I am sure we have all been there – feeling like we just don’t have “enough in us” during training or a race … and even worse, maybe some have felt the feeling of “hitting the wall”. This happens when we haven’t fuelled our bodies correctly before or during a race and we simply run out of gas!! After all, the food we eat is the fuel our body uses to convert into energy that enables us to move!
From this we can see that the correct pre-race nutrition is really important! So what do you focus on? Let’s look at this in a few stages …
1. The week prior to a race
This is the time to focus on getting high quality nutrients into our diet. We don’t need to worry too much about specifics here, but making sure you get some good quality carbohydrates (e.g. wholegrain rice, sweet potato, quinoa, seeded bread) fats (avocados, nuts, fish) and protein (lean meats, fish, dairy, eggs) is vital here. Not only that, but making sure you get your 5-a-day to help your body recover from the damage you’ve done during your intense training, and making sure it is raring to go again in time for your race! Hydration is also very important for performance, and it is a good idea to start thinking about this throughout the week (don’t leave it to the last minute and down a pint of water on the start line, that won’t do you any good!). In terms of “carbohydrate loading” this is not necessary for the majority of people … generally by reducing your training load (i.e. tapering your training) and focussing on a normal intake of carbohydrates at each meal, you will naturally store more carbohydrates (as you will be using less!).
2. The hours leading up to the race
Most races occur in the morning, which can be difficult for some to get some fuel in. The key here is to practice what works for you. During one of your training sessions it is a good idea to mimic your routine and test out the timings that will happen on race day (i.e. practice getting up at the same time, eating when you would on race day, and training at the say time the race would start). For those of you who can get up 2-3 hours before the race, having a slower-release carbohydrate will be a good idea, especially if your race duration is longer that 1 hour. A great example of this is porridge and it can be topped with some faster released carbohydrates like banana and honey too (best of both worlds!), or peanut butter & honey on wholegrain toast is good too. If you don’t have much time to eat before the race, try having a fast-releasing carbohydrate snack an hour before – for example a banana, some dried fruit, a fruit yogurt, or even a flapjack or dried fruit & nut bar. Again, be sure to keep hydrated here too … use your urine frequency, colour and amount as a guide here as everybody is different – if you are going lots and it is very pale you are likely hydrated, but if you aren’t going much and it is dark yellow it is likely you need to up your intake slightly. Sip water little and often to ensure you retain the water.
3. During the race
This totally depends on the duration of your race. If you are exercising for less than 1 hour, your body will have stored enough carbohydrate from your pre-race nutrition to get you through. If you are exercising for more than one hour, you may want to take on board some quickly digested / fast release carbohydrates – jelly babies and sports drinks are a popular choice. Water is dependent on your sweat rates and duration of the race – if you are a heavy sweater or have a longer race you will need to consume water, practice this during training to get it right for you. If you don’t sweat much and are only doing a shorter race, it is unlikely that you will need much fluid during the race.
4. After the race
The race is over, but your nutrition strategy should not be over just yet! If you want to recover well you need to think about eating the right foods to help with your recovery. A key nutrient to focus on here is protein – so aim to get a portion (20-30g) of protein in your next meal (e.g. a chicken breast, a salmon fillet, a 3-egg omelette) – or you could also get good protein from a pint of milk, or even a whey protein drink.
So that’s a brief summary of some key nutritional guidelines for your race day!
Any questions please get in touch over on my “contact me” page!
Good luck with the race!