How to eat and when to eat it!
Race day nutrition is highly individualized and often times the general rule of thumb is, “If it tastes OK in training, chances are it won’t work in a race. If it tastes great in training, it might work in a race.” Because racing situations greatly magnify and change the taste of all food and drink, it is important to remember that the best source of calories and fluid for a race comes from those that you can get down and keep down. Most of the time, fluids or gels are usually a better choice than solid foods.
Depending on the length of your race and the environmental conditions, you may or may not need as much fuel. Water can be used in race situations of 45 minutes or less (as long as you fueled up prior to the race) while sports drinks or easy-to-digest foods, liquids or gels should be used thereafter. Carbohydrates, fluid and sodium are the most important nutrients during competition and should be an integral part of your race nutrition plan.
I know it’s tough to try to choke down something on race morning but you need to get some carbohydrate in your body because you are coming off of an overnight fast and internal glycogen stores are used as you sleep. Eat 2-4 grams of carbohydrate (8-16 calories) per kilogram of body weight 2-4 hours before the start of the race and drink about 20 ounces of sports drink during this time also. Sip on around 10 ounces of a sports drink 10-20 minutes prior to the start.
During the Race
Since athletes absorb different amounts of calories per hour, it is important to experiment with quantity during training. In general, for shorter races, consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrate (120-240 calories) per hour. For longer races (more than 8 hours), you may be able to experiment with up to 90 grams (360 calories) per hour.
Because fluid empties from the stomach very differently from athlete to athlete, experiment with fluid quantities during training also. In general, drink 1-2 bottles of fluid per hour (including carbohydrate and sodium) and divide this into about 3-8 big sips/gulps every 15-20 minutes.
After the Race
The key nutrition components to consume within 30-60 minutes (the sooner the better) after a race are fluid, carbohydrate, protein and electrolytes. Check the labels on your favorite products and food to meet the following criteria.
Fill up your fluid and carbohydrate “tanks” post-race by drinking about one bottle of sports drink for every pound of body weight that you lose and eat about 50-100 grams (200-400 calories) of carbohydrate. This can come in the form of liquid, solid or gel, whichever you prefer.
For protein, it is good to eat from 10-20 grams (40-80 calories) to help speed recovery along with at least 500-700 milligrams of sodium. Try to keep the fat intake very low if consumed at all in this window directly after a race.
After this initial post-race feeding, you can sit back and enjoy without worry that your recovery process will be enhanced. Reward yourself with a mixed meal made up of carbohydrate, protein and fat about 2 hours after you finish and keep drinking those fluids for the next few hours to re-hydrate your body.
Remember, a well-planned nutrition program may mean the difference of setting a new PR, a win, finishing, or simply feeling good at the finish. Don’t overlook your nutrition training for your race. Plan ahead and try it in your training under race simulation conditions first.