Pre-race nutrition will have less of an affect the shorter the race (10k and below), but still should not be ignored. Eating a balanced combination of complex carbohydrates and lean protein at each meal should be sufficient, with emphasis being on diet quality rather than quantity of calories or carbohydrates. For longer races though, how you fuel your body in the days leading up to a race and morning of can greatly impact your performance. Here are some common mistakes and tips to avoid them:
Tapering is a tricky process. Cutting back on miles can leave some people feeling sluggish and as a result, many people cut back on calories to compensate for their lack on activity. Personally, I too used to fear pre-race weight gain from running less and eating more carbohydrate. Reality is, this is the time to top off your glycogen stores to assist your body in delaying race-day fatigue and dehydration.
How to approach it: The key to proper carbo-loading is to increase your carbohydrate intake without increasing your overall caloric intake. Focus on quality, complex carbohydrate sources like fruits, oats, wheat bread, sweet potatoes, rice, cereal and pasta. Make the transition slowly and remember, this is not an excuse to over-indulge on sweets!! According to Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook, you should aim for up to 4g of carbohydrate per day for proper pre-race carbo-loading.
Last Minute Carbo-Loading
Don't wait until the day before the race to start your carbo-load. Stuffing yourself with pasta the night before is not ideal and will likely lead to a feeling of fullness and gastrointestinal distress race morning.
How to approach it: Proper carbo-loading takes place over the span of a week. Build a base by maintaining an adequate daily intake of carbohydrate (55-65% total calories from carbohydrate) to avoid glycogen depletion. 2-3 days before your race, increase your intake to 4g carbohydrate per pound body weight. For a 150lb man, that equates to 600g carbohydrate or 2,400 calories from carbohydrate per day. Ease into change, and drink plenty of water throughout. Some racers find that eating their biggest meal at breakfast or lunch the day before a race works better than at dinner the night before.
Adequately fueling for your goal race is essential in optimizing your fitness potential. After putting in months of hard effort, it's important to follow through with proper nutrition that will prevent the dreaded "bonk" and leave you feeling like a rock-star out on the course!
Not sure how to set up the best nutrition plan to optimize your race day success? A Sports Dietitian can help! One of my favorite things is counseling athletes on their race day nutrition to they can have a successful and more pleasurable racing experience!
Kristen Chang is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) and endurance athlete residing in southwest Virginia alongside her husband and dog. Through this blog she aims to share favorite fueling recipes, general wellness and sport nutrition tips and stories from her athletic endeavors.
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