Rule NUMBER ONE of racing: nothing new on race day- so hopefully you've been practicing your pre-race routine starting with the day before and morning of, right?
Just in case you're still scrambling to find the perfect balance of hydration and caloric intake, types of calories, etc, here are a few general rules to follow no matter what your dietary habits or race experience may be until this point:
1) Drink water throughout the day every day leading up to race day. The majority of your body is made of water, and your performance (even everyday function) is predicated on proper hydration. On AVERAGE, daily functioning necessitates about three liters of water. This hydration level accounts for all the ways in which we lose fluid EXCEPT sweat! If you are physically active, you need even more water to counteract the fluid loss experienced through sweat. Add to this a hot room or humid environment and you risk significant fluid imbalance. For most people, mild to moderate physical activity does not necessitate supplementation with high concentrations of electrolyte products; when exercising in hot or humid temps, such products should be considered. Again, experimenting with electrolyte replacement options should be practiced before race day- so if you have not tried such options to this point, your best bet is to stick with plain old water.
2) Your eating patterns should be similar to what you usually eat during your training run weeks, but be mindful of the 24-hour window prior to race day. You don't want to eat a significant source of fiber the morning of or even the night before a race. Typically high-fiber foods ARE recommended as healthy options, however during this time you need your digestive system to move relatively quickly and without risk of back-up (read: constipation). Many people opt for a pasta dinner the night before a race but there are many other healthy choices you can select which would be completely safe for race-day performance. The key is to not experiment with new foods to you- especially during the 24-hour race day window.
3) Hopefully you have practiced your nutrient timing for race-day so that the guesswork is done by this point! Some people have "iron stomachs" and can eat a higher-calorie meal with no negative impact on performance, while some people are highly sensitive to bowel irritation whether it be from nerves, caffeine intake, the meal itself, or a combination of the three. Again, if you are looking for recommendations of race-day breakfast options, the BEST bet is to try many options BEFORE race day! That said if you have yet to find the best option for you, many people have success with options like half a bagel with cream cheese or half a banana, a small fruit smoothie, or a small bowl of cereal that is not high in fiber. Again, the key is personalized planning because what works for one person may not work for another!
4) Race nutrient timing is again hopefully something you have practiced during training runs. Now is not the time to figure out what type of product works best for you. If you have not used any fuel replacement strategies to this point, you likely are best without it, especially if you are running less than an hour and a half and/or are exercising at a low-to-moderate intensity. However, if you see that a certain product is being offered along the course at an aid station, you could grab one to have in your hand or in your fuel belt and use if the urge arises. Many variables dictate what, when, or if you should consume any calories other than water and electrolytes during a run, so our best recommendation is to A- employ strategies you have practiced during training runs during your race because you know they work or B- meet with a registered dietician to determine what options would be best for you.
There are SO many choices for fueling, we offer a variety for you to try. The key is YOU- you have to experiment with what works best for you. This holds true both for race-day nutrition as well as training nutrition, and again what works best for one person may not work for another. Each person has a different fitness level, body mass, etc. and such variables impact how an individual can metabolize certain substrates (i.e. carbohydrates). We support helping each person as an individual training for his or her best race, so stop by or shoot us an email and let us know how else we can assist you in serving your sport nutrition needs!
-Ally Bowersock, Ph.D., CSCS