Wouldn’t it be perfect if your energy levels were at their very peak on Race Day? Well, they can be! You’ve trained hard for this race, now it’s time to put the icing on the cake. Taper your training and tweak your diet right, you can ‘super-charge’ your muscles to have the race of your life!
For shorter races, such as a 5 or 10 km run, you’ll just need to “look after yourself”, so get lots of sleep, relax and eat a healthy diet based on slow-release carbohydrates, lean proteins and plenty of fruit and veg.
For longer races such as a marathon or half-marathon, triathlon, ironman, sportive or etape, taking extra care about what you eat during the few days before a race will give you the best chance of maximising your performance. After all that training, wouldn’t it be a shame if you let yourself down with poor pre-race nutrition?
1. Taper your Training
As you reduce the duration and intensity of your workouts in the week before the event, the muscle glycogen normally used to fuel your long sessions will automatically be stored by your body. You may feel jittery and desperate to squeeze in a few more miles, but you must resist temptation! A little gentle exercise will be fine, but you’ve done the groundwork now, the best you can do is rest your muscles, sleep well, eat well and take it easy!
2. Eat plenty of Slow-release Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are converted into blood glucose and used for energy or stored as glycogen in the liver and muscle. Your body can store enough carbohydrate to keep you going for approximately 90 minutes, after which it has to resort to burning fat reserves for energy and this is likely to slow you down.
Assuming that your normal diet is made up of around 60% carbohydrate (that’s foods such as wholegrains, bread, pasta, rice, potatoes AND fruit and veg) you just need to increase your carbohydrate intake by around 10%* over the three to four days leading up to the race.
Combine this with the reduction in your training, and you should start out with the maximum amount of glycogen in your body to help you perform to the best of your ability. Choose nutrient-rich, low to medium GI* carbohydrates, the less refined the better, to keep your blood sugar levels stable and sustain energy.
Try this yummy recipe for Hot Oatcakes with Orange-infused Maple Syrup.
3. Cut down on protein and fat
It’s important that you only increase your carbohydrate intake, not your overall calorie intake, so eat smaller portions of protein, and limit fat. Don’t cut this altogether; your body still needs some protein to protect your muscles and reduce the rate of digestion of the carbohydrates you are eating. Go for lean protein, such as fish, chicken and eggs, and just a little fat. A good way to reduce your fat intake is to avoid creamy pasta sauces and excess butter and cheese on your potatoes.
4. Carbo-loading is not about eating as much as you can!
Many athletes fall into the trap of eating too many calories, or eating the wrong foods during those few days before a race and this can cause weight gain and discomfort. The last thing you want it to stand on the start line feeling heavy and bloated. Poor choices for carbo-loading tend to be processed convenience foods – french fries, crisps, donuts, buttery croissants, creamy pasta meals, cheesy pizzas, lattes – which, whilst often containing carbohydrate, also contain unwanted fats. Sensible choices are oats, basmati rice, pasta with tomato-based sauces, English muffins, wholemeal toast, plenty of fruit and vegetables.
FuelSmart for Race Day (£3.99).
Nail your race with what, when and how to eat during the crucial 3 days before an event
Meal plans to give you the optimum pre-race nutrition
Delicious #GoFaster recipes, each nutritionally-formulated to provide the right carbohydrate and protein levels so you’ll stand on the start line with a spring in your step!
5. Stick to plain and familiar foods
Pre-race nerves combined with the taper in your training can play havoc with the stomach. To minimise the risk of bloating, unwanted gas and diarrhoea, it’s advisable to steer away from high fibre foods, such as lentils, pulses, bran and brown rice, even if you normally include them in your healthy training diet, and avoid unfamiliar foods (particularly relevant if you staying overnight in a hotel or with non-running friends).
Download a recipe for Rigatoni with Butternut Squash, Pancetta & Thyme, great for the night before a race.
6. Snacking is good! Eat little and often
With the taper in training, athletes can feel less hungry and this makes eating your daily carbohydrate requirement difficult. Try to eat smaller meals and snacks more frequently.
You’ll find plenty of meal plans and recipes for snacks, drinks and meals in FuelSmart for Race Day.
7. Drink, Drink, Drink
You’ll enjoy your race far better if your body is well-hydrated. Keep a bottle of water with you and sip it throughout the days prior to the event and don’t forget that tea, coffee, squash, smoothies, juicy fruits and fruit juices, even soups, will also boost your fluid intake. Keep checking that your pee is a light straw colour and try not to drink too much alcohol. See Be Smart with Hydration.
8. Pre-Race Breakfast
With the taper and your pre-race diet you should be feeling like a coiled spring, ready for action! Don’t overeat on race day; you just need to ‘top up the tank’ about 2-4 hours before the race. This will ideally be what you always eat before a long session in training. WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T EAT ANYTHING YOU HAVEN’T TRIED IN TRAINING!!
- Go for a reasonable breakfast; porridge or cereal, toast, whatever you normally eat before a long workout.
- Drink 500ml water, diluted juice or sports drink as soon as you wake up, or with your pre-race meal, and then sip on a further 500ml at regular intervals before the start. Not too much or it will be sloshing around in your stomach.
- Do the pee test – once your urine is light in colour, then you are fully-hydrated.
9. Enjoy the Race and don’t try anything new!
Ideally you will have tested various strategies to fuel your race. After around 90 minutes hard exercise your glycogen levels will run out. You’ll need to top these up or you’ll run out of steam. Around 100 calories of carbohydrate per 20 minutes, in the form of bananas, energy bars, marmite sandwiches, bagels, sports beans, gels, sports drink … whatever your preference. You need to find what suits you as an individual. It’s also worth testing out the product provided on the course during your training. If you like it, that’s good news, as you won’t need to carry anything with you. Don’t forget that you’ll also need to replenish lost electrolytes during the race, especially if you have a high sweat rate. See Go Faster Food for more advice on how to work out your race nutrition strategy, including your individual sweat rate.
10. Mission Accomplished … Relish the Recovery!
This is definitely the best part! You’ve made it. Now is the time to enjoy the recovery, you’ll certainly deserve it! Eat a snack and have a good drink immediately after the race, preferably a sports recovery drink containing electrolytes and a 4:1 ration of carbohydrate to protein. You’ll probably find something in your goody bag to eat; you may not feel like it but it really does help. Your body may be crying out for salty foods if you have sweated a lot; this is when it’s actually good to eat chips or crisps! Treat yourself to a good meal as soon as you can stomach it after the race. This time you’ll need plenty of carbohydrates and protein to aid muscle recovery. High G.I., or fast-release carbs are best to eat straight after the race. They’ll get into your bloodstream quickly to kick-start the recovery process. Keep drinking plenty of water throughout the day and don’t drink too much alcohol – your body needs time to recover.