The nutrition goal for any performance-minded endurance athlete is to create a fueling and hydration strategy that delivers carbohydrates to the working muscles based on event intensity and duration and to minimize major dehydration and body mass losses. Carbohydrates and fluids play a very important role in your ability to adapt to training, while keeping your body in good health. By incorporating sport nutrition and proper fueling methods (pre and post workout) into your daily regime, you will not only improve health and performance but you will gain confidence for race day, all while keeping your body in optimal health.
As simple as it sounds to "eat lots of carbs" before your race in order to load liver and muscle glycogen stores with carbohydrates to delay fatigue, pre-race fueling is a personalized science that requires time and trial and error. Although I am a proponent of carbohydrate consumption before race day, if you have yet to fine-tune your pre-workout fueling in training, train your gut and develop a healthy relationship with carbohydrates, you may end up with a bloated, uncomfortable and heavy feeling in your belly at a time when you want to feel light, empty and comfortable.
Because exogenous carbohydrate oxidation (how well your body digests and absorbs carbs) is limited by the absorption in the intestines, a limiting factor as to why some athletes are more efficient at absorbing and oxidizing sport nutrition (without GI issues) is related to training the body to accept nutrition while working out (training the gut). Additionally, the carbohydrate content of your diet will influence how well you can digest and absorb carbohydrates during training/racing.
The gut is highly trainable and athletes who regularly consume adequate dietary carbohydrates on a daily basis and consume sport nutrition regularly during workouts have an increased capacity to absorb nutrition while training/racing. If you experience dizziness, nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting or diarrhea during training/racing, it's important to reflect on the quality of your current diet, your relationship with food (especially carbohydrates), your overall gut health, stress management and your workout fueling/hydration practices. Although some athletes are more susceptible to gut issues during training/racing, most GI issues can be avoided. Seeing that many triathletes fail to establish an effective fueling/hydration plan in training in order to apply to race day (insert too many fasted workouts or not making the time eat before a workout), there's reason to assume that many race day nutrition-related issues can be prevented in training with better planning and application.
RACE DAY MEAL TIPS
To optimize endurance performance, consume between 1-3 grams of carbohydrates, per kg body weight, 3-3.5 hours before your event. For a 130 lb athlete, this would equal 118-177g carbohydrates (472-708 calories). Consume an additional 15-20g of protein and fat to slow digestion, stabilize blood sugar levels and to prevent hunger.
What would a well-planned pre-race meal look like?
- ½ cup granola cereal (40g carbs)
- 1 cup blueberries (21g carbs)
- 1 tbsp nut butter (3g carbs)
- 1 cup milk (12g carbs)
- 1 banana (27g carbs)
- 1/8 cup raisins (16g carbs)
- Total: 119g carbs
- (optional add 1/2 cup applesauce for an additional 21g carbs)
To help get you started, here are some dietary carbohydrate food suggestions to combine with ~10-15g protein/fat of your choice:
Sensitive stomach – stick with low fiber/residue carbohydrates
- Saltine crackers
- Melba toast
- Rice or corn based crackers/cereal
- Cream of wheat or grits
- White pita bread
- White rice
- Boiled potatoes
- Pulp-free juice
- Dried fruit – raisins, dates, figs, apricots
- Syrup and/or honey
- Fresh Fruit
- Sport bar
Creating the perfect pre-race meal can be challenging, especially if you fail to routinely apply good fueling strategies before every long workout. Also, if you only race but a few times per year, this leaves little room for error and a lot of hope that your anticipated food choices will work flawlessly come race day.
Don't let all your hard work in training go to waste.
Considering that an escalation of nerves, anxiety, fear or excitement can lead to unwanted digestive problems on race day, it's to your advantage to immediately start dialing in your race day meal so that come race week, you don't say to yourself, "I have no idea what to eat on race day morning?!?!"