PRE-RACE NUTRITION

By Nenad Rodic
posted 04/05

There are two things you need to think about during the time preceding a race: 1) that your glycogen stores are full, and 2) that your blood glucose levels are optimal.

The first problem can be solved with a high carbohydrate diet (carbs being 75-90% of your total diet) during the three days leading up to a race. 500 grams of carbs a day ought to be enough. However, this can create another problem. High carbohydrate intake will cause insulin levels in your body to rise which can and will have a considerable effect on your blood glucose levels. That stated, there is no simple answer to pre-race diet questions. It is customized give-and-take. My suggestion would be to try to eat as balanced as possible, perhaps slightly on the carb side, but still maintain a normal level of protein intake with some fat intake as well. Most importantly, do not overeat. Eating a normal, balanced diet, along with getting in a proper rest and taper period, will insure that your glycogen stores are full and that your glucose levels are optimal, so that as much as possible you will be ready to race when the time comes.


REGARDING THE CONCEPT OF CARBOLOADING

Carbo-loading should be done on an empty engine, meaning when your body’s glycogen reserves are thoroughly depleted. To achieve this begin by eating a low carb diet for few days. Then, about 72 hours before the race, do a controlled depletion workout in duration of about two hours. This workout should take place at about 75% of your VO2max effort. Even though it goes against the common sense of tapering and resting before a race, research shows that by doing this workout, the glycogen stores in your body can be replenished and your muscle energy increased by up to 300%. Remember that this process is not about overeating. In fact it requires that you don’t. You should try to keep your energy intake normal, just put an emphasis on carbohydrates. But be careful, pre-race nutrition is all about give-and-take and another problem that accompanies carbo loading is water retention. This can cause muscle stiffness and actually lower your performance.
My suggestion to you would be to try the technique a few times before an important race. Schedule a hard brick session for every Saturday four weeks in a row. Play with your diet week after week and figure out what works best for you. I personally do not believe in carbo-loading and usually try to keep a nice balanced diet going all the way up to and into a race. One thing that I can tell you for certain is, do not eat sugar in the days prior to the event. Anything that has a high glycemic index is to be avoided at all cost. Complex carbs as those found in bread, rice, potatoes or pasta are one thing, sugar is completely different.

Many athletes are very superstitious about their pre race meals, they eat the same thing in the same way, every time, no matter what. This is funny, and a bit weird, but also very helpful. On the one hand you’re eating something that’s proven to work and on the other hand you’re doing some psychological preparation as well. “Ah, I had my pesto Gnocchi; I am ready to have a great race,” or “Man that pasta was great, I am going to tear the course apart tomorrow”. Whatever you choose to eat do not be unsure about it, and never try new dishes the night before the event.

In terms of eating and drinking, the morning before the race is just as important as the night before. Wake up early enough so that you can eat and digest, go to the bathroom, and still have time to warm up. I strongly recommend one of the pre race formulas either by Cytomax or Champion Nutrition. They both contain carbs as well as protein that among other things help in the transport of nutrients. If you are a coffee drinker, have some. A double or triple espresso works well about 60-90 minutes before the event. Caffeine can increase the amount of free fatty acids in your blood by up to four times the normal amount, which comes in handy during Ironman races. If you eat a high carb meal in the morning, it is likely to postpone this caffeine effect by one hour but the peak values should last just as long (4-5 hours). I don’t recommend watery coffee (drip) since all it does, it seems, is make you pee. Besides, all cool people drink espresso. *

Before the start of a race avoid high glycemic index food (gels, candy, doughnuts). If you need something, have a fluid replacement drink that has some complex carbs (Cytomax)**. This will quench your cravings and will also help keep your electrolyte levels up. A good thing if you tend to pee like a racehorse prior to the start of an event. All in all, if you do everything right, you should not have to pee too much, you should not be hungry, you should not yawn (too many carbs lowers your glucose level, causing you to feel sleepy) and you should definitely not be thirsty.

*Red Bull is another option for those who want to play with caffeine. I hope I don’t need to remind you that caffeine has all kinds of side effects that are not positive. These negative side effects are actually amplified in the case of extreme exertion and dehydration. If you have any kind of Cardio problem you should not be racing triathlons but if you are, I strongly advise against caffeine practice.
**Do not drink Gatorade or any other Ade since these are high fructose corn syrup based liquids and have extremely high glycemic indexes. There is a reason why Cytomax or Isostar cost ten times more than Gatorade. They are expensive because they are not refined corn.

By Nenad Rodic, founder of Triathlonplace.com