So you’ve worked hard and put in the training for your endurance race and now you’re a week out from the big event. This is the time to focus on your diet to ensure you are well fuelled and energised when you reach the start line.
Back in the day huge emphasis was placed on carb loading for endurance events, with a carb depletion phase followed by consumption of large quantities of carbohydrate rich foods. Leading sports nutritionists now prefer a gentler approach to optimising the athletes fuel stores. This reduces the risk of bloating and gut problems in the days before and on race day itself.
If you are a relative newbie to pre-race fuelling the list below gives you the main areas you should be focusing on this week:
Plan your meals for the week so you don’t skip meals or leave large gaps between eating. Your meals this week should be at regular intervals to ensure stable blood sugar levels and consist of 60-70% carbohydrates. This is NOT the week to think about losing some weight!
Eat mostly carbohydrates with each main meal and include 2 snacks. Your meal should contain 60-70% carbohydrates. The rest of your kilojoules should come from lean easily digestible protein, like eggs, dairy, fish or chicken and small amounts of fat.
You don’t need huge portions just eat until satisfied. If you have no appetite you can include some liquid carbohydrates such as a sports drink, smoothie or fruit juice.
Just ensure whatever you consume you have tried before and tolerate well.
Keep it simple. To try and prevent any gut issues on the day it’s best to eat plain, simple meals in the days prior. Nothing too spicy or high in fat and avoid fibrous, gas producing vegetables such as broccoli or cauliflower. If you are prone to develop GI-symptoms a low fibre diet the day before (or even a couple of days before) is recommended.
Hydrate. Ensure you stay well hydrated this week. Aim to drink at least 6-8 glasses of water or other non-caffeinated beverages per day. However, don’t try and overconsume liquids the day or 2 before the race as you may flush electrolytes out of your system and hamper your race day performance. To boost your sodium levels you can add a few flakes of sea salt to your glass of water or add a little extra salt to your meals.
Rest and sleep. It is vital that you taper your exercise this week in order to build your glycogen stores and sleep is essential for recovery and performance. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night as it’s likely the night before the race nerves will prevent a restful sleep. Therefore make the most of the reduced training load and have an early night or sleep-in, this is NOT the week to binge watch your favorite TV series into the wee hours!
Avoid too much alcohol or caffeine. The main reasons to limit your intake of alcohol and caffeinated drinks is due to their ability to dehydrate and impact on quality sleep. If you are a habitual caffeine drinker don’t give up your daily grind just try to avoid partaking after 3pm.
Finally if you remember only one thing about race week nutrition it’s this: keep it simple and do not try anything new!
It is also worth keeping a diary of foods consumed in the days before the event which you can review post-race. This will assist you in rectifying any issues you encounter on the day or if successful allows you to use the same plan for the next event.
Bergstrom, J., Hermansen, L., Hultman, E., and Saltin, B. Diet, muscle glycogen and physical performance. Acta Physiol Scand. 71: 140-150, 1967.
Burke, L 2007 ‘Practical Sports Nutrition’, Human Kinetics, South Australia.
de Oliveira, E. P., Burini, R. C., Jeukendrup, A. 2014. Gastrointestinal complaints during exercise: prevalence, etiology, and nutritional recommendations. Sports Med 44 Suppl 1: S79-85.
Jeukendrup and Gleeson Sports Nutrition Human Kinetoics Champaign IL, 2010