It’s time to address the recurring topic of fuelling correctly on race day. Even the pro's get it wrong, so don't make the same mistakes. PURE Sports Nutrition co-founder and qualified Sports and Exercise Nutritionist, Marewa Sutherland, takes you through 10 quick fire tips to keep yourself properly fuelled on race day.
Carbohydrates are your important source of energy on race day. How many carbohydrates to consume during a race differs for every person, but an easy rule of thumb is 0.8g of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight, per hour of exercise (simply multiply your weight by 0.8). For an 60kg person, you’d generally be requiring at least 48g of carbohydrates per hour (60 x 0.8). Once you have calculated your hourly carbohydrate requirements, then consider where you will source your carbohydrates from. This will be your sports drink and any food or gels.
To find out how many grams of carbohydrates are in each of your intended race day foods, look for the ‘Carbohydrates Total’ line on the nutritional panel and check the serving size. Once you know how many carbs you’ll consume from your sports drink, then you can subtract the total from your overall carb requirements for race day.
Example: Three hour endurance event for an 60kg athlete drinking PURE Electrolyte Hydration
Based on this example, the sports drink was able to provide just over half the required carbohydrates per hour.
It’s very important you place a priority on your nutrition during your race to ensure you are at peak performance. Our bodies have adequate reserves for the first hour or so of exercise, however the quicker you begin to refuel the less likely fatigue will hit like a freight train, so start within the first 20 minutes of the event.
Evenly spread your hydration and food needs over each hour to ensure a consistent supply of fuel. Too many athletes, including elite athletes, get their nutrition wrong on race day simply by not planning ahead and not prioritising it during the race. Do you usually forget to eat or drink until it’s too late? Set repeating 15-20 minute alarms on your watch to avoid race distractions and help cement this habit. Even if you're not hungry or thirsty during your race, keep fueling up to keep your nutrition plan on track.
Now don’t get me wrong, gels can be a super quick form of energy however there can sometimes be a thin line between easy energy and frequent toileting on course. While food takes longer to digest, if you train yourself to eat small morsels regularly this can be a really effective way to remain energised.
Often it’s not until we get underway in our event that we realise the logistical nightmare of getting to our nutrition! Make things easier for yourself by having supplies within reach. Pre-open any food in packages and cut into bite sized portions, this will also help the feeding frequently cause. Placing your food into zip-lock plastic sandwich bags keep them fresh and easily accessible (although it’s a good idea if you’re on a bike to keep the zip-lock open for ease of access). Consider a bento box (a food storage holder) if you’re on a bike, or a hydration belt with storage compartment if you’re running. If you’re going long in a triathlon, ensure your race day clothing has secure pockets for your nutrition – it can easily bounce out onto the road during the bike or run so practice before race day.
You can have all the intention in the world to stick to your nutrition plan but if you’re not feeling the love for your chosen flavour on race day then your body and muscles won’t be thanking you for not giving it fuel. Sweet foods tend to be high in sugar equating to higher carbohydrate content, however if savoury options appeal to the tastebuds then don’t be afraid get on board with sandwiches. White bread is a great option for fast fuel, as is pizza or baked potatoes!
Plan your fuel around the forecast weather on race day. On hot sunny days we can get a higher proportion of our fuel from sports drinks simply by prioritising hydration. Meanwhile if the weather is looking sketchy our food intake can increase in proportion to the sports drink, to account for increased energy needs and longer race times.
In events over 2 hours protein begins to play an important role, this is where adding protein into your race day nutrition plan can be a real game changer, particularly in staged events and to support fast recovery. There are a number of good options to incorporate protein into your race day nutrition such as Protein Bars, Power Balls and foods that are high in carbohydrates also offer protein. Check the nutritional panel of your food to better understand what it offers.
Hydration can be easily overlooked but has a strong link to fatigue. Get to know your hydration status by weighing yourself before and after training sessions. If you are loosing weight then it’s most likely you’re not adequately hydrating, which can have major impacts on performance. Fluid requirements vary a lot (temperature, size, gender, fitness level etc) but a general rule of thumb is 500ml - 750ml an hour. Regardless of weather, aim for a minimum of 500ml per hour.
Our body temperature is closely linked with fatigue so on hot days add plenty of ice to your sports drink bottle or hydration pack to effectively cool your body from the inside out.
Always anticipate longer race times, and take extra fuel accordingly. I have met countless numbers of athletes who have rocketed through races only to hit that dreaded wall and have nothing left to eat or drink to get through it. Or someone looses their nutrition on course (falls out of clothing or off the bike) and they have no extras left in their transition or support bags. Even a few sweat covered lollies can save the day (depending on the length of event of course!).
Author: Marewa Sutherland
Marewa Sutherland is a qualified Sports & Exercise Nutritionist (BAppSc, University of Otago) and co-founder of PURE Sports Nutrition.