Race Day Meals
Race day nutrition is very tricky and requires a lot of experimentation. Everyone is unique and some real trial and error is needed to find the ideal pre-race dinner the night before. Breakfast is even harder to figure out, since it might not be needed or even desirable. I failed miserably last summer at Northstar by not eating and drinking in small, frequent amounts. Instead I got behind, tried to catch up which forced my gut to rebel and shut down.
But my recent two races went off very well from pre-race dinner to post-race lunch. I am very excited about what I discovered.
I used to love a big bowl of whole wheat pasta with a thick, chunky sauce jammed with vegetables for dinner the night before. For breakfast, I loved my usual oatmeal, or a lentil spread on toast. I don’t these things anymore. Can you figure out why?
For any other meal, fiber rich foods are the goal. It slows down digestion and keeps your blood sugar and energy on an even keel. But that’s not what you want before or during a race. That pasta dish? Had me seeking bathrooms as desperately as the Oakland Raiders for a head coach. Lentils for breakfast? Awesome on a regular day, but not so nice when charging hard on the race course, trying to get fuel out of the gut and into the muscles and the brain.
THE LOW FIBER WAY TO A GREAT RACE
My pre-race dinner is now white rice with a few veggies for color and texture. Or potatoes, baked, steamed or mashed with a little seasoning or sauce. I eat dinner early because I want all of that food out of my system before the gun goes off.
TO BREAK THE FAST OR NOT?
Steve Born of Hammer nutrition recommends no breakfast. He would rather sleep. His reasoning is that food consumed too close to the race will slow down in digestion and interfere with fat burning. Muscle glycogen is already full if you train and eat properly, so that breakfast won’t really help. Instead he suggests at most taking a gel right before the start, get into your pace, and just start fueling the way you usually do. This sounds weird, but it works. If the race is under two hours you probably don’t need anything. Longer events will need fueling, but that can be handled during the race itself.
I like breakfast. So I like to eat a little before races. I only do this if I can have three hours before the start to make sure that food is metabolized. Since my muscles are already stocked with glycogen, all the breakfast needs to do is top off the stored glycogen in the liver that was burned overnight. This amounts to only a couple hundred calories. Both of my recent races required a couple hours of driving, so I ate two smallish baked potatoes or sweet potatoes. They took the edge off my hunger, but did not bog me down.
I stuck with what I’ve used in the past, but I surprised myself by needing less. For a 2 1/2 hour XTERRA, I drank one bottle of Perpetuem, about 250 calories on the bike, which lasted about 90 minutes. I sipped on HEED during the transitions, and I had plenty of energy. In the past I was sucking down gels as well, but I did not feel I needed that much energy. Also important was not overdoing the calories thinking that I needed them and forcing my gut to fight back. Been there before, lesson learned!
Immediately after finishing, I kept moving, walking to my transition bag, getting my bottle and refilling it with water. I mixed two servings of Brendan Brazier’s Vega Recovery Accelerator which gave me about 160 calories, 35 g carbohydrate and 8 g protein. I kept sipping and walking until I felt my heart rate come down.
The XTERRA race was a bit longer and ended close to lunchtime, but I didn’t feel very hungry until after the awards. I had packed a nice soba noodle salad which made an awesome lunch. After the sprint tri, I was even less hungry, since the race was an hour shorter. Knowing that I wanted to get on the road right away, I packed onigiri rice balls for lunch since I could easily eat them while driving. Very tasty, but I may have been lacking a little in protein.