg|
|Feather weight||49 – 57 kg||58 – 68 kg|
|Welter weight||57 – 67 kg||68 – 80 kg|
|Heavy weight||67 kg +||80 kg +|
Table 1: Weight Divisions for Taekwondo
Training diet for taekwondo
In order for athletes to reach their maximum nutrition potential during training it is important to be adequately fuelled and hydrated. Taekwondo athletes often opt to compete at a weight category that is lower than their typical training weight hence it is not uncommon to see athletes adopting inappropriate strategies to achieve rapid weight loss in a short time. Methods such as severe food and fluid restriction, excessive exercise, the use of saunas, laxatives and diuretics can compromise nutritional goals, impair performance and increase the risk for potential medical problems.
In order to safely achieve a desired weight, energy intake must match training load as precisely as possible. This not only allows for adequate fuel to cope with training demands but also prevents undesired weight gain. The athlete diet should therefore focus on nutrient dense foods with very little room left for highly processed treat foods. Consulting an Accredited Sports Dietitian can help you develop a meal plan to achieve your training and competition goals.
Many athletes who are conscious of their weight will adequately replace sweat losses following training as this will show up as increased body weight on the scales. This should be discouraged as fluid weight is easily manipulated in the short term and there is no place for this in the day-day to day training environment.
Athletes should drink fluids with all meals and snacks and drink during training. Sports drinks are generally not required at training sessions, however can be useful at competitions. A good indication of adequate hydration status is to aim for pale yellow urine over the day. Some athletes who have not taken their nutritional preparation seriously revert to high levels of dehydration (using saunas and sweat suits) to make weight. This is not wise as excessive dehydration is difficult to recover from and can be detrimental to performance and increase the risk of heat stroke. Under the supervision of an Accredited Sports Dietitian, mild levels dehydration can be used safely to help make weight but any fluid lost must be replaced following weigh-in.
Eating before competition
There are several tips that can help an athlete achieve their target weight over the 2-3 days prior to competition. Some athletes try to fast before competition to minimise the amount of food inside the gut; however, this prevents optimal pre-competition fuelling. A better alternative is the use of low residue foods consumed 24-48 hours before competition. Selecting low fibre cereals (e.g. Rice Bubbles), white breads, pureed fruit and liquid meal replacements can minimise the amount of undigested food in the gut, while also giving important carbohydrate (fuel).
An athlete who regularly eats a high fibre diet may lose 1-1.5% of the body weight in 2 days using a low residue diet; weight loss in addition to this will need to be derived from fluid losses. Avoiding excessive salt intake in the days before weigh-in can help with minimising fluid retention. Drinking less fluid than normal in the 24 hours before weigh-in will further decrease weight and should be used in preference to increased sweating. If after following a low fibre diet and decreased fluid intake, further weight loss is required, an athlete will need to use sweating techniques. It is important to understand that the more fluid an athlete loses to make weight the greater the need for fluid and sodium following the weigh-in to rehydrate.
After the weigh-in
The time between weigh-in and competition provides a window of opportunity to fuel-up, hydrate and recover from any short-term weight loss strategies. Providing excessive weight (>5% body weight) is not lost in the days before weigh-in, recovery can be achieved the between weigh-in and competition. Consuming 150% of fluid losses in sodium containing fluids in small frequent drinks will best achieve rehydration (i.e. if an athlete loses 2kg from restricting fluid intake and/or sweating, then 3 litres of a sodium containing beverage will be required). Consuming meal(s) high in carbohydrate following weigh-in will increase fuel stores needed for competition.
Eating and drinking during competition
On competition morning, athletes should eat a familiar breakfast high in carbohydrate 3-4 hours before their first scheduled bout. Aside from breakfast, timing meals around competition may be difficult as times of bouts are often hard to predict. To ensure that athletes keep fuel stores ‘topped up’ snacks should be eaten regularly over the day. This is particularly important if an athlete is competing in several rounds and opportunities to eat are limited. Athletes cannot rely on competition venues to provide suitable foods. Instead, they should pack portable, convenient and familiar snacks which digest quickly and do not interfere with competition preparation or leave them feeling bloated or overly full, such as; fruit, muesli bars, sports bars, dried fruit, crispbread, crackers, jam sandwiches or yoghurt. Nervous athletes, who find it difficult to eat, may prefer to have liquid based snacks (e.g. smoothie/sports drink).
Recovery from training or competition can be enhanced by eating a meal or snack containing carbohydrate (to replace muscle glycogen stores); protein (for muscle repair) and fluid (to replace sweat losses). Sometimes it is not possible to have a main meal straight after exercise. In these situations eating a snack soon after training will kick-start recovery until the recovery process is finished at the next main meal. Examples of recovery snacks that contain carbohydrates, protein and fluid include:
- Fruit smoothie
- Cereal bar + tetra pack low fat flavoured milk
- Yoghurt + chopped fruit + bottle of water
- Ham and cheese sandwich + bottle of sports drink
Other Nutrition Tips
- Younger athletes should be encouraged to eat a health promoting diet that allows adequate fuelling for training and for growth. They should move up weight divisions as they age and grow
- Practice weight making and recovery strategies as well as competition nutrition outside of important competitions so that athletes are not ‘second guessing’ nutrition at important times
- Supplements need to be used in conjunction with advice from experts such as a Accredited Sports Dietitian. Only those shown to be safe, legal, and effective to enhance performance should be used.