A Common Nutrition Question…
It’s a very common question: “What should I eat before I race?”
And without a simple answer…But here is my short-version answer…
The pre-race meal is essential for many reasons and food choices should aim to:
1) To “top off” muscle glycogen stores (muscle energy stores) – especially if they are still depleted (used up) from the previous training/racing session.
2) Restore liver glycogen- especially for morning events that require long and hard efforts after an overnight fast.
3) Restore fluid balance- especially in hot weather and high altitudes
4) To prevent hunger and gastro-intestinal discomfort- especially with highly intense efforts and long races
5) To prevent psychological distraction and discomfort- especially when traveling
The specifics of the pre-race meal are often the hardest to determine and take trial and error to fine tune. Don’t give up if you still haven’t found your perfect match! Being well fed with the right nutrition can prevent bonking (assuming you are eating/drinking during the race) and give you that extra edge to lead the peleton, climb faster, cross the finish line stronger, or all three.
“What foods and meal/snack composition is the best?”
The pre-race meal foods that you choose should be:
1) Composed of Carbohydrates, Protein, and low in Fat
2) Stress-free – easy to make and travel with when needed
3) Easy to digest (low in fiber*)
4) Satisfy your hunger/needs without causing you to feel “FULL”
5) Familiar foods
6) Taste good
And above all, you should have practiced eating these foods during training days to perfect what works best for you.
“What Time should I eat?”
Ideally, the pre-race meal should be eaten 3-4 hours before the event. Sometimes this means getting up at dark-early and relaxing until the morning race begins to allow for adequate digestion time. This can be an issue, because who wants to wake up at 4:00 or 5:00 AM (yes, AM) to eat breakfast??? Especially when you could be sleeping…right?
No problem! You can decrease the size of your pre-race meal and add or slightly increase the size of your after dinner snack the night before to suit your sleeping-in schedule on race day (however, this is not an excuse to eat a large bowl of ice cream or ½ a pie!). Then adding a smaller snack before the race can help to “top-off” your glycogen stores established from the previous day’s meals.
With an ideal 3-4 hour digestion time:
A larger meal usually works here for the most gains in muscle and liver glycogen. Meals should be composed of easy to digest grains, proteins, and fruits/vegetables. Make sure the meal is low in fiber so your body can concentrate its’ energy on muscle use and not digestion.
This could look like:
~ 2/3 -1 cup cooked oatmeal made with a “milk” of choice and topped with brown sugar and banana
~ Fruit and yogurt (or protein powder) smoothie
~ 1-2 cups cereal flakes or 1 cup muslei with “milk” of choice*
~ 2 slices toast with 2 eggs and jam
~ Turkey or Tuna Sandwich with lettuce and mustard on baguette or roll
~ 1 cup cooked quinoa or pasta with ½ can tuna and light sauce
~ 1 cup cooked white rice with 2 eggs and an orange
Note: The amounts should be changed to meet your individual needs….
With a 1-2 hour digestion time:
A smaller meal or snack should be easy to digest and include carbohydrates, a little protein, and be low in fat.
Some examples are:
~ ½ – 1 bagel with cream cheese or goat cheese or honey ham or a little nut butter
~ ½ sandwich with jam, honey, cheese, or a little meat
~ Fruit and yogurt smoothie
~ Low-fat scone and glass of soymilk/almondmilk
~ Allen Lim Rice Bar/homemade bar or Sports Bars (with a little protein in them)
Note: These are just examples and the snack should be suited to your particular needs and preferences.
The pre-race meal is different for everyone in types of foods eaten, amounts, and timing of eating. So make sure to practice, practice, practice before your race! Then come race day with the additional stressors of racing the pre-race meal is reliable, familiar, and comforting.
* Look for future posts covering these topics….
Contact me if interested in obtaining the references used for this post.
Sarah Weber, RD, LD
What are some of your favorite pre-race meals that work best for you? Tweet us your comments @wca_tweet or Post on our Facebook page at Women’s Cycling Association.