To bring you the best training information possible, we've worked with the best Steinholders in the business to put together an updated guide for game-day preparation. Thanks to 2017 National Champions Julie Gilbert and Mike Ayling, and 2018 National Champions Emily Pagel and Michael Tyler, and 2019 National Champions Jennifer Kuklentz and Andrew Furman for sharing their game-day preparation routines with us!
If you think about professional or Olympic level athletes, they all have ridiculously strict training regimens and routines that they follow to maintain consistency and prepare them for game day. Food, sleep, hydration, warm-ups - everything they do is planned and scheduled in advance and then executed with perfect discipline to make sure they're getting the most out of their bodies. A wide receiver getting a half inch higher for a Hail Mary jump ball or an Olympic sprinter finishing a hundredth of a second faster can mean the difference between victory and defeat. If you're a casual Steinholder, you don't have to put a ton of effort into this you don't want to, but it's important to recognize the importance of consistency and having a routine. Making even minor adjustments to your game-day preparations can go a long way toward optimizing your performance.
Getting and Staying Warmed-Up
We'll start off with the most important rule that we always give, and no one competing at a high level will ever dispute this: Never EVER do a practice or training hold the same day that you plan to compete. Don't do any upper-body workout either, particularly anything involving shoulder or chest exercises. For Steinholding you're using a very specific and small group of muscles, and even if you feel fine afterward, it takes a while to fully recover and recharge the energy stores in your muscle cells. Since this is an endurance competition, you cannot afford to waste any energy because you just won't recover fast enough, even after a few hours. You will NOT get any advantage by practicing a little bit more and you definitely will reduce the time you can hold in the actual competition. We've seen it happen first-hand. Don't do it. DON'T DO IT!
With that being said, you want to keep your shoulder loose before you compete and make sure to keep your arms and shoulders warm, especially if you are competing outside on a cool day. For most forms of athletic competition, you would want to warm up beforehand, but we don't recommend it in the case of Steinholding. Go for a sweatshirt and wear layers instead. It's too easy to waste energy and risk hurting your competition time, so don't do anything to exert yourself. But, if you've had a certain warm-up routine that you're used to, do it. This which brings us to our next point.
Consistency is Critically Important
"Compete how you train," says 2018 Masskrugstemmen National Champion and current men's national record holder Michael Tyler. If you have a specific set of things that you've done every time you practiced, do these things during the lead up to the competition if you can. You should also try to tailor your training regimen to match up with the specific details of the competition you're going to be competing in. Learn more about this in our other training articles. If you're going to be training for a few months to make a championship run, we definitely encourage you to find what works best for your body by experimenting with new training, warm-ups, and nutrition/supplementation, but the day of a major competition is NOT the time to experiment or try something new.
Consistency extends to your eating and hydration plans for game day and this includes booze. When Jim was training, he would never have anything alcoholic before a competition, and on top of that, he would generally give up drinking altogether during his peak training season. But everyone is different and you can't argue with the success of some of the other high level competitors we spoke with: "I had a one liter stein of beer before every competition and I trained that way as well," says Michael Tyler, "Consistency is key." The 2018 Women's Champion Emily Pagel echoed Michael's sentiment: "I have noticed that before every win, I've had bratwurst and a liter of our beloved Hofbräu bier. The liter definitely helps! Not too much, but not too little." The 2019 Hofbräu champion Jennifer Kuklentz would avoid drinking the night before a competition to maintain good hydration (more on this later), but she agreed with Mike and Emily: "At least one or two beers before the competition helps take the edge off!"
You don't want to go into a competition feeling full and uncomfortable, but we can tell you for sure that "carb-loading," as ridiculous as it sounds, made a huge difference for Jim and his performance, and other high-level competitors have agreed. So don't eat a huge meal right before the competition, but definitely pig out earlier in the day with a large meal or two to get you fueled up.
Jim's go-to pre-training snack is a ton of Greek yogurt with honey and fruit. He was neurotic enough about his preparations for the national competition that he brought a cooler along to Central Park in a backpack and sat on a bench outside of the Oktoberfest forcing down a tub of Greek yogurt an hour before the Hofbräu competition. This is not the most practical way to go though. Something more portable like a granola bar, fruit or protein bar about an hour before the competition is also a decent choice because it's portable and convenient and it's going to give you simple carbs and amino acids that will keep your muscles supplied while you're competing. In 2018, before her big win, Emily Pagel kept a couple of protein bars with her so she could have easy access to a solid snack throughout the day leading up to the competition. If you've been training hard up to this point, you probably already know what works for you in terms of fueling your body, so to repeat what we discussed above, it's all about being as consistent as possible.
