Have you considered your race nutrition strategy?

3rd February 2017

Whether you’re training for an adventure race, obstacle course race, mountain biking or trail running event, it’s important to think about how you’re going to fuel yourself on the day AND actually practice your race nutrition strategy during training.

This might be the last of your worries, considering you’ve only just plucked up the courage to enter the race and you’re contemplating how to train for it, but this is the perfect time to think race nutrition! Why? So you can avoid the common pitfalls of getting it wrong on race day.

During these events we are exerting ourselves and using a stack of calories for energy. Our bodies primarily use the easiest source of energy which comes from carbohydrates and the resulting glycogen (instead of fat or protein macronutrients), so this is the go-to source in a race. The trouble is that when our body uses up our stores of carbohydrates, our bodies have a ‘freak out’ because it’s now running on empty. This is also known as ‘hitting the wall’ or ‘bonking’ and can mean that you don’t have enough energy to finish the race or if you do manage to do so, you can get quite sick and encounter dehydration, weakness, fogginess, fatigue even vomiting.

To combat this situation, which many of us may have probably encountered in the past, we need to ensure our carbohydrate stores are topped up prior and also have a plan of what and when we are going to eat and drink during the race. In addition, you need to practice using the nutrition you plan to use in the race during training so that you can determine if it works for you and your body. Don’t leave it till race day to try a new sports drink, food or energy gel as everyone’s body reacts differently to different products. You don’t want to be that person doubled over with stomach cramps and gastrointestinal issues. It’s not pretty.

Here’s our top tips to ensure your race nutrition strategy works like a dream for your next race;

  • Once you’ve decided which race nutrition products you’re going to use on race day, whether it be what’s provided on course or what you’re going to take with you, set out a training weekend a month or so before the race to practice using them. This could include wholefoods like bananas or dates and/or sports drinks, gels or chews. This way if they don’t work you have plenty of time to change the products and practice again. It’s important to make sure that the training sessions you’re doing on this weekend replicate your race situation as much as possible otherwise if you’re not exerting yourself in the same way or to the same level, testing of the product won’t be the same as during the race and could still cause issues. Of course if you’re racing an adventure race or obstacle race you may not be able to practice the same situations but at least try to bike and/or run to the same exertion or heart rate level in the same weather conditions so you know what you’re in for.
  • Gradually increase your carbohydrate intake over the three days leading into your race (depending on the race distance), not just the night before with a huge pasta meal. If you ‘carb load’ the night before this will leave you feeling heavy, full and lethargic as your body tries to process the excess carbohydrates you’ve just assaulted it with in a short period of time. Instead try increasing each meal over the three days with ¼ more carbohydrates than normal and try to opt for natural wholefood forms like brown rice, rolled oats, bananas, potatoes or sweet potato, not processed forms like pizza, bread, biscuits or sugary drinks. Not only will they be hard for your body to digest but they contain all sorts of other nasties like additives, preservatives, flavourings and colourings which won’t help your body either.
  • Pre-hydrate in the week leading up to your event as well. No, this doesn’t mean alcohol or soft drinks but instead go all natural and drink water till your hearts content. Our muscles are about 80% water and dehydration diminishes blood flow to the brain, the delivery of nutrients to your muscles and slows down your recovery process. Water also helps reduce the chance of injury and pain because of the key role it plays in keeping joints lubricated. In addition water helps with mental clarity and your skins appearance.
  • Ensure that you are having a light nutritious wholefood carbohydrate breakfast the morning of your race to top up the carbohydrates that your body has already processed overnight. A great idea for this is porridge topped with bananas as the oats contain slow-release carbohydrates which will cover you for the first 1-2 hours of your race as well as a good hit of protein while the bananas contain a range of nutrients to keep you going. Avoid having high fat foods like bacon and eggs as this will only make you feel sick as you’re body tries to bypass the fat to get to the glycogen stores.
  • Refuel and re-hydrate at regular intervals on race day. One big mistake a lot of people make is forgetting to eat and drink because they’re either distracted by the race itself or think that if they feel ‘fine’ they don’t need to refuel. It’s important to remember that once your body sends out the signals that you’re hungry or thirsty, it’s usually too late as it will take time for your body to process the fuel and in the meantime your body is being deprived and lowering performance to conserve. Know where the aid stations are on the course and plan your pit stops appropriately. Usually after 45mins-1hour (depending on the race distance) is a good time to have some nutrition, topping up every 30mins or so after that.

 – Written by April Gillies, Maximum Adventure’s Integrative Nutrition Guru