Avoid Race Day Nutrition Mistakes

Common fueling mistakes on race weekend, and how to avoid them

When you step to the starting line of any endurance event that you’ve trained for, there are a stressful number of things that you just can’t control that are going to impact your performance. You can’t control how your training went, how many workouts you missed, or do any additional training. You can’t control the weather, or who else is running the race. But you can control your nutrition on race weekend. And that can have a huge impact on how well you perform.

1. You fail to plan


John Wooden famously said that “failing to plan is planning to fail.” And that’s very true when it comes to fueling for a long-distance race. Figure out what types of fuel and hydration work for you during your training. Determine which foods and drinks give you a boost without upsetting your stomach. Figure out what how often to consume fuel and drinks to stay hydrated and keep your energy levels stable. Take some time to write this information down, and craft it into a race-day fueling strategy. On race day, stick to it. Remember, it’s best to fuel and hydrate early in the race—before you feel like you’re hungry or thirsty—and to keep consuming small quantities of fuel and fluids throughout the race to keep an even keel, and avoid massive energy spikes and plunges. Based on that make a fueling plan for race day and stick to it.

2. You try something new


It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of race weekend events, and end up consuming all sorts of foods and drinks that you’ve never had before. That’s especially true if you’re traveling to a race, and eating out at restaurants or at other people’s homes. To avoid it, bring what you like to eat with you if you’re traveling, and map out what you’ll eat in the days and hours before the race, and convenient groceries if you need them. It may seem extreme, but with all the months and energy and hope you poured into training, having the foods and drinks that make you feel your best will help you do your best on race day.

3. You overdo the carb-loading


Carb-loading is a proven way to boost your performance, but you don’t have to belly up to the all-you-can-eat pasta buffet the night before the race to get the benefits. In fact doing so will likely leave you with GI distress that will keep you up at night, and likely carry over into the morning. In the three days before the race, there’s no need to eat more calories, just make sure that 70% of your calories come from wholesome carbs. Eat your main meal midday the day before your race and eat light dinner before heading to bed early.

4. You diet on race week


Sure, you want to feel lean and light and your fittest self, when you step to the starting line. But trying to cut calories right before the race is not a good idea; it’s like trying to drive a car without gas. You need food to fuel your activity. If you are worried about your waistline, wait until after you cross the finish line to think about any changes that you want to make to your eating habits. For now, just focus on feeding your muscles the most nutritious forms of fuel to fuel your best-possible performance.

5. You forget to eat


It happens in the excitement of race weekend—going to the expo, double-checking gear, and during the heat of competition, it can be easy to blow through the time you planned to eat, or bypass an aid station without picking up fuel. You may feel fine in the moment, but you will likely hit a wall or energy low later. It’s best to eat according to the schedule and strategy that you’ve mapped out, that you know has worked during training to keep your energy levels stable. That will help you avoid the energy peaks and crashes. Once you have written down your fueling strategy for race weekend, set up some safety precautions to make sure that you execute it. You might set an alarm on your phone to remind you to eat, or give friends and family your fueling plan so that they can help keep you on track.

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