There are some exciting things happening here! Including, getting my USA Cycling Coaching Certification. As a result I may switch direction of the blog posts relating to cycling and training. I'll still be doing some stuff related to nutrition as well though. Today, I want to make a smooth transition and talk about Race Day Nutrition.
I get asked this question a lot. "How many calories should I take in during my race?" There's no easy answer here. The best I can do is say "it depends". What it depends on is a lot of things. So I'll try to give a better answer, but bare in mind these things need to be practiced in training. Don't experiment with them on race day! Or just do what someone else said worked for them.
Let's address the first important part of this answer. Your nutrition before the race is just as important as during and after. You've all heard of carbo-loading before a race, and I'm pretty sure it's become widely known that it's a myth. So I won't go into that. What is important is your valuable glycogen stores, or carbohydrates. Your body stores around 90 minutes worth of carbs. Endurance athletes are always training and burning through these stores. So it's important, in your daily diet to replace these stores. One of the best ways is to use some sort of recovery drink or food/drink that contains the majic 4:1 carb to protein ration within 30-45 minutes after workouts. There are numerous drinks on the market, but chocolate milk and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches work too. The Protein is important too, as it helps repair muscle. Make sure your getting some good whole grains in your daily diet also. Oatmeal, nuts, and fruit is a great combination. Other good foods are brown rice and whole wheat pastas. Be careful of overrating some of these things, and try to stay away from processed carbs.
I have a theory of processed foods. They contain preservatives. My theory is that foods designed to be preserved outside the body are also preserved inside the body. If they are designed to "preserve" how can your body metabolize them efficiently? I believe everyone is different when it comes to this, and some people can't metabolize these foods as well as clean wholesome foods.
So now that you're eating properly daily, let's address the pre-race meal. Don't eat anything out if the ordinary! Go back to the oatmeal recommendation in your daily diet. Eat 2-4 hours before the race. If you start feeling hungry between that time nibble on a whole wheat bagel with peanut butter or your favorite energy bar. I emphasize "nibble" because too much in your stomach as you start the race can lead to GI issues.
During the race is the hard part. Everyone is a little different here. Again, I suggest experimenting with this in training so you know coming into the race what the best plan for you is. Speaking of plan, make one! Pre plan all your nutrition, and make certain it is easily accessible as well as securely fastened! Also, have a backup plan! If something happens in a race that makes you take a lot more time be ready for that. If something, unexpectedly, makes your stomach upset be ready for that too. Know the course and what the venue will have to offer so you know how much you need to take with you, and how much you can depend on the course for nutrition.
When it comes to the plan, you should take in somewhere between 120-240 calories per hour. Where you fall in that range depends on the kind of race and your own tolerance. One of the biggest mistakes new athletes make is to take in too much. You'll know you've taken too much when your having GI issues. Too little and you will get grumpy, tired, a little loopy and eventually bonk. Obviously, for shorter races this won't be an issue because you don't need much, if anything. However, for longer races, you need to nail this down ahead if time. Personally, I start around 200 calories an hour and work for there. Make sure you are hydrating, and be careful with your timing and mix of different products. For example, most people need to wash down gels with pure water. Mixing with sports drinks and gels can lead to GI issues. Also, consider the type of race you are doing. You may tolerate more solid food and more calories on the bike than you do running. You can't really take in any calories swimming. So in a triathlon, you may be able to take in more calories on the bike to prep for the run. In a marathon you may take in less calories per hour than a road race because of the extra sloshing around things do in your stomach while running. Once you nail all this down in training you can transfer it right over to race day.
Don't forget your after race nutrition! Remember that 30-60 minute window and replace that glycogen after the race so you can start the recovery process.