It wasn't too long ago when I was staying up way past my bedtime to watch Karel race Pro 1/2 in night criterium events. The start time for these events could be anywhere between 6-9pm! Oh the adrenaline watching these cyclists go round and round the downtown streets, making sharp turns and accelerating past one another, while attacking and dodging sketchy movements.
If you are an athlete training for an event, there's a good chance that your event starts early in the morning. Night races, however, are growing in popularity, for a variety of reasons. While an event may cover the same distance regardless of the start time, there are unique obstacles to overcome when racing in an evening race - specifically nutrition.
Seeing that most athletes train early morning and race early morning, there are plenty of opportunities to understand what foods will work the best before and on race day morning. As for a night race, you may struggle to understand what to eat during the day and right before you event when you are not use to competing so late in the day. Your sleep cycle may get thrown off, your mental state may be out of whack and more so, your digestive system has been trained to flow stronger at certain times in the day. All of this can make a night event very stressful!
But not to worry. Here are my suggestions to help you fuel for a night race/event:
- Nutrient timing - One of the most important tips for fueling for a night race is watching your fat and fiber intake in the 4-6 hours before the event. Nerves, large food portions or excessive snacking can increase the risk for GI issues. It's best to start the day with a large filling breakfast of carbs, protein and fat and then aim to eat small mini meals every 2-3 hours throughout the day. Never let yourself get too hungry during the day.
- The day before matters - Although what you eat on race day can help stabilize blood sugar levels and top off your fuel tank, what you eat in the 24-hours before race day will most likely affect your race day performance. Eat too little or too much the day before your event and there's a good chance that you will feel low energy or stuffed before/during your event - which may lead to last-minute over-eating or under-fueling. Treat the day before race day as you would for a morning event - start off with a large breakfast and taper off your meals throughout the day so that you don't go to bed (the night before your night race) with a full/uncomfortable belly.
- Practice in training - Unless your race is a last-minute idea, don't let race day be the first day that you think about dialing in your pre-race/during race fueling. It's suggested to plan at last 3-4 "long" workouts in the evening (around the same time as your race - within reason) to practice your nutrition during the day, as well as before and during your workout. Not only will you build confidence in your nutrition but you will also get to know how your body responds to certain efforts in the evening. Also, consider practicing a good warm-up before your workouts that you can apply to race-day. If your body is use to performing in the morning, you may need a little more time to wake-up the body before an evening race.
- Don't overdo caffeine - It's very normal for individuals to use caffeine as a pick-me-up during the work day and athletes are not immune to using caffeinated beverages to function in life. Excessive use of caffeinated beverages is not encouraged before a night race - this includes energy drinks, caffeine pills and coffee. Although a cup of coffee, as part of your normal morning routine, is just fine, too much caffeine can act as a laxative (not what you want before a race) and may cause extra stress on the heart, not to mention possible dizziness, light-headedness and nausea. The best strategy for an evening race is to do a light warm-up in the morning and then plan another light pre-race workout as you would normally do in the 90 minutes before your event.
- Don't stress - If you are an athlete who normally experiences pre-race GI issues due to nerves/anxiety, consider adding meditation/visualization and other coping strategies into your race day regime to help reduce your pre-race worries. Even with the best training and nutrition plan, some athletes aren't equipped for night races. But hey, you won't know unless you try!