Finding a nutrition plan for race day is essential for optimal performance. Without proper nutrition all the training in the world can be negated. I will preface this post by saying that a nutrition plan on race day is not just a one-day thing. Executing on race day is a culmination of many inputs that take place in the weeks and months before. However, certain steps can be taken to avoid having GI distresses or “bonking” and thus minimize the risk of performing poorly. Today I will address race day nutrition only. Like I said the entire week leading up to a big race is important, but I will save that part for another day.
So lets get down to race day nutrition. Obviously everyone is different and has personal preferences. I am going to provide you all insight to exactly what I put into my body and you can take from it what you will. The most important tips that apply to everyone are:
1. Practice your race nutrition on long training days to ensure that your body can handle it. Once you have a formula in place keep practicing it and do not stray away from it at all on race day.
2. KEEP IT SIMPLE. The less diversity, the less chance for disaster.
3. Feed off the course as much as possible. If the race will be providing powerbar endurance drink on course I would advise you to train on that formula. especially if it is a 70.3 or full distance Ironman as this will allow you to carry less on your bike since you can take on fluids at every aid station. Also if you train on powergels and powerbars you will be able to utilize on-course nutrition at aid stations. This can come in handy when you say lose your nutrition on the bike or in transition. Instead of worrying about it and going back to get it you can continue on and just re-load at aid stations without a problem.
4. Pack light. The big secret in my opinion is that you do not need to load yourself and your bike down before an Ironman bike leg. You just don’t! Sure a lot of athletes are sponsored by companies who make gigantic fluid holders and the like..but those people are being paid to weigh down their bike. As long as you aren’t reliant on some specific formula of drink that you have to pre-make you will be fine with just one bottle on your bike as you start out on the Bike leg of any race from a sprint to an Ironman. Why? Because you can just get more drinks at the aid stations. Re-fueling along the course is ridiculously easy, all you have to do is stick your arm out every 10 miles and get a fresh drink. Thus with just one bottle holder on your downtube you can successfully keep yourself hydrated over 112 miles. Now take what I say with a grain of salt if you need more fluids. If such the case than feel free to add another bottle on your bike. I just would like to make the point that having one of those gigantic fluid containers on your bike is really not necessary. Look at Macca’s bike setup from Kona last year. He won the race so I am guessing he stayed hydrated….his setup is extremely clean. No extra parts on his bike.
With that said here is my race day nutrition plan:
4:00AM – Wake up and immediately drink 2 large glasses of water. I add a small fiber supplement as a personal thing. DO NOT ADD FIBER ON RACEDAY IF YOU DO NOT USE IT ON A DAILY BASIS!!! I supplement with this everyday so therefore my body is used to it and it does not give me unexpected issues.
By 4:30 I have my pre-race breakfast down. This consists of:
Coffee – as much as needed to get my system in order.
Banana – 1 medium size
Natural Unsweetened Applesauce – amounts vary by distance (about 1 to 1.5 cups for a 70.3)
Protein Powder – 1 scoop chocolate flavor
Nature’s Valley Granola Bar – 1 package
and more water
After the breakfast is down I will either relax or get my race equipment in order depending on what needs to be done. For the Syracuse race I chilled out for a little and we were on the road a little after 5AM.
My race started at 7:40, so at approximately 6:40 (1 hour before race start) I had 1/2 of a powerbar and some more water.
7:15AM – began sipping on a red bull, I drink 3/4 of a small can before I head to the start line.
7:25AM – With 15 minutes to go before start time I popped my last gel with 1x the caffeine for the last boost.
Since I usually swim somewhere between 30-32 minutes I will get some fluids in immediately on the bike and then about 15 minutes into the bike leg I will begin my regular race nutrition.
(hopefully powerbar will be kind enough to take me on their team next year. It would sure cut my nutrition costs a bit!)
15 minutes in I will take 1/2 of a powerbar. As in all distance races I will start with solids first and then move to more easily digested foods as I near the run. For 70.3’s that means I take in 1 powerbar over the first hour and for full distance Ironman’s I take in 2 powerbars over the first two hours.
I focus on eating every 30-45 minutes. 30 if I actually FEEL hungry and 45 if I feel fine but want to maintain a consistent fueling strategy. At syracuse I felt hungry so I ate every 30 minutes. So it basically went.
15 min in – 1/2 powerbar
1 hr – 1/2 powerbar
1.5hr – 1 gel (Kona blend – non-caff)
2.0hr – 1 gel (Straw-banana – 1 x caff)
Then about with 2 miles to go before transition I took my last gel on the bike.
While on the bike I make sure I am consciously drinking every 15 minutes. However, I do not only drink every 15..whenever I feel like grabbing the bottle I will. I usually go through 3-4 bottles during the bike, making sure that I pee at least once.
My only “special” nutrition, meaning that it can’t be found on-course is that in T1 on my bike I pre-make one bottle consisting of:
2 scoops powerbar endurance (same as is on course)
1 scoop Base Salt
1 scoop Base Amino Blend
I consume this drink mix over the first hour of a 70.3 to ensure that I have properly stocked my body’s stores. For a full distance Ironman I will make 2 bottles and have them both on my bike. I will say that this mix of powerbar and base is one that I utilize on a daily basis. Coupled with the amino’s and salt in my training and racing drink I supplement with Base Recovery Activator post workout in order to aid in my recovery. Base Recovery Activator is a L-glutamine powered supplement which I am a firm believer in. I have seen and tried a lot of supplements but the long and short of it is that you don’t need all the fancy crap that the industry tries to sell you. Amino Acid’s are the building blocks of a person’s body and supplementing these can be extremely beneficial to an endurance athlete. You really do not need to go nuts in terms of supplements since their isn’t anything “magicial” out there. Keep it simple!
This is as simple as it gets. I grab 1 package of clif bloks that are laying on my transition mat and away I go. I supplement this with water or powerbar endurance at every aid station. Over the last 3 miles I will change to Coke if I feel like it. Otherwise, my fueling consists of 1 clif blok every 2 miles. This provides for a sustained burn as opposed to taking one whole gel every 30-45 minutes. Since 1 blok equals 1/2 a gel I am getting the same amount of calories however I am spreading it over the entire run thus creating a slow burn in hopes of avoiding any peaks and valleys.
After the race I find my bag, pop the Base Recovery Activator pills (4 of them) and drink a bunch of water. If I can find a protein drink like a muscle milk I will throw that down too. Usually at this point I am not ready to eat a solid meal so for the first hour after the race I will try to get as much water in me as I can and maybe a coke to bring some life back to me. After the stomach has settled down I will make my way to the athletes food tent and grab whatever I feel like. The rest of the day I let myself enjoy whatever I want, but the reality is that by that time all I really want is a giant salad at night and maybe a big bowl of greek yogurt and peanut butter. The joy of pigging out on ice cream and chicken wings wears off the more races you do…trust me you feel better the next day.
So that’s what I do on race day. I hope that gives you some insight into actual race day eating and maybe provides a few tips to people. If you have any questions or comments feel free to leave me a note.