pre-race nutrition

The training is carefully planned and focused on the event, you have trained diligently and are optimally prepared.
Right?!
Often the question arises suddenly, how it is actually with the nutrition before and during the race.
Ideally, you have already worked out your nutritional strategy beforehand and tested it sufficiently during training. But sometimes you need a quick solution. No matter if you are planning your strategy for the coming season or if you need to find a short-term solution, here we summarize the most important things for you. 

Why eat at all?

Okay, it’s a bit of a pointless question, I know. We use energy during exercise. Although that’s not entirely true either. We don’t “consume” energy, we convert it into movement. Our body manages to extract the energy contained in food and, in complex processes, make it available to the muscle so that it can generate movement. Almost exactly like a motor. 

In other words, we eat so that we can move. By the way, our brain also needs some energy.

Pre-race nutrition

The main purpose of consuming food before the race is to ensure that we have sufficient energy during the competition. 

As so often, however, the saying “a lot helps a lot” does not hold true. The timing, quantity and composition of nutrients plays a decisive role in whether we can really utilise the energy during peak performance.

The basic rule is: no experiments! Test your nutritional strategy already during hard training sessions. This way you make sure that it is suitable for you and you feel well prepared because you know that your body is well supplied. 

Days before the event

Even what we eat on the days leading up to the race (the same applies, of course, to strenuous training sessions or other challenging events) already influences our performance. Here you lay the foundation for the following effort. This includes primarily replenishing the body’s own glycogen stores. Glycogen is so to speak the stored form of carbohydrates. During intensive efforts it provides us with energy which our muscles can use quickly and in quite large quantities. But that does not mean eating as many carbohydrates as possible. The stores should be refilled, not overloaded. This would rather result in legs that feel heavy and in weight gain than in an optimal starting condition. Eating too little for fear of gaining weight due to reduced training in the days before a competition is not helpful either.

However, if you eat a healthy and balanced diet it is not difficult to prepare well for the event. The days before the race you usually train less. If you continue to eat normally without significantly reducing your calorie intake, your stores will be sufficiently filled. All your meals should contain a good portion of carbohydrates, but also easily digestible, high-quality proteins, vitamins and minerals. Only the amount of fibre and fat (and whatever else is stressing your stomach) should be small..

Raceday - Breakfast

Even when we sleep, we burn up carbohydrates. That’s why when we get up in the morning, our stores are not full anymore. In order to put our body in the best possible starting condition, we should refill them. It is important that we do not put too much stress on our stomach by eating things that are difficult to digest or in too large quantities.Nevertheless, we should eat our fill, because it doesn’t feel good to start with hunger, even if we theoretically have enough energy available.

Many athletes opt for porridge, oatmeal or whatever you want to call it. Oats contain many long-chain carbohydrates (approx. 60g KH per 100g), which slowly enter the bloodstream and thus provide constant energy over a longer period of time. It is a good idea to add an easily digestible source of protein such as yoghurt or an omelette, a little fruit and a few seeds or nuts, so as not to forget the essential fatty acids.

It is important to have a base of long-chain carbohydrates (approx. 1g per kg of body weight) plus a protein source (approx. 15g) that you can digest well, and enough fluids. Ideally, breakfast should be served 3-4 hours before the start.

Breakfast up to the start

To start without a fluid deficit it is important to drink enough. But not too much, otherwise you run the risk of having to stop now and then later. It is a good idea to try out beforehand during training which amount works well for you. Also, if you drink small amounts more often than once a large portion, the fluid will be better absorbed.

About 2 hours to 90 minutes before the start you can have a little snack. In this way you can avoid a feeling of hunger and ensure a good availability of carbohydrates. We recommend small, carbohydrate-rich snacks, which you usually eat directly before training, i.e. snacks that you know you can tolerate without any problems. The simplest option is an energy bar or rice cake. If you don’t like to eat anything, a drink rich in carbohydrates will do the job.

Just before you start, you can take a gel or a few sips of the drink to make sure that you have plenty of carbohydrates immediately available without attacking your stores. However, if you have a very fast start such as a sprint distance, you should try this to see if it feels good. 

Conclusion

All information summarised with exact nutritional values and sample meals to remember or print out:

As part of our training programs, we also offer individual nutritional recommendations. You will receive personalized strategies for nutrition in training and competition.

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Josephine Noack
Josephine Noack
I'm the head coach of noack sport support and sports-scientist. As an athlete, I compete in cross-triathlon, normal short-distance triathlon, MTB-Marathon, road crits, and cyclocross during the winter.

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