You do all of the training, you invest in all of the smart fitness technology and even a sleep tracker, all in anticipation of churning out a big race performance. In my experience, nutrition is an afterthought, if even a consideration at all, when it comes to performance.
This article is going to look at the simple things you can do to help you prepare for the best race performance possible & how you can optimize recovery. One thing that may surprise you is that sports nutrition tactics are probably an awful lot simpler than you may think, and that the advice given below applies equally to someone doing their first 5k as it does to the marathon runners competing in the Tokyo Olympics.
Before we get into it, let’s outline first and foremost what we are aiming to achieve when to comes to race day nutrition tactics. To make sense of this, we must look at the demands that racing places upon us – to outline specifically, when you are racing, the rate at which you burn your carb stores rises seven fold, your bodies innate cooling mechanism (sweating) results in vast fluid losses, in which you are also losing some electrolytes. After racing, your metabolism is amplified, your glycogen levels become suppressed & you are more likely to be using muscle as fuel if you don’t prepare correctly.
The aims then of sports nutrition tactics when it comes to race days, are as follows:
1) Make sure that you have plenty of carbs in your system, via carb loading, pre-race carb intake & taking some sports drinks & gels during the event if it is warranted.
2) Ensuring you are hydrated in advance of exercising will help keep your body cooler, and being well hydrated gives you margins for sweat losses, preventing it from having a large negative effect on you.
3) Make sure you get plenty of sodium into your body in and around exercise, to anticipate sweat losses, we want to make sure our bodies sodium levels don’t drop too much, as this can be dangerous.
First things first, let’s look at the carb intake side of things, many are afraid of carbs, some avoid them, it is pertinent to know that carbs are the bodies main fuel source, and we rely increasingly on them as exercise intensity increases (i.e. during a race). As such it is important to get the carbs on board, ideally opting for lower fat & fibre options in the 3hr period pre exercise, to prevent tummy issues from kicking in (foods high in fibre or fat take a long time to break down in your stomach, which can cause nasty side effects during exercise). So, in essence, pre exercise or racing, simple carbs are king. Key timings would be a high carb meal about 2-3hrs pre-race and a small carb snack (30g or so) about 30mins before things kick off.
The second and third parts of the puzzle hinge around the same thing, hydration and fluid balance. Water & sodium intake are both inextricably linked together. Dehydration will have a highly detrimental effect on your ability to perform, 1% dehydration will result in a 10% drop in aerobic output, sweat losses of 1% of your weight would be the equivalent of 1% dehydration, you lose sodium in your sweat. Having enough sodium in your diet and getting some in around racing, will help you to retain more water, and give you more margin to lose sweat, without it effecting you to a large extent. Think of getting electrolytes in as the water version of carb loading. The breakdown is below.
When it comes to post race tactics, we want you to do some very simple things, these include rehydration, refilling your glycogen tank and getting a hit of protein in to help ensure superior recovery & to preserve your muscles. These guidelines are outlined below, nailing your recovery on a session by session basis will result in your getting much more from the work you do, resulting in better race day performance, recovery tactics for regular training sessions are identical to what you should do after a race.
1) If you are doing an event that’s 2hrs or more, you need to carb load (8-10g/kg/day), aiming to use starchy foods like rice, potato, cereals, oats, couscous etc. will help
2) On race day, 2-3hrs pre-race, aim for a high carb, low fibre meal. The likes of a bowl of rice crispies, a stack of pancakes or a potato/pasta dish if the race is late in the day
3) Thirty minutes before starting, aim to get a banana & a strong hit of caffeine (optional), a double espresso or strong filter coffee will do the trick
4) Post-race ASAP get an All Real bar + some chocolate milk or a banana within 30 mins
5) Start the rehydration process, consume weight loss x 1.5 in fluids to achieve fluid balance, drop an electrolyte tablet into this for better results
6) Get a balanced meal within 2hrs, try to include some antioxidants or omega 3’s in this dish to aid recovery (salmon & veggies for example)
That’s race day nutrition 101, in it’s most basic, but highly effective form. If you want some individual advice on this topic or your nutrition in general, feel free to reach to me on Instagram @elynchfitnut and keep an eye out for me on the All Real social media platforms for Q&A’s, talks etc.