After all the training that has been done leading up to your big event, the last mistake you would want to make race morning is with your pre race nutrition. There are some athletes who decide that they want to skip all the confusion and try not eating. While this may work for a morning 5K, it gets more risky with a 10K and down right nonsense for a half-marathon/marathon or triathlon. There have been several studies done that repeatedly show substantial increases in performance with proper fueling before an event. In addition to increasing performance and topping off glycogen (energy) stores, a pre race meal will also help avoid hunger, stabilize blood sugar (especially in those who are sugar sensitive), hydrate the body, still leave your stomach empty by race time and help prevent gastrointestinal distress when done correctly. So in other words, you will feel and perform better. The key is to customize your eating habit based on your weight, race distance and food sensitivities.
Here are some basic guidelines to follow for a pre-race morning:
What about bars and drinks? Based on the above guidelines, the most acceptable bars seem to be Clif bars as they are specifically formulated to have a moderate glycemic index. However, some flavors seem to stabilize blood sugar better than others. Also, some people do well with some flavors of powerbars. If you are used to the bars with nuts and seeds (probars,) then that may be OK, too (see tip 5 above).
As far as pre race hydration drinks, choose wisely since there are quite a few people who can’t do any high carb drink before races due to the high glycemic nature of them. However, they are great if you drink it 30-45 minutes before the race. If you do this, pick one that uses maltodextrin as the carb source. Some drink companies that do this are Endurox, Hammer, and Cytomax. No matter what brand you pick, make sure to add 40 grams of carbs to 16 OZ of water to get the right concentration of carbs that will absorb most effectively![ii]
What about smoothies and meal replacement drinks. When you are at home, smoothies can be a great option. It is easy to alter these to give you the whey protein and low glycemic carbs you need and are used to. The thicker the smoothie the more full you will feel if you are trying to substitute one for a solid meal. Also, don’t add overripe fruits or high glycemic juices as this will still cause a hypoglycemic reaction for some people. As for products like Ensure, some people like them as long as they are still meeting all carb needs.
What are some solid meal ideas? French toast, scrambled eggs and sliced fruit, old fashioned long cooking oatmeal served up to your liking (can be cooked the day before and heated in microwave.) whole grain cereal with moderate amounts of protein and fiber, manna bread (from local health food store,) natural applesauce with whey protein or cottage cheese mixed in, or homemade whole grain muffins that have applesauce substituted for most of the oil.
Some of these homemade products can be made 1-2 days ahead and easily be taken with you when traveling. Keep products cool that have a lot of eggs. Also, I Hop and Denny’s do come in handy. You can even buy a breakfast the night before as long as there is a mini fridge and a microwave (not mandatory.) Cold french toast is not that bad, actually.
Plan ahead and good luck! The easiest way to ensure that you will have what you need on race day is to plan ahead and be over prepared. Who care’s if your pre race stash of food is over planned. I am sure you would rather not finish your food than not finish your race. So plan ahead, be prepared and have a great, energy filled time!
[ii] Dr. Michael Colgan Optimum Sports Nutrition Advanced Research Press Pg.108
by Debbie Perry
Certified Sports Nutrition Advisor
USA Triathlon Certified Coach
Colgan Power Program Strength Trainer
Local Elite Runner/Triathlete