Nutrition Leading up to the All-Ireland final
Throughout hurling the most important pattern of play is that of intermittent activity involving bursts of high-intensity activity separated by periods of low intensity play.
This pattern of play emphasises carbohydrate as a priority fuel as it is used to provide energy for high intensity activity bouts such as pucking, scoring, sprinting, tackling and jumping.
Therefore, the main focus 24-36 hours before the All-Ireland final should be on loading the muscles with carbohydrate ensuring muscle glycogen stores are completely full before throw-in. Hydration is also an important component of match preparation with players consuming three to five litres daily, depending on daytime temperatures and humidity.
The recommendations for All-Ireland final day are again focused around carbohydrate intake and optimal hydration levels. The majority of players have individualised their nutrition routine by this point and, in doing so, they are less likely to suffer from any gastrointestinal up-set while feeling appropriately 'fed and watered' when throw-in time arrives.
Eating a breakfast high in carbohydrates, but also including moderate amounts of protein to optimise brain function is key to the last phase of match preparation. The pre-match meal usually consists of chicken, pasta, pasta sauce and vegetables, although at this stage this meal only serve to 'top-up' muscle glycogen stores.
Players will continue to hydrate and snack on carbohydrate rich foods, such as bananas, sports bars and sports drinks up until 30-60min before kick-off.
Once the whistle sounds and players are optimally hydrated they should drink when they feel thirsty. Half-time is an opportunity to rehydrate with water and/or a sports drink and refuel with a high carbohydrate snack.
There is a high probability that some players may suffer from muscle cramp in what promises to be a high intensity game. Cramp is not caused by dehydration or sodium losses but rather by the over use of the muscle. However, a study performed in 2010 by a group of exercise scientists at North Dakota State University found pickle juice to alleviate cramp in under 90 seconds.
The effect of the pickle juice was so rapid it could not have been due to changes in blood sodium or overall hydration levels and is proposed to have triggered a response in the brain which alleviated the cramp.
One thing is for sure, pickle juice or no pickle juice, each player in Croke Park tomorrow has put an immense amount of work into each phase of their nutrition preparation to get to such a momentous day. Good luck boys.