Remember, this is an endurance sport, so the more you can do to promote recovery and keep yourself energized before and during the competition, the better off you'll be. Having extra nutrients already working their way through your body will give you an edge over someone who hasn't eaten in a couple of hours.
The importance of staying hydrated cannot be overstated and any high level athlete will tell you that you need to make this a priority. A good portion of Steinholding competitions take place in the summer and early fall, so there's a good chance it's going to be hot. If you're having a few drinks that day too, remember that alcohol acts as a diuretic, which means that it will dehydrate you. So make sure you have a plan. Keep the water flowing throughout the day and continue right up until the start of the competition. Measure your normal water intake to have an idea of how much you drink on a regular day and then do your best to mirror this on competition day. Set yourself reminders or alarms on your phone to check in on hydration and down a bottle of water here and there.
"For me, I think hydration is key," says Julie Gilbert, 2017 Hofbräu Masskrugstemmen Champion. "Staying well hydrated can be difficult, especially when traveling." It's easy to stay hydrated when you're at home or at work and you have a routine. You can easily make it a habit to just grab a cup of water whenever you walk by the sink or the water fountain. But when you're on the road or at an all-day festival event, your normal habits will go right out the window if you aren't careful. Don't let this sink your hopes at a victory on game-day, says Julie, "If you're flying, buy a big bottle of water after security and drink it on the plane, even if it means you need to make an extra trip to the airplane lavatory. If you're driving, don't skimp on water just because you don't want to make the extra stop."
The Night Before
The night before a competition, make sure you get a good night's sleep and eat a LOT. Mike Ayling, 2017 Hofbräu Masskrugstemmen Champion, has simple advice: "Don't drink too much." Aside from the challenge of already starting your day off dehydrated, you won't sleep as well if you've had too much to drink. Being hungover isn't fun to begin with and the already difficult task of Steinholding isn't going to be any easier if you feel like garbage and haven't gotten a great night sleep.
Speaking of which, try to get as much sleep as you can the two nights before the competition. It's obvious to everyone that the night before the competition is critical in terms of resting your body, but some studies have shown that for certain types of physical activity, sleeping well two nights before the competition is just as important. Until we have hard data from a peer-reviewed journal showing the effects of sleep on Steinholding performance, we encourage you to err on the side of caution and focus on getting two good night's sleep just to be safe.
What if I have to compete in more than one round of competition on the same day?
If you are in the unfortunate position where your competition has two rounds on the same day, well, it's going to suck. It may feel tempting to assert your dominance immediately and shoot for first place in your first heat, but don't hold for any longer than you absolutely have to to advance past the first round. If for example, the top 4 times move on to the next round, DO NOT try to take first place in the prelim round. Put the stein down once you take the number 4 spot and laugh at those other fools who keep going while you conserve your energy for the finals. This is the most important tip if you're in this situation and it may sound obvious, but Steinholders are notoriously stubborn and competitive, so this can be a challenge in itself. I promise you that every second you continue holding is going to shorten your time for the next round and make the next hold feel harder from the start.
Stay hydrated in between rounds especially if you sweat a lot, and eat something with carbs and protein ASAP after completing the first round. Energy bars and protein bars are a good option since they will give you easily digestible sugars and amino acids that will get into your bloodstream fast and help your recovery. A little bit of light stretching isn't a bad thing either, but very light. Stay loose and, depending on how much time there is until the next round, make yourself a plan for what else you're going to eat and drink.
Two competitions in a single day is not optimal and you aren't going to be setting any personal records on that second hold, so have reasonable expectations and do your best. Everyone you're competing against is in the same boat, so give yourself the advantage by being smart about your preparations.
Now that you've been training hard for weeks, months or years to get to this competition, and you've got your game-day routine down and it's time to go hard. Check out our Time to Compete article for the last minute preparations and strategies to get you through your competition.
NYC Hofbräu Championship Weekend
A lot of these tips will also help you in the lead-up to the Hofbräu Championship at the Central Park Oktoberfest. But, given the importance of the Championship weekend experience and some of its unique challenges, we've put together a special guide to help you reach your best performance when it counts the most! Check out our full article!
Jim Banko is the founder of the U.S. Steinholding Association. He is the 2015 Hofbrau Masskrugstemmen National Champion and previous United States record holder for Steinholding with an official time of 17 minutes and 11 seconds.