Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Common Pre-Race Nutrition Mistakes

I realize my marathon my be over, but there's still plenty of endurance events left to round out there year. This weekend I have friends competing in the Star City 1/2 Marathon in Roanoke, VA and my dad will try to Boston qualify at the Philadelphia Marathon. Two weekends from now my husband and many friends will be running the NCR Trail Marathon in Maryland! This one's for you, my friends!

The week leading up to a racing can be pretty daunting. You're nervous, potentially-stressed trying to get everything done before leaving town or worried that you didn't train hard enough. Reality is, the best thing you to ensure your best race in the final days is to rest properly, hydrate, and ensure focus on your nutrition. The miles have already been put in the bank, now it's time to move forward, spend them  wisely and have fun!

Pre-race nutrition will have less of an affect the shorter the race (10k and below), but still should not be ignored. Eating a balanced combination of complex carbohydrates and lean protein at each meal should be sufficient, with emphasis being on diet quality rather than quantity of calories or carbohydrates. For longer races though, how you fuel your body in the days leading up to a race and morning of can greatly impact your performance. Here are some common mistakes and tips to avoid them:

1. Improper carbo-loading

Tapering is a tricky process. Cutting back on miles can leave some people feeling sluggish and as a result, many people cut back on calories to compensate for their lack on activity. Personally, I too used to fear pre-race weight gain from running less and eating more carbohydrate. Reality is, this is the time to top off your glycogen stores to assist your body in delaying race-day fatigue and dehydration.

Get your fuel from complex carbohydrates like these...
Not simple sugars like this.

How to approach it: The key to proper carbo-loading is to increase your carbohydrate intake without increasing your overall caloric intake. Focus on quality, complex carbohydrate sources like fruits, oats, wheat bread, sweet potatoes, rice, cereal and pasta. Make the transition slowly and remember, this is not an excuse to over-indulge on sweets!! According to Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook, you should aim for up to 4g of carbohydrate per day for proper pre-race carbo-loading. 

2. Not starting early enough 

Don't wait until the day before the race to start your carbo-load. Stuffing yourself with pasta the night before is not ideal and will likely lead to gastrointestinal distress race morning.

How to approach it: Proper carbo-loading takes place over the span of a week. Build a base by maintaining an adequate daily intake of carbohydrate (55-65% total calories from carbohydrate) to avoid glycogen depletion. 2-3 days before your race, increase your intake to 4g carbohydrate per pound body weight. For a 150lb man, that equates to 600g carbohydrate or 2,400 calories from carbohydrate per day. Ease into change, and drink plenty of water throughout. Some racers find that eating their biggest meal at breakfast or lunch the day before a race works better than at dinner the night before.

3. Inadequate pre-race breakfast and timing

Your pre-race breakfast should be well-rehearsed! Remember to not try anything new race morning by sticking to foods you know your body can tolerate over the long-haul. Training is the time to experiment, not the morning of your race. Pack a meal that travels well and save the expo samples for another day.

Oatmeal with PB, chia seeds and banana is my choice of pre-race breakfast for longer races.
Experiment during training and learn what works best for you!
How to approach it: Practice your pre-race breakfast before a majority of your longer training sessions. That way your body is well adapted to your choice of fuel selections and you can tweak things well before race-day. Aim to eat up to 50g of carbohydrate by the time you reach the starting line. Simple starches that are easy to digest are recommended and complex, fibrous carbohydrates should be avoided. Some suggestions include: bread with PB and banana, oatmeal with berries, energy bar of your choice (low in protein, fat and fiber), cereal or a liquid shake. Aim to consume these calories 1-3 hours before your race, depending on what works best for you.

4. Waiting too long to fuel during the race

When the adrenaline hits in the early stages of your race, it's easy to ignore nutrition because you're feeling great. I've been all too guilty of this in the past! However, it's important to keep the later stages of your race in mind throughout those early miles. The longer you wait to consume calories during a race, the harder it is for the body the catch up.

How to approach it: Spread out your calorie intake and start eating early. Don't skip the first few aid stations, even if you only can get in a sip of water. If possible, break up your food or drink into small portions that you can consume every 15-20 minutes. Have a well-rehearsed plan of what you will eat on race day and carry it with you. I have learned to not rely on the race's provision of food because often times it's not provided early enough or often enough (during my most recent marathon gels were first offered at mile 16). Your goal should be to consume 30-60g of carbohydrate per hour either through liquid nutrition (sports drinks), gels, or simple solid foods such as gels, bananas and oranges.

Adequately fueling for your goal race is essential in optimizing your fitness potential. After putting in months of hard effort, it's important to follow through with proper nutrition that will prevent the dreaded "bonk" and leave you feeling like a rock-star out on the course!

Me fueling early on during the bike portion of an
 international-distance triathlon; circa 2007.

Happy Fueling!!

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