A Comprehensive How-To Guide of Race Day Nutrition

Understandably, you might have come to this post looking for a minute-by-minute race day breakdown. But cracking that code demands hours of pre-race preparation. In fact, nutrition training can be the defining factor of your performance. But such a complex issue can include a lot of guesswork. Lucky for you, we’re here to cut through the junk, and get down to ins and outs of racing fuel. Here’s your guide.

Months Before
The months leading up to the race comprise your trial-and-error period for race day fuel. During this time, you have two nutrition tasks: 1) test how different foods affect your performance, and 2) get a solid understanding of how you need to hydrate.

The former is a bit more complex than the latter. Some people swear by ‘real’ fuel like bananas, white grains, and jams, while others need ultra-engineered gels and chews. The key is low nutrient density (so not too much fat, protein, fiber, vitamins or minerals), and high in simple sugars and/or sodium. Find out what works for you. Each training ride/run/swim, fuel your fire with something new, and take detailed notes of how you felt before, during, and after.

Be sure to vary your sugar sources and incorporate salty snacks as to not pigeonhole your engine’s options. This might mean playing foods that you know will be part of the race day buffet; that way, if something goes wrong with plan A on the track, you have a plan B. Bottom line: don’t get frustrated by the process – keep in mind that endurance athletes around the world are all playing Race Fuel Roulette.

Getting an understanding of your hydration needs can be as simple as a sweat test calculation. Weigh yourself, and hop on the treadmill/bike for an hour at a moderate pace and in a moderate temperature. Weigh yourself after, and know that for every pound lost, you’ll need to replenish 16-24 oz of water. Be sure to factor in any water you drank during the test: if you sipped on 16 ounces and lost 16 more, you really lost 32 all together. Sodium-wise, for every pound you lose, you’ll need 500-1,000mg to rebalance your body’s electrolytes. Both should be spread out across the span of your race.

The 48 Hours Before
Your race day fueling should begin 2 days before showtime: at lunch if you’re performing a full-distance triathlon, and at dinner if you’re racing a half/olympic tri or marathon. Beginning at these meals, ration out 4.5g of carbs per pound of body weight (ex. 675g carbs for a 150lb person) throughout the day to ensure saturated glycogen storage.

This carb loading continues into the day before the race; make breakfast your biggest meal, and taper in size throughout the day, making your last meal light, comprised of simple carbs (like a bagel or pretzel), and close to bedtime.

The Morning Of
Step 1: Put on your game face.

Step 2: 3 ½ to 3 hours before your race, eat a meal that’s low glycemic, hydrating, sodium-rich, low fat, and rich in Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs, found in whey and soy proteins).
Example: 3 cups applesauce, 1 banana, 1 scoop of whey protein, 1 bottle of sports drink

Step 3: 2-3 hours before start time, get at least 1g of carbs per pound of body weight. This helps to stuff some extra fuel into your glycogen stores.

Step 4: About 30 minutes before the gun goes off, have 100mg of caffeine (about an 8oz coffee), 8oz of water, and a simple sugar source like a piece of fruit or a power gel.

Step 5: Put on your lucky underwear.

During the Race
You’ve put in the hours. You’ve tried what feels like hundreds of fueling options. You’ve probably cried at least once along the way. Now is not the time to break from routine and try something new, whether it be on purpose or as a result race-day jitters. Don’t drink a full 32 ounces if you know anything more than 8 will slosh around in your stomach and make you need the bathroom. If bananas give you the cleanest-feeling energy, don’t take a gel just because someone offers it.

If you’re in a half or full tri, consume most of your fuel on the bike. Drink fluids like sports drinks, soda, or broth every 10-15 minutes to hit your hydration and electrolytes needs, and eat carb sources (whatever you’ve discovered works!) every 30 or so, hitting 30-60 grams of carbs each hour. Reduce this by ⅓ while you run. Build caffeine along the course, too.

A rule of thumb: you won’t feel great throughout your entire race. So if there are periods that you do, use that time to refuel, not push pace.

If you’re tackling shorter (in a relative sense, of course) distances like in an olympic tri or a marathon, get in some sports drink and/or power gel (or fuel of choice) every hour.

Test your blood biomarkers with Inside Tracker to see how your body handled the stress of the main event – and to see if you should make changes for next time.

*These posts were written by InsideTracker. The individual results from your test will determine the proper recommendations. The recommendations shared are specific to each person, but provide an inside look into the types of recommendations provided by InsideTracker.

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