Essential Sports Nutrition


Pre-race nutrition tips

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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.


What a weekend

Sat morning I woke up very nervous for the 2.5 mile ocean swim. That's a lot of swimming in the ocean. Not sure what's worse to think about, 2.5 miles of swimming or an hour+ of continuous swimming.
It was hard for me to eat a whole lot at 5:30am so I added a Wasa cracker w/ PB to my normal pre-bike breakfast of oatmeal, raisins, honey and banana slices.
My friend Laura came over to my place and we loaded up our bikes in her car. I had to work out my training plans well before Sat so I could do my swim+long bike and make it home sometime before dark. We made our drive to Jacksonville beach, got our caps and chips and waited for the buses.
At 7:30am we got bused 2.5 miles down the road on a school bus. Fun times with 100 nearly naked athletes in a school bus. This reminded me of high school swim meets, except we wore warm parkas to our swim meets. It sure took a while to drive 2.5 miles but finally we arrived to our starting point.
A little after 8am it was time to line up on the beach. We had a running start into the ocean. It was pretty rough with all the people starting at once. I got hit a lot and when we made the left turn around the buoy, it was time to start a long swim.
I stayed with a group of around 3 people. I think they were guys. We passed a lot of people as we swam parallel to the shore and even with the whole ocean to ourselves, we kept hitting each other. There was 1 buoy on the whole course and I never even saw it. There were lots of lifeguards in the ocean so I knew we were in good hands but having only one buoy for 2.5 miles was a bit scary. Needless to say, we got off course and who knows how much extra we all swam.
I resisted looking at my watch for the first 30 minutes so when I looked, it read 44 minutes. My googles were getting tight on my eyes but other than that, I was feeling good. It was a bit wavy out there and with only my two-piece speedo swim suit, I was tossed a few times in the waves. I was determined to not slow down so I just kept spotting, trying to see that last turn buoy to the finish. I could see the buoy for a few strokes and then it would disappear. The waves made it hard to spot but in the distance, I could see the pier which meant I was getting close. Although I was swimming with a few fast swimmers, I noticed that the buoys were to my left and the swimmers were heading to the right. I decided to stay on track, the best I could, and veered to the left to get to the last 2 buoys. Once the buoys were clear in site, I nearly sprinted to swim through them and then made a left hand turn to have the waves push me to the shore. I ran out of the water and with another girl right behind me, we sprinted to the finish line on the sand. I saw the clock and couldn't believe that I swam 1:08.03 in a 2.5 mile ocean swim.
During the swim I thought about my other two experiences with ocean swims.
IMFL 2006: 2.4 mile swim 1:07 - felt like a washing machine with all those people. 2 loops, wetsuit, freezing cold.
Kona 2007: 2.4 mile swim 1:06 - clear water, beautiful sights but had no opportunity to slow down. Loved my speed suit.
I guess I Pr'd since I have never swam a 2.5 mile ocean swim before but to boost my ego a bit, I am feeling really confident about the 2.4 mile swim at IMKY, especially since we enter the water one by one.

