Race Day Fueling

Updated: Jun 2

In our house, mountain bike race season is gearing up to start at the end of the month. Maybe for you, the half marathon you've been training for is soon to be approaching. Regardless of your sport, being adequately prepared for race day will have you finishing strong.

The Week Before the Race

Most training programs will have you tapering training load leading up to your big race the week prior. This is a great time to also decrease food intake to reflect calorie burn. At the same time however, it's important to ensure you are working towards maximizing hydration and glycogen stores. Science is now showing that carb loading the night before a big race, may be a little too late. It's actually the several days leading up to the race that matter most. Your macro percentages should shift to favoring more carbohydrates in the form of fruits, vegetables and starches, while making sure to include a small amount of fat and protein at every meal. The best fruits for glycogen storage are bananas, peaches, cantaloupe and watermelon. And with spring and summer fast approaching, these will be more readily available.

In our house, the nigh-before-race dinner might look like salmon, sweet potatoes, broccoli, salad and fruit for dessert. Gone are the days of big bowls of pasta.

Race Day Fueling

Deciding on what and when to eat race day will depend on what time it starts, and the length of the race. It's a good idea to eat at least 2 hours before start time, 3 hours is better so that your stomach has time to empty and fuel can start to be utilized by the body. Insulin tends to spike 1-1.5 hours after eating, so any less than the 2 hour mark could leave you hypoglycemic and bonking at the start line.

You'll want to eat mostly slow releasing carbohydrates and a little bit of protein. For morning races, it's imperative to wake up early enough to replenish the glycogen stores used during sleep. Some breakfast ideas for morning races would be:

- oatmeal with hemp seeds, raisins, and gogi berries

- protein shake with banana, berries and spinach

- fruit and eggs

- apple sauce and protein powder

If you are eating 2 hours before, 400-600 calories should be adequate. Three hours before and you'll want to up it to 600-900 calories. The longer from race start time that you eat, the less glycemic the food should be to allow for slower digestion.

An hour before start time, take in only water and a pinch of salt. Right before the race would be the perfect time to pull out some chews, a honey stick, or high-glycemic fluids. I highly recommend that any race day foods be tested tried-and-true several times on training sessions to ensure they won't cause stomach upset.

For race events up to 90 minutes, there's really no need for heavy fueling. Most people feel good with water, but if the intensity is high enough, a pocket full of chews or a quick gel will be helpful. If you ate properly leading up to the race, your body stores almost enough energy to get you through, so hydration should be your main focus in the form of water. It is okay to add a little pinch of pink Himalayan or Celtic sea salt to help water get better absorbed.

For events lasting 90 minutes to 4 hours, nutritional goals should be adequate hydration and carbohydrate. You will need to be getting in 200-300 calories of carbohydrate per hour, in equal distribution every 15 minutes, depending on your body size and experience with how your stomach handles it. It should include a little bit of protein (which has been shown to help carbohydrates convert to glycogen more readily) in a 4 to 1 ratio and electrolytes. The minimum intake is 1 calorie per body weight per hour of carbohydrate. Begin fueling immediately during the race, don't wait an hour into it to start or your body won't have time to replenish energy stores and you're more likely to bonk. Remember, when your body is under stress, digestion is shut which is why some foods can cause stomach upset. Combat this by considering liquid nutrition.

We've spent a tremendous time experimenting with liquid nutrition for long rides and have yet to find one powder out there that is clean, provides the exact ratios we are looking for, and contains the right amount of carbs that you can absorb in one hour. We wanted something with easily digestible complex and simple carbohydrates that were from non-GMO sources, plus easily absorbed protein and electrolytes needed to keep your power going. We've come up with one that is working well for longer races and we urge you to give it a try too!


Add to your sports bottle:

2 Scoops of Carbo Pro IP GMO Free

1 Scoop Klean Athlete Klean Hydration

1 Scoop Biotics Research Whey Protein

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