One of my favorite parts of racing is hearing everyone’s pre-race rituals. And by this I mean – FOOD! Most veterans have their tried and true recipes for success. I have heard everything from:
- The typical pasta
- PB on toast
- Ensure (yes that kind of Ensure)
- Cheese pizza (Guilty as charged!)
- Coffee, Coffee, COFFEEEE
Each of these has their place, and honestly, if it works for you, then great. As the old adage goes – “nothing new on race day.” If it doesn’t settle well in your gut don’t go thinking it will on a day when nerves are high and you will be recruiting that useful blood flow away from digestion to your extremities! But are there BETTER choices you can make than a few of those above? OF COURSE! So there is the question I have been posed with time after time “what SHOULD I be eating in my taper?”
Many excellent books have been written on this by people much smarter than I! The good thing is, I like to read, I like to experiment and I can honestly say I have pretty much tried anything that someone tells me may just make me faster, slimmer, better! :p So as a human guinea pig I am happy to pass along what I think works and what is BUNK!
There’s all kinds of books on nutrition, from The Paleo Diet for Athletes (quite meat based) to Thrive: The Vegan Guide for Optimal Sports Performance (Vegan) to everything in between. I have tried paleo, zone, vegan, vegetarian for fueling and they all seem to agree on a few basics in terms of race fueling:
The Days Leading up to the race:
Carbs: During the three days before the event, increase the amount of carbohydrate in your diet. This will maximize the glycogen in your muscles. So fill up on those grains, starchy vegetables, and fruits the week before the race. If you do not EAT grains, don’t start now. This will be a trend throughout this post. The basic gist is to increase this macronutrient by about 10% from your typical carb intake. If it’s as low as 20% increase to 30% if it’s at 60% increase to 70% – cool?
Protein - Since you’ll be eating more food during this time, your protein levels should increase naturally as you increase portion sizes. You will see below that the extra protein and carbs will take the place of the fat in your diet during this time.
Fat - The nutrient you need least in the week prior to the race is fat. It just doesn’t do much to help you on race day, so it’s not worth filling up on fat calories. True, your goal in training is to get your body to burn fat stores before it has to burn carbohydrates, but you have plenty of fat for this in your body, regardless of how skinny you are. I sincerely hope you’re not still stuck in the low-fat diet craze, but this is one time when slightly reducing intake of even healthy fats is beneficial. Digestion is key here and we don’t want anything that messes with that!
**In the last 3 to 4 days, really make sure that you drink regularly – literally 100 oz a day – DRINK UP! Your body performs much better when it is VERY well hydrated.
(Note: You won’t really need to carbo-load particularly before shorter races, such as 5km or 10km; just focus on clean eating, a good amount of sleep, relaxation and general ‘looking after yourself’ during the week before the race.)
The Day Before:
May I reiterate: Stick to what you are familiar with – don’t try anything new which might upset your stomach.
Drink lots of water throughout the day – be careful to stop quite early so that this does not interfere with a good night’s sleep – happens all the time!
Eat a decent lunch and dinner, something easy to cook and light on the stomach. Keep the whole food principles at hand, simple ingredients, simple foods that you know your body tolerates and digests well but fits the carb/ fat/ protein profiles above.
Eat a good breakfast and have plenty to drink about 2-3 hours before the start and again, stick to what you are familiar with. If the race starts at 9:00, eat breakfast at about 6:00. If you are a coffee drinker – now is not the time to skimp, its a proven performance enhancer HELLO drink up! Drink it with breakfast, the 3 hour rule applies.
Don’t forget to take on the water or sports drink (if you KNOW you can tolerate it) provided during the race and stick to the “fast-acting carb” strategy you have tried out in training. During a race (remember only for those longer than an hour+), you need 30-60 grams of carbs per hour and about a cup of water every fifteen minutes.
Eat a high glycemic index carbohydrate (think bananas) within 15 minutes of finishing your race along with a protein and get rehydrating ASAP. Research still says a ratio of 3:1 carbohydrate to protein is ideal for recovery. Some recovery products have this built in but many people still use good ol chocolate milk that has this natural ratio. Get some REAL WHOLE food in as soon as you can, this will begin repairing damaged muscles and tissues and aid in proper recovery. A half cup of sports drink and a scoop of protein powder will do the trick! Throw some fish oil in there for omega’s and you are well on your way to recovering for you NEXT race!
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