After my swim I couldn't wait to get some water and to rinse off my face. Laura did great for her first 2.5 mile swim and swam 1:18. We got changed so that we could get on our bikes before it got too late. We didn't stay for awards but after checking the results today, I wish I would have caused I won my age group :) Not sure what I won (perhaps a garmin for the ocean so I can stay on course!!! J/K) but the Race Director will drop off the surprise at the Trek store so Karel can get it for me.
It ended up taking a bit of time to get the bike stuff together and for me to load myself up for a long day of riding so it was around 10:15 when we got started. I had planned on riding 112 but after a slow start of all the people in Jacksonville beach, it took a while for Laura and I to pick up the speed. Although Jax beach is a huge attraction for volleyball players, surfers and beach lovers, it is also a mecca for triathletes, runners and cyclists. I tried to stay positive about the ride but after realizing that it was close to 11am when the roads started to clear, I began to get a bit stressed. This was going to be a looonggg day and I wasn't mentally prepared.
I told Laura that I didn't think I could do ponte vedra blvd 4 times (out and back twice) as we had planned and Laura was totally cool with it. I felt bad bailing on her but she said she would do her own thing. I was ready to get away from all the people and get into my zone..or at least attempt to do so.
I had to ride back to Laura's car to get my radio and 2 frozen water bottles (which were nearly defrosted when I got them) and by 11am I was ready to get this thing started.
Luckily, Laura was heading back to my place to pick up Campy and I could not have been more grateful that she was helping me out in a HUGE way by taking campy to her house. She has a dog that has a face just like Campy's and because they are BFF's, I knew he would enjoy a day in a house, with a big backyard and plenty of places to pee and run (Campy's favorite things). Because Karel was racing in Clermont, I could not imagine leaving Campy alone all day long.
So about this long ride...
My head hurt at the beginning of the ride. It was getting close to lunchtime and I was getting hungry. I really wanted to stick to my nutrition plan so I tried to stay up with my fluids and calories. I don't need a lot of calories per hour but because it was hot, I was most concerned with staying hydrated. Also on my hourly intake was 1 Hammer endurance amino to keep me focused. Unfortunately, my head just wasn't in the game. I tried not to think about my school but I did. I missed Campy. I wanted to eat lunch. I wanted a nap. I wanted to get cool. I decided to head away from home (since I was only 24 miles from home) and headed south on AIA to St. Augustine.
Shawn had me do 2 x 90 minute intervals. 1st one at 90% power of IM pace and then 2nd one at 100% IM power. Since neither interval was fast or hard i just stayed focused on not going too hard or too fast. I felt good in my legs for both intervals and I ended up riding 30 miles rather than 90 minutes. I tried to break down my ride into a 25 mile warm-up, 2 x 30 mile intervals and 5 miles in between. At my water break I looked at my watch and realized that it would be after 4pm if I rode 112 miles. Plus, what would I have to look forward to next weekend if I rode 112 miles...and then rode another 112 miles 4 weeks later. So, I was content with 5 1/2 hours which would get me home at 4pm. Geez....4pm are you kidding me!!!
The first part of the ride was great. I was hungry but had no cramps, no fatigue and no bonking. Because I was out of fluids I stopped at the Gate station and I surprised myself and got a Gatorade. Believe it or not, this was my first Gatorade on the bike since Kona in 2007. Yes, 2 years Gatorade-free on the bike. I have had it during a few running races but the taste of Gatorade on the bike was well, sooo refreshing. However, it didn't seem to do the job like my Heed. I kept wanting to drink it and drink it to quench my thirst. I also got a power bar (smoothie kind) and it was ok. It did help my stomach. I am waiting for my big order from Hammer so I have been without my essentials for my long rides. However, I usually do Hammer Heed + 1 scoop Chris Lieto base performance aminos and a hammer gel (vanilla is my fav)each hour. As I mentioned before, I have trained my body to not need a lot of calories so I try to keep it simple. I only eat bars in 3rds every hour after 2 1/2 - 3 hours so my tummy welcomed a bit of the power bar when I stopped. However, I missed the Hammer bar :(
As I got into the last round of 30 miles my stomach really started to tighten up. It was hurting really bad. Ange told me about her stomach distress in IM Lake Placid and I wasn't sure exactly what it could be since she has a great nutrition plan. Well, it has to be hunger because my stomach was so empty it was tight. I had to sit up a lot because it just hurt to be aero. On a good note, my legs still felt great and I was still able to keep going. I didn't let this get me down or stressed (even though it was around 2pm) because at IMKY I will be fully loaded with fuel before the race, tapered and I will have a catered buffet all along the race course.
The last 30 miles were also tough because there was wind. I rode in Nocatee with developing roads so it is a quite area to do loops. On a 8 mile loop, I ended up doing 3 loops and by 3pm I was ready to head home. Finally.
I debated about going the quite way home with no stoplights, with headwind or take another road with a bit more traffic and a bike lane, where there was tailwind. Tailwind won.
At the stoplights I just looked at the cars thinking what they were thinking. Of course I was wondering if the people in cars were enjoying the AC, a lunch and perhaps a yummy afternoon snack. I'm sure they were relaxed. Here I am, Hot, sunburned (even with sunscreen), hungry and getting close to bonking because the thought of my gatorade and power bar nearly disgusts me.
Looking back and writing this, I laugh because it was a long day and this is all part of IM training. Overcoming obstacles, getting through workouts, finding what works and doesn't work and doing a bit of complaining/self-talk because after 100 have permission to say anything to yourself just make it all worth it. I recommend not complaining to others, however. Just warn your loved ones that you are glycogen depleted and to give you a few moments to cool off. Luckily, I was alone in my place and a cold shower was calling my name.
I ended up with 100.4 miles and 5 hours and 26 minutes. My wattage was in the right zone and my speed averaged 18.4 (with warm-up and warm-down). All alone, just me and my bike.
It was tough getting in ample calories from 5pm until bedtime (10pm) but I did my best.
I wasn't able to eat right after the ride (even though it was 4:30 once I put on my ice shorts, which I highly recommend! so I started with my usual post-workout drink of milk and whey protein. I wasn't in the mood for a smoothie so I poured a tall glass of milk and added in my Strawberry Body Fortress Whey protein (from Wal-mart).
Karel came home just after I prepared my drink so after he got cleaned up from his race, we headed over to Laura's to pick up Campy from his play time. I just love going to Laura's because I never know what she has cooking in her kitchen. Laura is a dietitian and a great cook and lucky us, she made banana bread! My stomach was still acting a bit weird and everything seemed un-appetizing but after a few glasses of water, I was ready to eat.
I started off with my normal post-training, long ride meal (however, I usually eat it around 11am, not 5:30pm) of 2 pieces whole wheat bread w/ 3 egg whites, 1 whole egg and skim milk. I LOVE french toast. I always scramble up the leftover egg mixture and I put raisins in the bread after dipping them in the eggs. With that I had blueberries, peach slices and banana slices on the bread (w/ cinnamon and honey) and topped that all with yogurt. Karel made pizza so I also had 1 small piece of pizza w/ mushrooms and green peppers on the side of my french toast. Around 7:30 I was ready for my Edy's mint chocolate chip slow churned ice cream w/ more fruit and cereal on top. I wasn't super hungry so I served this in a coffee cup rather than a bowl. I started with fruit, then ice cream, fruit, then a little ice cream, then cereal.
I was drinking lots of water and my head was still killing me. It was hurting me since the beginning of the ride and I knew the Heat played a huge factor in my head pain.
I knew I needed a bit more food in me so I wasn't too bonked for my run on Sun. so I finished off the night around 9pm with cottage cheese, small piece of dark chocolate (chopped) and yep, more fruit.
I knew it wasn't a lot but it probably sounds like a lot writing it down. However, I'm sure you know how it is in the heat. Food is just not your friend, especially if you have to get it all in within x-number of hours.

