The same way athletes train for weeks to prepare themselves for a race, they should follow a nutrition plan that helps muscles adapt and store the maximum energy possible. Another race-day nutrtition tip is to study the race course in advance and the type of food that will be provided at aid stations so they can train with that exact same nutrition plan and see if it agrees with their body. The golden rule is to not try nothing new on the race- day!
Tomorrow is race day. What do you eat?
THE NIGHT BEFORE
To top up your fuel stores (liver and muscle glycogen), you should eat a carbohydrate-rich meal the night before. That doesn’t mean you need to overeat nor feel bloated after this meal, you must have a regular-sized meal based in carb-rich food like rice, pasta, quinoa, potatoes.
One day before and during the race, avoid food with lots of fiber, fat or protein in order to avoid gut perturbations and drink lots of water to stay hydrated.
Breakfast might be the last full meal athletes eat before the race, so it’s extremely important. Runners should have their breakfast 3-4 hours before the start and consume a considerable amount of carbohydrates (~100-200g), so the meal contributes to increasing glycogen stores in the liver and therefore increasing the availability for muscle utilization as an energy source which improves performance.
Some options might be: oatmeal porridge with chopped banana (you also have “on the go” options), a bagel with some peanut butter and honey on it, (low-fat) waffles/pancakes with syrup and a fruit, some might prefer to eat some rice/pasta for breakfast, all options are valid as long as they are carb-rich options. If coffee works for you, go ahead and take it too!
BEFORE AND DURING THE RACE
You might feel better if you eat a little snack 5-15 minutes before starting to race. It’s common for athletes to take water bottles with them on the race and a sports gel or bar to top up energy levels. Be sure you try this out during training and that you feel well with it.
During the race, you must pay attention to your carbohydrate and fluid intake. Recommendations for carbohydrates are:
- 30g CHO/h if you are running 1-2h ~ 1 gel or 1 banana per hour.
- 60g CHO/h if you are running 2-3h ~ 2 gels per hour.
- 90g CHO/h if you are running more than 2,5h ~ 3 gels per hour.
When it comes to fluids, athletes should not lose >2% of weight during a race. Avoid this by drinkin 600mL-1L per hour, depending on your sweat rate. If you are not using sports gel, consider drinking some sports drinks with electrolytes and carbohydrates during the race to prevent low sodium blood concentrations.
You might want to use some caffeine during your race, since it’s widely known that it has beneficial effects on performance. Nowadays, there are caffeinated bars and gels but you also have capsules of caffeine. An interesting strategy might be to ingest a dose ~3 mg/kg of weight – 1 hour before the race and then 1mg/ kg every 2 hours after that.
START RECOVERING STRAIGHT AFTER THE RACE
The recovery process should begin as soon as you cross the finish line. Don’t forget to replace fluid lost. It is recommended to drink 500mL for each 0,5kg you lose. You might add some electrolytes to your water, in order to refill your sodium and potassium levels. Eating some carbs and protein will help sore muscles recover, for example a banana or sports bar rich in carbohydrates or a shaker of whey might be a good option. Sometimes these are provided at the finish line.
For dinner, add a good source and large amount of protein, like lean meat (chicken, turkey) or fish (salmon, tuna) or veggie options (tofu, seitan, lentils), to further support your muscles recovery.
The next morning, it’s more than normal to feel even more tired and sore. Be sure that you eat protein rich foods for breakfast, like milk/yoghurt or cheese or even add whey to your breakfast.