As it relates to long-distance racing, nutrition is a critical component to race day success. While what, when and how you consume sport nutrition during the race can optimize your ability to perform with your body from start to finish, equally, if not more important, is your nutrition going into a race.
From my personal experience as a Board Certified Sport Dietitian, who specializes in working with endurance athletes, here are some of the common pre-race nutrition mistakes that I see often, that keep athletes from reaching athletic excellence.
- Unhealthy relationship with carbs - A fear of carbohydrates can keep athletes from properly loading muscle and liver glycogen stores going into a race. On the other edge of the spectrum, eating every carbohydrate in sight can leave you feeling lethargic, heavy and tired. It's important to have a healthy relationship with low-fiber, easy-to-digest carbohydrates, that have been well-practiced in your training and to have a plan to keep you from under/overeating. To avoid feeling heavy going into a race, make your breakfast meal (post workout) your carb-rich meal, lunch can be satisfying and dinner should be light. While all three meals should include carbs, avoid loading yourself with carbs right before bed and instead, eat that carb rich meal in the morning (who doesn't love breakfast foods?) to give yourself plenty of time to digest the meal.
- Overhydrating before the race - Every athlete knows that proper hydration can boost performance but drinking large amounts of water in the 24-48 hours before a race, as well as on race day morning, can cause excessive urination, resulting in an electrolyte imbalance. Additionally, overdrinking can cause unwanted fullness, which can keep you from eating every few hours in the 48 hours before a race. Similar to your pre-race carbohydrate eating plan, it is also important to stay up on your fluid intake so that you don't under or overdrink. And to help with restful sleeping, make sure to not overdo it on fluids in the evening hours (which can cause you to wake up frequently throughout the night to run to the bathroom), but instead, spread out your fluid intake throughout the day, tapering off in the 2 hours before bed.
- A nervous belly on race morning - Although a nervous belly is to blame by athletes who struggle to eat on race day morning, I am shocked by how many athletes don't have confidence in their pre-race meal. While it can be tough to eat early in the morning, when nerves are high, you should have trust in your pre-race meal, knowing that it has worked for you as a pre-training meals, for most of your longer workout session. By practicing your pre-race meal (foods) in training, even if your belly is nervous, you will know that it's a non-negotiable to skip something that you have confidence in that will help you excel on race day.
Considering that most athletes spend several months training for an event, while bringing months if not years of experience into a race, it is important to recognize that every training session can prepare you for race day. Having confidence in your pre-race nutrition is a game changer. The athletes who have a nutrition plan going into a race typically experience less GI issues on race day, more energy during the race and more confidence, as it's one more thing within their control, assisting in performance excellence.