Preparing your race day fuelling plan requires more than just calculating the number of gels and volume of water you need in your pack. The longer and more complex the terrain the more important it is to have a well thought out plan.
Below is a list of essential elements to consider when planning your race day fuelling and hydration strategy:
At least a fortnight before the race review what sports supplements you will be using eg gels, electrolytes, bars etc and check you have enough supplies in your cupboard and if not get ordering. You don’t want to discover you only have a couple of your favourite gels left as you are packing your kit. Many sports supplements are only available online so you need to factor in delivery times.
2. Race Day Weather Conditions?
Hot and humid days can make a big difference to your hydration and electrolyte requirements compared to a cold or wet day. Check the weather forecast the day or two before and make any necessary adjustments to your fuelling plan. For hot and humid conditions you need to factor in extra water and electrolytes, especially if you are typically a “salty sweater”.
3. Course Profile
The course profile is important to understand when to fuel. You cannot base your intake solely on manufacturers recommendations. Most sports gels recommend consuming at least one every 45-60 minutes, but what if that happens halfway up a steep climb, when all you are thinking about is getting oxygen to your lungs not swallowing a gel. Knowing when the climbs and descents are in the race will allow you to plan your timing of fuel. Taking in fuel 10-15 minutes before a big climb will give you a much needed boost when you need it most.
4. Number and Location of Checkpoints.
Check how many aid stations are on course, and how frequent they are. Sometimes they can be few and far between. Knowing the distance between each checkpoint can help you determine how much water and fuel you need to carry for each leg of the race. Whilst you don’t want to run out of water or fuel you also don’t want to be carrying any excess weight either.
5. What is Available at Each Checkpoint?
Each race is different in what is provided at the checkpoint and each checkpoint can be different too. Don’t assume they will have gels or electrolyte drinks because they may only have water and bananas. They may also have brands you’ve never tried before, if this is the case only use as a last resort as you don’t know how untested gels or drinks will affect your stomach.
Make sure you have what you need either in your pack or in a drop bag – never rely solely on the aid station supplies as they can and do run out.
6. Are There Drop Bag Facilities?
Being able to leave a bag with your own supplies is invaluable as it allows you to eat and drink fuel that you have trained with (hopefully) and reduces the amount you have to carry in your pack.
It’s always a good idea to pack more than you think you will need and a variety of sweet and savoury foods. Often you may find you have a preference for one type of gel or crave salty foods over sweet and you won’t know what you’ll feel like until you get there.
7. Do You Have a Crew or Going Solo?
If you have a crew fantastic, its great to have familiar faces greet you at checkpoints and have your fuel ready and waiting. If this is the case make sure your crew is well briefed in what you want to have available at each checkpoint and your estimated time of arrival. Sometimes it’s worth still having a drop bag as well just in case your crew are late or forget anything.
If you are running the race without crew this is where the drop bags become crucial and you may even want to leave a note for yourself in each drop bag of what you need to eat and put in your race pack as a reminder.
8. Estimated Race Time?
Many runners don’t like to put a figure on their estimated finish times but you need to have some idea of how long you will be running in order to work out an accurate fuelling plan. You don’t have to publicise this information if you don’t want to but have an idea in your head.
Once you have an estimated finish time work out the estimated times into each checkpoint and then you’ll know how much you need to carry in your pack. Make sure you consider the terrain as well as the distance in your calculations. A 10km leg with a steep elevation will obviously take significantly more time than on the flat.
9. What to Eat Before the Race?
If you’re staying away from home the night before the race make sure you only eat what you are used to and if necessary take your race day breakfast with you from home rather than relying on room service or worse the nearest petrol station offerings!
Finally once it is all done and dusted review how your fuelling plan went. What worked, what didn’t. Make some notes so you remember for next time and can make the necessary corrections.
Sometimes it may seem that no matter what you do your nutrition still falls apart on the day and this is when it might be time to see an experienced Nutritionist. They can help you identify the problems and how to correct them.
Jennifer Moulin is a degree qualified Nutritionist with a Bachelor of Health Science in Nutritional Medicine and has a passion for Sports Nutrition. She is an outdoors enthusiast and enjoys trail running and racing. She offers face to face and skype nutrition consultations through Proactive Nutrition based in Sydney.