Less than 1 mile from the 2011 Ironman World Championship finishing line. I couldn't smile any bigger...my face hurt just as much as my body. There was no secret or magical food that allowed me to finish the 2011 Ironman World Championships
but rather a body that was trained to perform.
Choosing the wrong foods, eating at the wrong time or eating too much (or not enough) may negatively affect your racing performance in training and racing. And without a doubt, I'm sure you don't want your training to go to waste on race day. Isn't racing all about putting the training to the test?
So, what should we be looking for when it comes to pre-race foods?
The research behind the pre-race meal (on race day) is to make sure your fuel tanks are full by the start of the race. You should have plenty of fuel in your muscles by reducing your training volume (or tapering) before a race and sticking to a well-planed race week diet but sleeping depletes around 50% liver glycogen. Eating a small carbohydrate-rich snack before a race will help to sustain energy and postpone fatigue as well as keeping your brain motivated and focused. However, there are a few guidelines to follow when it comes to planning your pre-race snack. Certainly, research in a laboratory can tell us what may work under a controlled environment but how many of us feel like our lifestyle is controlled every day, all day?
Considering that many athletes struggle to understand the difference between sport nutrition vs a healthy, balanced diet, there is often a lot of confusion as to how to fuel before a race and to avoid GI distress as well as postpone fatigue and prevent cramping, bonking or dehydration.
1) Eat your pre-race snack at least 2-3 hours before the start of your race, and don’t forget water. Your digestive tract needs blood and fluids to help with digestion and nerves can affect intestinal movement. Aim for around 150-300 calories before a 1-2.5 hour event, primarily carbohydrates (at least 30-60g of carbohydrates and around 12-16 ounces of water) with a little fat/protein to slow down digestion.You don’t want to be full, stuffed or starving before the start of a race.
2) I know it isn’t what you are use to but you are not aiming for a heart-healthy diet. Limit the fat, protein and fiber (which help keep you "full" and satisfied on a daily basis and choose foods low in volume and carbohydrates that will empty quickly from the stomach. No “diet”foods or artificial sweeteners as those may cause diarrhea, bloating or gas!
3) Focus on yourself, your race day intensity, the race day conditions, recent dietary patterns, nerves, excitement. I’ve worked with many athletes who can tolerate foods just fine on a daily basis or before training sessions but once the nerves kick in, they can not tolerate them on race day.
Sport nutrition before and during a race is very individualized. As an athlete myself and working with a variety of athletes, I can tell you that there is no "perfect" way to eat before a race....even if research tells you otherwise. I feel that the athlete who succeeds the best is one who feels confident with his/her pre-race snack and has a practical and realistic race day plan. It should be noted that previous eating habits have a major influence on race day nutrition so if your daily diet isn't under controlled, there's no point in developing a "perfect" race day fueling plan. Health first, performance second.
Because sport nutrition will differ and I don't encourage you to try new foods on race day, here are a few examples that may help you narrow down your options for pre-race snacks.
Snack options for the high intensity runner or with a high HR: Key points: blood will be used for the working muscles so we need something really quick to digest so the sugars enter the blood stream quickly and blood is not being diverted to the stomach for digestion. These foods will not be filling so be aware of how fast your body breaks down carbohydrates. Despite this fact, some athletes may do better with low glycemix foods vs high glycemix foods before a high intensity effort.
-Banana, raisins, nut butter (convenient, easy to digest, familiar foods)
-1/3-1/2 cup granola (carb-dense, not a lot of volume)
-Fruit Buddies (ex. fruit puree) + rice flake cereal (low residue)
Nervous belly, GI distress consistently during racing (or pre-race) Key points: liquid options or bland food. Experimentation is key as everyone will be different and perhaps you may find yourself more nervous at a local race vs a destination race. Dairy may upset your stomach and others may handle it fine.
-Kefir yogurt based drink (avoid meal replacement drinks which are often high in fat and may contain sugar alcohols)
-Pita bread or wasa crackers with a few nuts (instead of high fiber or dense bagels or bread).
-4-8 ounce 100% fruit juice + 1 slice french bread with cream cheese.
-Couscous (unconventional, high in carbs, a little protein and fiber)
Run/walkers, conversational pace (moderate/low intensity)
Key points: More time out on the course, a little more protein/fat to slow down digestion and to maintain satisfaction before and during race.
-1/2-1 bagel + nut butter + honey
-Oatmeal + nuts + raisins
-Sport bar + orange (or piece of fruit)
OTHER KEY POINTS:
Sip on a sport drink (maltodextrin based, ex. Hammer heed) if needed before the race and around 8-10 ounces of water before the start (after your pre-race snack). Recommend no additional food after pre-race snack. Coffee and tea (caffeinated, non-carbonated beverage) is also fine pre race to get the system going, if tolerated and practiced.
Your pre race meal should be easy to find, easy to prepare, easy to consume and most of all, tolerable based on your racing intensity and distance.
Keep in mind that no amount of pre race nutrition can help you run 7 min/miles if you didn’t train yourself to do so in training. It's recommended to take advantage of sport nutrition during a race (ex. sport drinks, gels) at consistent intakes (ex. every 10-15 minutes) to provide the stressed body with fluids (20-28 ounces per hour), electrolytes and carbohydrates (30-60g per hour). Pace within your abilities in order to better tolerate pre race nutrition which will also help you avoid cramping and an upset stomach.
(any additional questions or concerns - send me an email. Trimarnicoaching@gmail.com)