In this three part series, let’s learn more about fueling for, during, and after a race.
Eat carbs. Don’t eat carbs. Run on an empty stomach. NO, YOU NEED SOME KIND OF ENERGY! Keep protein light. But you need fat. But fat hurts the GI. Lakjasehr kfjeroairj lkajse otgjael;rjerlkav jreg O.o
No. BAD. BAD, ATHLETE! Beer comes POST race. Wrong kind of carbohydrate for pre-race ;)
There we go, that's better.
There exist so many different theories on what’s right for pre-race fueling, it’s overwhelming and frustrating. I have read more articles than I can count on this topic. What I have learned? It comes down to trial and error, with a few generally accepted guidelines.
Every body is different. We all have different digestive systems, different caloric intake needs, different distances we are working on conquering, etc. The variables are never-ending. This is why it’s crucial that you race just as you train, to include diet/nutrition.
Things to know about pre-race fueling:
It is ideally a full meal, so give your body time to digest it. Yes, that may mean getting up earlier than the rooster, but your body will thank you. You don’t want to hear this, but it’s suggested that you eat this meal 3-4 hours before the race (4am wake up anyone?)
If you are a nervous/anxious racer, or just not a breakfast person, ingest liquid forms. Hearty smoothies and juices can be great options if your body can handle them over solid food.
Even with that bigger meal, it’s recommended that you fuel more around 30-60 minutes before a race (I will explain what I do as an example, fear not!)
Mostly carbohydrates, a little protein, next to no fat and/or fiber. This is because fat and fiber take a lot for your body to digest and can cause cramping or an unsettled stomach during a long run.
Hydration is important, but chugging water the morning of can and will hurt you. Hydration is something to focus on the days building up to the race. Chugging water without electrolytes will just flush out the electrolytes you already have in the bod.
If you are racing tomorrow, don’t implement any of this. You need time to test out what works for your body. A morning long run is the time to start testing out pre-race fueling. Don’t make your race the time to try something new.
Mix up your carb sources. Too much of one kind of sugar can actually upset your stomach. All fructose or all glucose can distress your gastrointestinal system, but a mixture of the two can help kick-start your race with no problems. Find the balance.
Too add to the above statement, Lower-Glucose index meals are preferred over higher-GI meals. (For example, a banana and oatmeal proves better for an athlete’s performance than a bagel and jelly).
What my current routine is:
Eaten roughly 3 hours to start time, I choose Van’s Gluten Free Waffles (2) with almond butter, some maple syrup, and some chia/flax seeds tossed on them. Sometimes I’ll add a half of a banana. My stomach is really touchy with fructose so avoiding straight fruit and/or smoothies and juices works best for me.
30-60 minutes prior to start:
I sip on Vega Energizer with chia seeds mixed in. Yes, I know chia means fiber; but chia also absorbs water like no other, allowing me to drink water in the morning without having to use the ladies’ room a million times pre/during race.
What I will NEVER have prerace:
Energy gels. Save ‘em. They are expensive, so why not save those for DURING the race, and each real food pre-race?
More than a single serving size of nut butter. It’s great for protein, but it’s still fatty. So be mindful if you are a nut butter person as well.
Sugar Alcohols. I don't touch them in general, but I think it's important to point out as I know plenty of athletes that love their splenda. I'm by no means judging your food choices, but my word of caution: Sugar alcohols have a tendency to cause bloat and cramping. Add in running, and I would have side stitches all race long. If you are one to like equal in your coffee, reconsider that addition on race day or just test well prior.
Something I haven’t already tested with a long run. Just don’t. Don’t do it. Stick to tried and true.
Speaking of energy gels, what about during race fueling? Part II, coming up...