It's the night before the first competition of the season & you're a mixture of excited, anticipated & nervous all rolled into one. The alarm clock is set for 4am, your Mum is ready to come with you & be dogsbody for the day, your pony is all tucked up in bed bathed & beautiful & you're about to pack your bag so that you are ready to go!
You pack your clothes, your hat, your back protector, your boots & then the realisation of how shit I forgot to buy anything to eat to take with me. Often that is followed by oh well I know there will be food on-site but that is not going to help you to fuel your body well & help you to feel your best. (Also consider Covid when you think this!)
Thinking about your pre-competition nutrition should include the 24 hours before your event or show. The last thing you want is to end up feeling light-headed or woosy after you've walked the cross country course because you forgot to eat breakfast or stuck in the portaloo because you had a dodgy takeaway the night before. What you eat the night before is just as important as what your horse has eaten in the past month leading up to the event & it is time to start considering that.
We put everything into our horses & are constantly searching for that extra 2-3% more out of them, to improve their scores or finish in a higher position but rarely do we even think about ourselves & that is 50% of the partnership left forgotten.
Not considering your food & nutrition around your competition is just leaving have of your effort & potential success on the table. Whatever level you compete at riding is a physically demanding sport & you need to fuel your body so that it can handle the competition pressures physically & mentally.
Your pre-competition prep should start the night before with your evening meal. For many of us & I am the same, you won't end up eating before you compete on the day. Whether that's down to nerves or feeling anxious everyone is different but if you're not eating pre-event you need to make sure your body is storing the energy needed to be able to perform by fuelling yourself well the night before.
Focus on a meal made using whole food sources including a good source of carbohydrates such as potato or wholewheat pasta that will give you the long-lasting energy you need. Your carbohydrates provide the body with its energy source, glucose, so it is important you eat some complex carbohydrates in your meal the night before. Focus on including whole foods as opposed to processed foods as these will give your body the goodness & vitamins & minerals it needs for you to feel at your best & fully energised. Avoid highly processed foods or sugary foods as these will only lead you to feel sluggish & not your best; you want to be energised & ready to rock on the day.
A good tip the night before is to also try to keep portion sizes normal, avoid overindulging or eating super rich foods as again this will impact your energy levels & could cause you digestive issues impacting your rest. Try to eat a couple of hours before you go to sleep so that your body has time to relax & fully digest the food before trying to sleep. If you go to bed with food not digested then you may end up having a restless night's sleep & ending up feeling tired & de-energised in the morning. Not what you want on competition day!
Drink plenty of water the night before with your meal. Chances are at a show when you're busy running around you will probably forget to drink or rely on sugary fizzy drinks so making sure you're well-hydrated is essential to feel your best when you need to. Try to avoid alcohol if you can as this will only further dehydrate your body & not leave you feeling your best. You want clarity & focus mentally on event day so hydrating well is key! Dehydration has been shown in studies to have a significant impact on both cognitive & physical function in your performance so make sure you take plenty of water with you on the day too. Having a water bottle sat in the tack locker is a great reminder to drink.
On competition day breakfast is a personal one but for many chances are you'll have had a 4am alarm clock so getting something into you to start the day is a good idea! Especially as you will probably then go all day with nothing in you. Find what works for you but my key advice would be to stick to your normal breakfast-trying something new is not what you want to be doing on competition day!
Imagine if your body disagrees with that bacon turnover & you're stuck on the loo 5 minutes before your test? Not where you want to be! Depending on what times you have you will probably find you end up eating your breakfast in the lorry or car on the way so my big tip here would be to prepare & prep your breakfast the night before. Again give your body plenty of time to fully digest your breakfast, you don't want to be scoffing down your oats then feeling them bouncing up & down as you trot up the centre line, do you? Sure we've all been there!!
My go tos for competition breakfasts would be super simple; either overnight oats, greek yogurt with granola, protein pancakes, or a protein shake. All of these are easy to fully prep the night before & take no time!! You can eat them straight away no need to reheat. Oats would be a great option as they provide you with that long-lasting energy we touched on earlier. Granola with yogurt & some fruit would also be a great option, giving you lots of good nutrients & plenty of carbohydrates for you to feel fuelled for the day. These meals should help you to feel satisfied but not stuffed or bloated & again avoiding that sluggish or sick feeling! Try these overnight oats below;
Snack wise on event day again I would keep it super simple. Where you can, prepare food & snacks the night before so on competition day you can just grab & go. With all the goodwill in the world often when it comes down to it you are running around like a headless chicken from one job to the next attempt a show so the last thing you want to be doing is stressing about trying to make a sandwich. Wraps with tuna or chicken are great snacks, they include plenty of protein which is important for your muscle recovery but will also leave you feeling satisfied so you'll probably find a little wrap will keep you going for a long time.
Protein bars, popcorn & rice cakes would be my go-to snacks as well as fruit. Remember competition days are stressful & you will be on the go all day burning lots of calories so don't be afraid to let yourself have a Mars bar at lunch or some cheesy chips at the end of the day but on the whole, you want to focus on eating really well & filling your body with goodness.
The smallest things can have the biggest impact on your competition day & your diet is 100% one of those. It can honestly be the difference between you feeling pumped, energised & ready to smash the day or feeling groggy, lacking energy & generally not great. If you spent 20 minutes or so the day before a competition thinking about your diet & putting a bit of effort into being organised then think of the difference that would make to your horse on the day. You really are what you eat so if you want to have the best day out & the best results & make sure all your hard work goes to good use then consider what you are fuelling yourself with on competition day!