Essential Sports Nutrition


Pre-race nutrition: Train like you compete

Training is easy. You feel great when you get your endorphin boost, you can control your environment (or select your terrain), there is no pressure because no one is watching or tracking you and you know that if a workout doesn't go as planned, you always have tomorrow to try again.

On the other hand, race day is stressful! Competition, and being in an unfamiliar and/or uncontrolled environment, brings anxiety, nerves and expectations. It's easy to compare yourself to other athletes and experience a heightened fear of failure. Never in training do you feel what you feel on race day and that is why only a select number of athletes can compete better than they train. Far too many athletes will finish a race feeling like they underperformed, relating back to all the amazingly great workouts that they crushed, yet feel defeated as to why they were unable to perform on race day, despite feeling so prepared. 

One of the great challenges for triathletes is translating training into a great race day result. With three sports to master on race day, in unpredictable environmental conditions, this can be difficult. Thinking back to this quote posted above, far too many athletes are overly confident in training yet lack the necessary confidence, physical skills, nutrition readiness and mental strength on race day.

Competing like you train seems like an obvious strategy to bring confidence on race day but a better approach is to train like you compete.

If you think about all that you (try to) do on race week/day in order to set yourself up for success, why not put that same focus, energy and attention to detail into training? 
  • Restful sleep
  • Organized and planned diet
  • Good mobility
  • Relaxation and visualization/meditation
  • Good warm-ups
  • Proper fueling
  • Great daily hydration 
  • Reviewing the course maps
  • Rehearsing race strategy/execution
  • Ensuring gear/equipment is in great condition
It seems obvious that if you are going to do something on race day, you should repeatedly do it in training, but far too often is this not the case. Rushed and busy schedules, poor planning and lack of application causes athletes to gain confidence is subpar performances by the body. In other words, you are simply getting by rather than making physical investments for race day. 

If you want to perform well on race day (who doesn't?) it is important that you nail the little things in training. In reference to this blog, this means practicing your pre race and race day nutrition many times in training to ensure confidence for race day. The purpose of training is to build physical and mental skills, habits and strategies that will translate into an optimal performance by your body on race day. Sadly, many athlete get really good at performing workouts underfueled and undernourished and expect to put together a fail-proof pre race and race day fueling and hydration strategy. I think of this like riding a bike - if you are always riding with poor bike handling skills, you can't expect to master bike handling skills on race day, simply because it's race day. The same is true for nutrition. If you are putting together a complex, detailed and precise diet and fueling/hydration strategy for the 48 hours before a race and for race day, but you never practice this approach in training (repeatedly), you've been training half prepared but you are expected to compete 100% prepared. Unfortunately, success doesn't happen this way. You must give 100% to your training if you want to compete well on race day.

The more you treat training like it's race week/ race day, the easier you will find it to perform at your highest level when it counts. Simply put, don't do anything drastic on race week/day that you didn't practice in training. 

In route to my first half ironman (IM 70.3 Florida) to kick stat my 11th season of endurance triathlon racing (with Karel also racing), I made the effort to practice my pre-race fueling strategy similar to what I plan to do this coming Saturday (4/8), on the day before the race. With a 3:45 hr brick on Saturday this past weekend, Friday was the perfect opportunity to gain confidence in my well-practiced meals for race day. Considering our travel logistics (staying in a rental home with a full kitchen), knowing the area (Publix grocery store near by) and traveling by car, I put together three meals to ensure that I would easily meet my carbohydrate needs without feeling too full or uncomfortable. All of these meals have been consumed prior in training, but never all in one day. I gained a lot of confidence in practicing my nutrition for a full day as it kept me from overeating or second guessing what/how much I was eating.  Because I never worry about eating too much on a daily basis, I always want to make sure I am eating "enough" to ensure that my body is primed and fueled to perform in every single training session. I gain a lot of confidence from high quality workouts with my healthy, strong and fit body.

Here is what I plan to eat next Saturday on the day before IM 70.3 FL. 

I will first have a small snack before my pre-race workout, likely some saltine crackers w/ nut butter and a hardboiled egg and ~200 calories of sport drink on the bike and run for a ~75 minute morning brick. After the workout, I will have a recovery drink w/ a pre-made protein/carb mix along with milk. Then, I will have homemade pancakes (which I will make ahead of time and then freeze for our travel) topped with lots of syrup, butter on some and nut butter on the others, topped with fruit.

For a mid morning snack, I will likely snack on more fruit. Of course, lots of water and I will salt my food.

For lunch, breakfast tacos w/ eggs, spinach, avocado spread and cheese with a side of pretzels (or chips) and fruit. This goes down really easily and sits better in my belly than a sandwich or wrap. I will make the stuffing for the shells ahead of time and bring the tacos shells with me.

For an afternoon snack, I will likely snack on some granola and raisins along with a little nut butter (probably straight off the spoon) and some more fruit. I try to keep my veggies low in the 48 hours before the race to reduce the residue in my gut.

For an early dinner, I will either have pasta w/ tempeh and marinara topped with cheese or basmati rice. Although I practiced with pasta to see how it sat (felt fine), Karel and I both like pizza/pasta two nights before a race so I may stick with rice on Saturday evening. 

I'm looking forward to using IM 70.3 FL as a great opportunity to dust off the rust, take some risks, put the past 5 months of consistent training to good use and experience the hurt of half IM distance racing (I haven't raced an endurance tri since winning Lake Logan 70.3 in August!). Although my mind keeps taking me to St. George 70.3, which is on May 6th, I'm trying to keep myself in the moment, understanding that this race is a great opportunity to be in the race environment and compete like I train.
I'm also excited to share the course with Karel, along with several of our Trimarni athletes (Chris, Stephanie, Kim, Julie and Freddy).

If you are racing, volunteering or spectating at IM FL 70.3 next weekend, I hope to see you. I don't mind hellos pre-race or cheers on race day! :)