TOP SPORTS DIETICIAN AND NUTRITIONIST ALICIA EDGE OF COMPEAT NUTRITION SHARES SOME TIPS ON HOW TO STRATEGISE YOUR RACE DAY NUTRITION AND HYDRATION.
It is so exciting to be approaching race season again here in the Southern Hemisphere! While you train for your upcoming event, a topic that is sure to come up in conversation with your training buddies are your plans for race day nutrition. You will be asked what you plan to eat and drink, when you will do it and how much. You may also have well-meaning friends telling you what you should or shouldn’t do – so all of this conflicting advice can really add to the race day angst and confusion!
The truth is, when it comes to race day nutrition, there is no ‘one-plan-fits-all’ response. Intake should be based around your training level, carbohydrate tolerance, training nutrition practices, race-day weather, flavour preferences and any history of gut upset or cramping. Despite this, there are some general tips that we would love to share with you that will hopefully help you on the road to a successful and enjoyable race. You have invested so much time and effort into your training, don’t let nutrition be the thing that stops you from reaching your goals.
“The truth is, when it comes to race day nutrition, there is no ‘one-plan-fits-all’ response.”
TRAIN THE WAY YOU PLAN TO RACE.
It has been theorised for a while that we can ‘train our gut’ to better cope with nutrition and fluid while racing. Research is still emerging in this area, but there are some neat studies to support this practice. One Australian study 1 showed this really well – highlighting that incorporating carbohydrate in daily training improved carbohydrate absorption and improved tolerance of food and fluid during exercise.
This is due to carbohydrate relying on transporters to move it from the gut to the bloodstream – but we only make as many transporters as our body feels we need 1,2. So if we don’t incorporate carbohydrate in our daily intake or into our training, we are limited with how much carbohydrate we can absorb at one time, therefore increasing the risk of gut discomfort come race day. So, if you plan to race with carbohydrate and fluid, start to gradually introduce this into your training sessions to make sure you get to enjoy every moment of your race day.
RACE DAY IS NOT THE DAY TO TRY SOMETHING NEW!
We have seen it so many times before, and it breaks our heart every. single. time. The
athlete has trained their butt off, practiced their nutrition and done everything right in the lead up to the big event. They then enter the race day expo or talk to other competitors and
suddenly are filled with doubt and confusion over their nutrition decisions. At the last minute, they decide to try a different pre-race breakfast or change gel brands or a different sports drink.
The risks of doing this are high. Try and remember that just because a certain product works for someone, it doesn’t mean it is perfect for you. Be confident in your decisions and stick to your plan. I repeat – race day is NOT the time to try something new!
NOT EVERYONE HAS TO ‘CARB LOAD’ PRE RACE.
Devastating news, I know – why else do we train if it isn’t to indulge a little pre-race? Unfortunately, Carbohydrate Loading is one of the most incorrectly done sports nutrition
practice – mainly because it is so poorly understood or because people feel it is an opportunity to eat as much as they want pre-race.
Done correctly, carbohydrate loading can be a serious advantage to performance. However, done poorly it can leave you feeling fatigued and sluggish come race day.
Carbo loading is only really beneficial for events lasting longer than 90mins – as this is when our muscle glycogen (carbohydrate) stores start to fade. For events less than 90mins, the exercise taper is often enough to restore your muscle glycogen stores and get you race ready. A Sports Dietitian can help you decide if Carbo Loading is right for you and also help provide you with a plan for the lead up to your race.
THE PRE-RACE MEAL IS VERY INDIVIDUAL.
Just like so many components of race day nutrition, the pre-race meal will never be the same for everyone. Some athletes can eat 5mins before heading out without any drama, while others will need at least a couple of hours to digest their last meal. The thing to
remember for your pre-race meal is that it’s goal is to top up your glycogen reserves in your liver, as this is depleted overnight.
Ideally, the pre-event meal should be consumed anywhere from 90-150mins before race start. As your race is more than likely early morning, this can be a challenge! Organise yourself so that the first thing you do when the alarm goes off is eat – then get dressed, beautiful and race ready after that 🙂
Ideally, we are aiming for a breakfast that contains a good amount of carbohydrate, while being lower in fat to reduce any risk of gut upset. Depending on what works for you, options may look like toast, crumpets, raisin toast, porridge or cereal. For those struggling to eat with the pre-race nerves, try a liquid breakfast and just sip as much as you can tolerate. Options may include smoothies, Sustagen Sport or something as easy as an Up & Go tetra.
Whatever option you decide, I cannot stress enough to trial it in training. If you have any issues with tolerance, bowel issues or gut upset in training or racing, definitely chat to a Sports Dietitian to help devise a plan that works for you.
ADEQUATE HYRDATION IS A REAL BALANCING ACT.
The first point we are going to put here is this – aim to start the race hydrated. If you are waking up dehydrated on race day, it is really hard to play catch up.
Concentrate on drinking adequate fluids in the days leading into the race and teaming your fluid with meals and snacks to assist in absorption. The natural electrolytes in foods will help water be absorbed and utilised by your body. The key to hydration is drinking smaller amounts frequently. If you try and maximise fluid intake by drinking bottles all at once, we cannot absorb this very well and end up just peeing most of it out – I am sure we have all experienced this from time to time!!
Secondly, the amount of fluid you need during the race is dependent on many factors – all of which effect the risk of either under- or over-hydrating. This infographic, by Yann Le Meur from ‘Endurance Training – Infographic Edition’, summarises your hydration needs perfectly. Basically, the faster you plan to compete, the less opportunities you have to drink, the hotter the conditions and the greater your body weight, the more you will need to support and optimise fluid intake. On the flip side, if you plan to race at a gradual pace, will have ample opportunities to drink, are female, the conditions are cooler and your body weight is less, you are better to control and plan your fluid intake during the race, as you are at higher risk of over-drinking.
Overall, your goals for race day nutrition should be to incorporate foods and fluid that work for you. Take the time to trial different options in training so that you know that what you plan to do on race day is ideal for your taste preference, gut tolerance and performance goals. We absolutely love working with athletes of all levels in perfecting their race day nutrition, so please contact us if you have any questions or would like some individualised advice for your upcoming event.
Cox GR, Clark SA, Cox AJ, et al. Daily training with high carbohydrate availability increases exogenous carbohydrate oxidation during endurance cycling. J Appl Physiol. 2010;109:126–34.
Jeukendrup AE, McLaughlin J. Carbohydrate ingestion during exercise: effects on performance, training adaptations and trainability of the gut. Nestle Nutr Inst Workshop Ser. 2011;69:1–12 (discussion 13–7).