First of all I want to start with a disclaimer. I am not a nutritionist, I don’t have a food blog, I have never appeared on Chopped (although I am working on that) and I am certainly not a know it all. I wrote up the following for some of the hard core paddlers here in Virginia Beach who asked what I do to prep for a big race. The Mullet liked it and so here it is. This is what I have found to work for me over the years and I hope it can help you too!!
Hydration: Listen to your Body
Race Week: If you have been training and consuming proper amounts of fluids before and after your workouts, you are most likely at a good starting point of hydration for a big event. You probably don’t need to get too crazy with the volume of your pre-race hydration. A good rule of thumb is: If you are thirsty you need to drink. I know, I know…revolutionary sports nutrition there. But the truth is if you are peeing mostly clear and not going to the bathroom every 25 minutes you are probably well hydrated. There is such thing as over-hydrating which depletes your body’s natural sodium levels and makes it very difficult to maintain intra-cellular and extra-cellular hydration. If you are already peeing mostly clear and you aren’t feeling thirsty then a slight increase in hydration and sodium in the 48-72 hours before a big event can be helpful. By slight increase I mean an extra 16 oz over what you normally drink and some extra salt at lunch and dinner. That’s it. Let your body tell you where you are at. Avoid the sports drinks sold in the convenience stores. They are full of simple sugar and actually have less sodium then what you need.
Race Day: Again, listen to your body. If you wake up and are peeing mostly clear and in good volume, you don’t need to drink two gallons of pre-race stuff. I usually like to get up 3 hours before the start of a race to get my nutrition in my body and because I hate to rush before a race. My liquid intake on race day is usually a big cup of coffee first, 12 oz water bottle of CarboPRO about 2 hours from the start and another 12 oz of CarboPRO about 20-30 minutes from the start. If I feel thirsty while I am getting ready then I have some water or diluted coconut water.
Nutrition: Carb Loading and Glycogen Stores
Race Week: In a race like the Graveyard or any race over about 2 hours, you are trying to prolong when your body’s normal glycogen stores are depleted. Glycogen is stored in the body and it is the primary fuel your body uses during the race. It is stored in the muscle (large amount) and the liver (emergency reserves). A 150 lb athlete can carry an optimal load of about 450 grams of muscle glycogen; and about 120 grams of liver glycogen. Muscle glycogen is ready fuel and 450 grams, @ 4calories per gram, will provide a total of 2,200 calories, which will last for about 2 to 3 hours max, before the muscle glycogen tank goes totally empty. When this happens your body may dip in to your body fat storage, or worse start burning your muscle mass for energy. Topping off these glycogen levels in the days before the race is very important. When carbo-loading, it takes at least 18 hours for your body to process food and distribute the nutrients to the muscles as glycogen. Glycogen is the primary fuel for your muscles during a race, so if you’re going to carbo-load you need to do it more than 18 hours before you plan to be on the starting line. Eating a pasta dinner the night before a morning race isn’t going to help you until the afternoon following the race. If for example you race is Saturday morning at 10am, you need to be thinking about carbohydrates in your Thursday evening meal, and during Friday morning and lunch. There is no need to go on a white bread and pasta bender either. Small carb-specific meals are great. On Thursday and Friday I personally like whole grain bread with almond butter and honey, one moderate pasta meal, whole grain pancakes, stuff like that.
Race Day: Race morning I am all about eating. I try to get a lot of calories into my body early. A normal race morning would be a big bowl of oatmeal first thing. Then about 2 hours out a banana and an avocado. 30 minutes before the race is another banana and I pop a gel right before the start. The folks at CarboPRO that have decades of experience training ultra-distance runners and swimmer recommend 1000 calories the morning a big event. That is a lot to take in…don’t try it for the first time on race morning.
I hope this helps and good luck to each of you in your big race next week!!
Here are some references I used if you want to read more: