Pre Race Nutrition

Whelp, here I am again, in the week before a race.  Taper week.  I’ve written before about the perils athletes face during race week.  You’ve done all the training, and at this point too much training might actually hurt your race.  You’re ready. You just want to do it already!  Plus there are the worries about injuries or illness popping up.  It can be a frustrating and anxiety provoking time period but there are things you can focus on.  What’s that you ask? Mainly proper nutrition and adequate rest!

So what is the key to pre-race nutrition?  Well, nutrition professionals don’t always agree on the specifics about the “right” way to do things, probably because there isn’t one perfect way.  Conventional wisdom calls for carb loading for endurance activities lasting greater than 2-3 hours and this is the protocol I typically follow as it seems to work for me.

More recently there have been RDs and athletes experimenting with fat loading instead of carb loading, and having success, particularly with ultra endurance events.  It’s important to find out what works right for each individual athlete based on sport, special nutritional needs, and preferences.  One thing most nutrition professionals will agree upon regardless of where they stand on fat vs carbs is this: do not try anything new or different the week before the race.  This is not the time to check out that new Indian buffet down the street!  Continue eating foods your body is familiar with to avoid any GI distress.  If your event will last longer than 2-3 hours consider upping your carbohydrate intake for 2-3 days prior to the event.  Avoid the fallacy of the pre-race pasta binge.  Eating  one giant carb-packed meal the night before the race won’t help you maximize glycogen stores and may cause stomach upset.  Proper carb loading requires increasing your carb intake to up to 10 grams carb/kg body weight (4.5 grams/pound bodyweight)  for 2-3 days leading up to the event.  If you carb load correctly you will gain some water weight, as each gram of carbohydrate is stored  (as glycogen) with 3 grams of water.  However, during this phase you will need to slightly cut back on protein and fat to avoid exceeding your energy needs and gaining true weight.

The type of carbs you choose to fill up on can vary with preferences. A mixture of whole grain and processed carbs is okay during this time, as too many whole grains may cause GI issues due to the high fiber content and too much white bread/processed carbs can lead to blood sugar highs and lows (and accompanying symptoms). My carb loading days include lots of oatmeal (mix in pumpkin for a tasty bonus!), bagels, French toast, pasta, sweet potatoes, fruits, low fat yogurt, and cereal.  It’s fun for a couple of days to splurge on carbs, but if you are doing it right you’ll likely be sick of them by day three!

As mentioned above your body stores carbohydrate with water, so it’s important that you are drinking adequate fluids during this time as well (although water is always important!). Carbohydrate drinks can be used to meet carb and fluid needs.

Morning of the race:

The guidelines for carbohydrate intake prior to an endurance event are 1-4 grams carb/kg body weight 1-4 hours pre-event.  The closer to the event you are eating, the less you’ll want to consume- i.e. 1 gram carb/kg body weight if you are eating 1 hour pre-event.  How early before the event you eat depends on what time the race is, how early you are willing to get up, and knowing how long it takes for your stomach to feel digested before an intense workout.  Most athletes will aim for 2-3 hours pre race.

My plan for the Pikes Peak Ascent(tried and true for me, I’m not saying I recommend it for everyone) is as follows :about 1.5 hours pre event I’ll eat a bagel thin w/ 1 TBSP peanut butter, 1 TBSP honey, 1/2 banana, coffee, and ~4-6 oz beet juice.  Then 30-45 min prior: 1 packet Generation UCAN made with 12 oz water.  I’ve tried all these things before and they seem to work with my digestive system. But wish me luck anyway!

To sum it up: good nutrition, lower training volume, hydration, and good sleep = good race!

Good luck to all the Pikes Peak and Leadville runners this weekend!  🙂



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