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Pre-race nutrition tips
Marni Rakes, M.S.
Are you a newbie triathlete, about to embark on your first triathlon? Aside from the fear of how your body will feel as you run your way to the finish line, race-day nutrition is certainly on your mind. Regardless of if you are a novice or a veteran, a well- practiced race-day nutrition plan is always a top priority when attempting to perform at your best.
Ask any veteran triathlete and she will tell you race-day nutrition takes planning and practice. Most people say you must practice in training what you will do in a race. True to an extent, but rarely do you wake up at 4:30 a.m. to fuel for a 7 a.m. swim- bike-run workout at maximum heart rate with 500 to 1,500 of your closest friends. Unlike training, where you exercise at different intensities and for different sport disciplines depending on the day of the week, race day brings a host of uncontrollable emotions alongside a perceived exertion, higher than normal. Whether you planned on it or not, you are likely to push your body on race day in order to put your training plan to the test. Even if you only plan on participating in a sprint triathlon for fun, it takes several training sessions and races to find out exactly what works for your body before and during a race in order to ensure a memorable racing experience.
Racing nutrition is all about individual experimentation. Amidst thousands of magazine articles, books, web sites and forums about race-day nutrition, you will quickly learn that a nutrition plan for one person may be entirely unlike a plan for another person. For example, an experienced athlete racing for an age-group win at an Olympic-distance triathlon may require a different number of calories than a female who has only trained for two months. It's the same race, yet the two women have different fueling strategies.
When it comes to training and racing nutrition, you can't always rely on a magazine article to tell you exactly what types of fuels your body needs on race day. Nutrition articles written by qualified personnel do provide helpful tips and guidelines for educating athletes on how to create an effective nutrition plan, but it is up to you to find out what works for your body. Factors such as age, height, gender, body composition, fitness ability, intensity, duration, environment and terrain affect how you react to the fuels you put in your body and how you will use these fuels.
If you have absolutely no idea what to eat before your upcoming race, or want to tweak your current racing nutrition plan, use the following pre- race nutrition tips to calm some of your nutrition fears and anxieties.
Pre-Race Nutrition Tips:
* Avoid carbo-loading the night before a race. The longer your racing distance, the more advantageous it is to focus on complex carbohydrates on the days leading up to the race. Regardless of the racing distance, plan to eat your "carbo" meal two nights before your race.
* Don't overdo calorie intake on the days leading up to a race. Decreasing your training volume in order to rest, or taper, your body will ensure that your usual balanced diet will provide you with plenty of stored fuel on race day.
* Two nights before a race, plan to have a calorie- controlled (450 to 550 calorie) meal rich with complex carbohydrates. Balance your carbo-choices, such as whole grain pasta, pizza, potatoes, bread and/or rice, with lean or low-fat proteins, such as fish, turkey, chicken, eggs, a veggie burger, tofu, part-skim cheese, beans or cottage cheese. Your meal should also include a little healthy fat such as olive oil or nuts. Add in a side salad or soup for extra vegetables at mealtime and choose fruit for an evening snack if needed.
* On the night before your race, plan to take in 400 to 450 calories. You should choose similar foods, or even an identical meal, to your dinner from the night before. Because you only have 10 to 12 hours for digestion, don't overdo it on calories or fat. You do not want to be stuffed after your meal so you can wake up hungry on race day morning.
* On the days leading up to your race (two to three nights before,) try to avoid eating late at night. Dinner should be served no later than 6:30 p.m. to guarantee proper digestion and to minimize the chance of GI (stomach) upset on race morning.
* Do not go into your dinner meal starving. Thirty to 45 minutes before your meal is served have a small protein snack, such as a glass of skim or soy milk, a low-fat yogurt, string cheese, one-half a tablespoon of peanut butter, a piece of deli meat or a few nuts - totaling between 50 and 80 calories. Not only will this snack help you from overeating at the meal by slowing down digestion, but it will also stabilize the blood sugars at the carbo-rich meal to prevent spikes and rapid drops in blood sugar.
* Drink two to three sport bottles of water (20 to 24 ounces) throughout the day on the three days leading up to your race. If you anticipate a hot, intense or long race, opt for two to three endurolytes (electrolyte pills) per day as an alternative to a high-sugar sports drink.
* Rather than skipping breakfast or eating a bar on the road, give yourself 20 to 30 minutes to eat and digest a meal before leaving for the race venue. The later you wait to eat, the more likely your emotions (nerves, anxiety and excitement) will disrupt your appetite and digestion process.
* Plan a pre-race meal that you have practiced in the past before an intense morning workout. Aim for 125 to 150 calories for every hour of racing, up to three hours. For a three to six hour race plan on eating around 300 to 450 calories. As a general rule, give yourself 45 minutes to an hour to digest 125 calories. The more calories you consume before a race, the more time you will need to digest and absorb your nutrients.
* Your pre-race meal should be rich in complex carbohydrates such whole grains or fiber. Add a little protein and fat to prevent the symptoms of low blood sugar - lightheadedness, fatigue, sudden drop of energy and dizziness - before the start of the race.
* Common examples of pre-race meals include oatmeal with raisins, banana slices and nuts; half of a bagel, a piece of toast or an English muffin with peanut butter and honey; egg whites and oatmeal or toast; yogurt and granola; or bread and deli meat. Coffee can be added to your pre-race meal if desired.
* Avoid eating anything solid when you get the race. Learn to understand your body. Depending on how well you fueled before the race, you should have plenty of fuel in your body to get you through the race. Additional food in transition areas will not provide you with immediate energy.
* Sip on water throughout the morning. If you choose to sip on a sport drink, choose a maltodextrin- rich drink, as opposed to a high-sugar sport drink. Simple sugars such as fructose and glucose, which are often found in sports drinks, can upset the stomach, especially if there is food still waiting to be absorbed in the digestive tract.
* If your race lasts more than 90 minutes, choose a maltodextrin-rich gel to consume 15 to 20 minutes before the race starts. Sip on six to eight ounces of water with or after you consume the gel.
* Feel confident with your pre-race nutrition plan, even if you are still experimenting. After several training sessions and races, you will find the best pre- race nutrition strategy to get you to the starting line with plenty of energy to have a great race.