Dialing in your race day nutrition and timing - the science of experimenting, tracking minutes, and results without expensive supplements.
That dream race performance that we all want is the result of careful experimenting and planning out your race day regiment. The regiment is a different prescription for each distance and event but one thing is consistent – it’s a science of minutes. Have you ever paid attention to how many hours you wake up before an event to have a good race? Do you know how many calories, fluids, and grams of fat, protein, carbohydrate, and simple sugars you can take in for a high calorie quality REAL FOOD pre race meal that absorbs quickly and well enough before the race? Have you ever dialed in your fluid oz per hour, calories per hour, and sodium mg per hour and how many minutes to space out your fueling? If you use caffeine for longer races do you know how to time the intake and slow the absorption so it’s consistent throughout the event and you don’t burn out in the early stages?
The truth is most competitors dont. It’s a sporadic method of taking their pre gym exercise regiment and sprinkling in some extra food and fluids as insurance for a race. This is no guarantee whatsoever that you will have a good result. Many competitors I interview make huge mistakes. Their race nutrition is learned from hear-say, endless exotic marketing of expensive drinks, bars, and gels. Even fitness magazines, weight room fitness professionals, and practices from stop-go sports have rooted poor fitting advice in triathletes and endurance athletes.
Race day is a completely different science. The difference between a mid pack athlete and a top finisher with respect to this topic is the top finisher has many times experimented and practiced this regiment to something that’s second nature and guarantees a good result. The regiment works properly at race level efforts – that’s the key thing to learn.
You need to learn your own body, chemistry, food choices and performance characteristics. When you wake up on race day everything should be like clockwork leading up to the start. We test our max heart rates, speeds, thresholds, and efforts. But have you ever tested THIS? What is the maximum amount of your preferred race nutrition regiment you can have before an early AM time trial, feeling fast, and not experience stomach discomfort. You must figure out (and it won’t be a lot) what you can eat and drink before a 400meter time trial swim, a 10k bike time trial, and a 1.5 or 1.55 if your obsessive mile run test – not on the same day of course. What you will learn is a race nutrition base. Translated to plain English you need to answer this bizarre question. What is the most of my preferred pre race meal and drink I can have, how fast can I eat and drink it, is there anything I can do to make it absorb faster, how much time lapses between that first drink/bite before I can red line myself in a time trial and not feel like I’m going to throw up. You’ll be surprised when you learn how your body responds a little differently in each of the sports.
If you tune yourself to wake, eat, drink, and time trial successfully you now have a base that you can build on and develop a regiment for each event and distance. For an example of this in practice after 5 years timing and experimenting I developed my own pre race regiments that I can trust. For races lasting 90 minutes or more I wake 3 hrs before the start and I have 10oz coffee, 12 minutes later I have a blended pre race meal shake consisting of 1 banana, 1 pear, 4oz orange juice, and 20grams whey protein mix. 20 minutes later I have another 10oz coffee, 12 minutes later I have ½ cup of oatmeal and follow it with another 10oz coffee. It’s that specific – any variation from this for me impedes performance. As you can see, that’s a lot of food and fluid to take in for a 5’9” 170lb person that quickly but for me it does absorb fast and I have no stomach discomfort issues during the event.
My own personal discovery and changes.
The biggest thing I learned and had to change was not drinking additional water after the race meal since I am a heavy coffee drinker. Emotionally it was a gamble as my head was telling me I was sealing a dehydrated death but the reality is I’m already taking in 30+oz water just from the coffee itself. Additional water just caused me discomfort and I had to pee way too often before the start. I can have 8oz water 10 minutes before the race and drink during the event instead. The second biggest thing was to cut off eating at 2hrs (90 minutes or less was pushing it) to avoid discomfort from the meal still being in my stomach. The third biggest thing was I COULD have protein. Much like the “chase coffee with lots of water” myth I could finally throw the “no protein before a race” rule in the trash. Just 20-25grams quickly absorbing isolated whey protein mix was all it took to get an extra 80-100 calories and make my pre race meal more nutritionally complete.