April 14, 2011

Triathlon Nutrition: Your Race Day Eating Plan

No matter what distance you’re pursuing, a workable race day nutrition plan can make all the difference between success and misery in triathlon racing. Your plan doesn’t have to be extravagant. It just needs to take into account your specific race goals and energy needs along with other key variables, such as race logistics, environment and what nutrition products are going to be on the course. Below are my four key tactics for setting up your pre-race meals.

Keep It Simple!

  1. Grab some lined note paper and on the left-hand side jot down time blocks in 15 minute increments beginning with when you plan to get up and ending with the race start time. Next, write in any other known tasks, such as when you plan to leave, time allocated to stretching or warm-up, bathroom breaks, etc. Now let’s talk food.

Eat: Fueling 1-4 hours before the race

  1. The Science: Sports nutrition science states that 1-4 hours before a race consume between 1 and 4.5 grams (g) of carbohydrate/kilogram (kg) of body weight. Note: 1 kilogram = 2.2 lbs. (so at 155 lbs, my weight is 70.5 kg) and 1 gram of carbohydrate = 4 calories.
    So for me this means a range of 282 to 1269 carbohydrates… not exactly what I’d call specific. And keep in mind this doesn’t account for any calories from fat or protein, both of which should be included in this early meal.
  2. How to Apply the Science
  • First of all you should eat regardless of the triathlon race distance. How much you eat will depend on the distance and the volume and type of food that works for you. As a general rule, the longer the race the more calories you should consume.
  • I target somewhere in the middle of the range no matter what the course distance. It’s just where I feel comfortable eating before a race.
  • Start from the time you get up and as much as possible keep it balanced (that is, include some fats and protein) but keep an emphasis on carbohydrate. Grazing instead of trying to eat all at once typically works better. Also keep the fiber to a minimum… this is not the time for the healthy whole grain products.
  • I like things that are easy to prepare, particularly if there’s some travel time involved to get to the race start. Here are some tips:
    Instant oatmeal with some nut butter mixed in and maybe stir in some previously cooked white rice to add extra calories.
    Toast or bagels with nut butter and jam.
    Have a bit of sliced turkey or other sliced meat on the side for protein.
    Fruit smoothies with protein power… I always travel with a Magic Bullet portable blender. This is one of the best ways I know of to get in some quality calories, particularly if you have a sensitive stomach or you’re just nervous about what you’ve gotten yourself into.
    Unless you’re very comfortable with dairy, keep it to a minimum as it’s can be hard to digest and could cause GI distress.

It’s Almost Party Time: Fueling in the hour before the Race

  1. The Science: In the hour before the race consume 1-1.1 g of carbohydrate/kg of body weight. For me this is approximately 280-310 carbohydrate calories in the hour before the race.
  2. How to Apply the Science
    • I’m a big believer in consuming some calories at this time, especially if there’s been a time gap (i.e., more than 30 minutes) since your last meal due to travel, race set-up, etc. I just don’t like to consume as much as the science suggests. The key is to make sure it’s something you’re very, very comfortable with once the gun goes off, such as a banana, or some electrolyte drink.
    • Taking in a gel 5-10 minutes before the gun goes off can also be good if it’s practical. I’ve found this much easier to do at smaller, more casual triathlon races. At bigger venues, such as the mass starts at Ironman events, grabbing a last minute gel may not be possible.

Share the Plan

There’s a lot to do in the few hours before the race so be sure to share your plan with your spouse/partner so they can support you. If you’re lucky, maybe they’ll help with meal prep while you stretch, pack, and panic.

Once you devise your triathlon nutrition plan for race day, keep it handy in the days leading up to the race so you can make notes and update it as you learn more about the course and from talking to others that have raced it before. There really is no perfect race nutrition plan… there’s just what will work for you that day in this race.

Be on the lookout for my next article where I’ll be talking race day nutrition from the time the gun goes off until you cross the finish line.

Until then train safe, stay healthy, and I hope to see you at the races.

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