5 Tips to Get the Most Out of Training Camps
Training camp season is nearly upon us! While many athletes heading off on training camps pay a lot of attention to the training schedule and packing essential gear, nutrition is often overlooked – but can be the difference in your results!
Since what you eat and drink has a huge role to play in the success of your training camp, here are a few tips to make sure that you get the most out of your hard work.
Training camps are not the time to focus on weight loss
The priority for most endurance sport training camps is to maximise adaptations to improve your race day performance. Unfortunately, too many athletes fall in a heap after training camps; battling through weeks of poor training and racing as a result of trying to train hard over the camp and also trying to use the higher training load to deliberately lose weight. This doesn’t work!
To perform at your peak during and after training camps, it’s important to optimally fuel and recover for ALL training sessions. Skimping on food in order to lose weight will do nothing more than leave you in a fatigued slump on the side of the road – not exactly the desired outcome of a training camp!
Eat & plan more!
Following on from tip one above, the typical training load of training camps is significantly higher compared to more usual training weeks. This means that you need to be adjusting your food intake to match the increased fuel demands. Carbohydrates play a big role here, as they’re the main fuel for your muscles during moderate-high intensity exercise. Protein is also essential for helping muscle recovery and repair after sessions.
Because the training load at camp can be so intense, having enough energy leftover to think about and prepare food at the end of the day can be a stretch. So, instead of winging it each day, spend some time before you head away to come up with a plan of attack for your food. Where possible, take meals and snacks that you can prepare in advance – bircher muesli makes a great fuelling or recovery option, homemade energy bars or banana loaf can be easily wrapped in foil to take out on the bike, and carb-rich salads can be a useful addition to your lunch or dinner. If the high training load kills your appetite, smoothies and milkshakes can be a great option.
It’s well known that dehydration can affect performance. Even a moderate sweat rate of 800ml/hr can add up to be substantial total fluid loss over a big training day – in this example, losses of ~3.2-4.8 litres of sweat over 4-6 hours of training. Failing to hydrate before and rehydrate effectively after sessions over multiple days of camp can really impact your training.
The best way to avoid chronic dehydration is to be proactive with your fluid intake from day one of camp. To track how well you’re rehydrating, weigh yourself first thing each morning – after going to the toilet and before eating. If you are rehydrating (and refuelling) appropriately, your day-to-day first morning weight shouldn’t vary by much more than ~1-2kg.
Support your body’s recovery with antioxidant-rich foods
Training camps can increase oxidative stress on the body – that’s a fancy way of saying that your body needs extra antioxidant-rich foods to support recovery when you’re in periods of high training. Load up on fresh fruit – especially berries, and a variety of different coloured vegetables to boost your antioxidant intake over camp.
Importantly, research has shown that antioxidant supplements in tablet/capsule form do not have the same benefits as antioxidant-rich foods. In fact, antioxidant supplements can actually have a negative effect on recovery and adaptations so load up on fresh fruit and veggies rather than reaching for the supplement container.
Eat more iron-rich foods at altitude
If your training camp is at high altitude, be sure to boost your intake of iron-rich foods before and during the camp. At altitude more haemoglobin (the part of red blood cells that carries oxygen around the body) is produced by the body – iron is essential for this process.
Red meat is your richest source of iron but chicken, pork and other animal meats are also good options. Plant foods such as dark green leafy vegetables (e.g. spinach, silverbeet, kale), lentils, nuts and dried fruit are also good iron boosting foods to include. Importantly, iron supplements should not be taken unless prescribed by a GP or Sports Doctor as excess iron intake can have harmful health effects.
So if you have a training camp coming up, get in touch with an Accredited Sports Dietitian to put together an individual plan that will have you improving—rather than hurting—from your hard work.