Sun was great. I woke up with no interest in eating after all those training fuels on Sat on the bike but I was able to get in a Wasa cracker w/ PB and a few banana slices. I know my body pretty well and depending on what I eat before a workout (or the days before) I know exactly what zone I need to train in so that I don't bonk. It is all about aerobic and anaerobic training in order to metabolize the right fuels, fats or carbs, respectively.
I wore my new Pink fuel belt that Karel got me and filled my flasks with my Heed + amino mixture.
The run started off great and I couldn't believe how good my legs felt. Yes-I was tired but I was able to run without pain!! This was a great thing and I still worry every time I run that I will re-injure myself or that I will have no control over my leg getting weak when I run. But, I've been a good athlete, doing all my exercises and icing every few hours during the day and on sun I felt strong.
My plan was 14 miles and to do my front leg lifts (stretches for my glute, hams and hips) for 10-15 seconds every 2 miles. The plan worked perfectly! I found a 1 mile circle to repeat 3 times since it had a few ups and downs (Florida rollers, not GA or KY rollers) which my legs really enjoyed. I do much better on rolling hills rather than flat surfaces.
I re-filled my bottles at a water fountain at mile 9 and by mile 11 I needed to stretch every mile. Still for 15 sec but with such a consistent run I was freaking out that I would not be able to keep this great pace up. Even though I started my run at 7:15 I was SO hot. I was jumping in yards, running through sprinklers and trying to cool off wherever I could. My stomach felt great and with no cramps I felt like I was in control of my body. My body did not control my mind!
Here's the splits for the run...
14.12 miles
8:29 (water break)
Total: 1:55.33
+ .86 w/ Campy = 15 miles (NO PAIN or WEAKNESS!!)

What a great weekend of training. It was 100% exhausting and I tried to be as detailed as possible to show that this IM training is hard stuff. Add studying all afternoon on Sunday and my weekend was 200% exhausting. My brain hurts, I can't keep my eyes open and with an exam this morning (which I did great on, to my surprise, yet I almost fell asleep by the last question), a final on Wed and a final on Fri, I could not be more excited for taper and no more school come Mon. Thanks fellow bloggers for reading my blog and for keeping me motivated!

Campy started my taper for me...


One tired, glycogen depleted, student athlete

More to come tomorrow.....
Weekend stats
2.5 mile ocean swim - 1:08.03
101 mile solo bike - 5:27
14 mile solo run - 1:55 + 1 campy mile

I am trying to use whatever brain functions I have left to study 150 pages of fat soluble and water soluble vitamins for my Adv nutrition exam tomorrow. My finals are on Wed (medical therapy) and Fri (cumulative Adv. nutrition). Nothing like finals week + last IM training week. I think I can, I think I can, I know I can......