It can be hard to decide the best nutritional strategy to take on race day. But while there may be varying opinions when it comes to the finer details, there are some hard and fast rules everyone should follow.
Glycogen is the stored form of carbohydrates in your muscles and liver, and it’s important to start a race with as much as possible in your system. ‘Eat a carbohydrate-rich meal the night before and around two hours prior to your race,’ says nutritional therapist Jo Scott-Dalgleish (endurancesportsnutritionist.co.uk (opens in new tab)). White pasta and rice are good choices, while Body Type Nutrition endurance coach Alex Ritson (bodytypenutrition.co.uk (opens in new tab)) suggests a pre-race breakfast of 100g porridge oats, 30g whey protein, 1 banana, 500ml whole milk and 1tsp honey.
‘Your muscles can only store a limited amount of glycogen, so your glucose levels may need to be topped up during the race,’ says Ritson. ‘But it’s only necessary to do that if your race lasts over an hour. If you’re running a 5K or 10K, you should only need water. Otherwise, consume 30-60g of carbs per hour depending on how intensely you are racing.’
‘The carbohydrates should be in a form that’s quickly digested,’ says Scott-Dalgleish. ‘Use sports nutrition products such as energy drinks, gels or bars, or natural foods such as bananas or raisins. Jelly babies are another favourite.’
Random running fact: Your body only absorbs up to 60g of glucose an hour, so eating constantly during a race won’t give you endless energy
For an extra boost, try caffeine. Some studies have shown it helps with endurance, although there is some debate about how it works. ‘A rough guide is to have 5mg for every kilo of your weight around 45 minutes before the race,’ says sports nutritionist Matt Lovell (kineticasports.com (opens in new tab)). If you’re doing an event lasting longer than four or five hours, take it when fatigue is starting to set in for a mental and physical boost.
Whatever fuel you decide on, test it during training. You never know how your body will react to eating and drinking during exercise, and puking in front of a couple of dog walkers is preferable to doing so in front of a crowd of race spectators.
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