Adventure racer and performance nutritionist Laura Mahony shares some great advice on the dos and don’ts of fueling the body for race day.
“Given the nature of adventure racing, most of us are unlikely to replicate a full adventure race in our training sessions. Most training sessions will incorporate aspects of the race, e.g. a run followed by bike or long bike followed by hills, rather than a full 78km, 59km, 44km or whatever your race distance is. That means that on race day our bodies will be working harder and for longer than usual, therefore we need to make sure that we are providing enough energy to complete the race in the best possible time. To achieve this, we need to make sure that our energy, or glycogen, stores are fully stocked up before the race and that we have our essential fluids and fuels for use during the race (again, depending on your race distance). Stocking your glycogen levels before a race is done by ‘carb-loading’ which in reality means eating a little extra carbohydrate with each meal / snack in the 24 hours leading up to race. As your activity level will reduce leading up to race (assuming you are resting in the 48hrs pre-race), your carbohydrate intake does not need to be excessive to adequately ‘carb-load’. It may simply be your normal ‘training-day’ intake with a larger carbohydrate containing meal the night before and at breakfast pre-race.
Race-day is never the day to try any new nutrition ‘strategies. So, if you get a few new gels that you the night before while picking up your race-number, these should be put away and trialed during your next training block rather than using the next day. On race day, between race nerves, different timings of meals, different foods (if away from home) and the adrenalin of the race itself, you want to make sure that your stomach is the least of your worries. During high intensity exercise your blood flow is redirected from your stomach to your working muscles hence you need to make sure that all food consumed during your race is easy to digest and can provide energy quickly.
Some of the most commonly used energy sources during endurance events are fluids, gels and energy bars. Fluids are essential to replace sweat losses, and isotonic fluids are particularly useful as they contain a source of carbohydrate plus electrolytes such as sodium and potassium, minerals that are lost via sweat. Energy gels deliver an easily digestible and quick supply of carbohydrate for energy during exercise. Type of carbohydrate, volume of gel, flavour and whether or not there is caffeine added all depends on the type and brand of gel. My advice to all athletes when it comes to preferred choice is to try 2-3 different brands during hard training sessions and if you have no gastro-related discomfort then stick to your chosen brand.
Timings of use during your race is the next area to focus on and this will be very much dependent on the race and the breakdown of the stages. Have a look at your race stages and aim to have a 25-40g carbohydrate containing food/drink every 60 minutes.
Is caffeine part of your race-day strategy? The benefits of caffeine can include: increased time to fatigue, reduced perception of effort (RPE), increased neuromuscular function – greater force production, improved alertness, and it can also assist carbohydrate absorption. Caffeine can be taken as part of your breakfast coffee or you can take energy containing gels with caffeine, or special caffeine-only tablets or gum. Again, never try a new strategy on race day and work out your optimal dosage during training, with effective dosages being anything from 1.5mg/kg body weight up to 5mg/kg BW.
The simple logistics of where you are going to carry your food / drink, when you are going to have them and the race stage breakdowns are key to executing your race-day nutrition strategy. It’s no good having your jellies in your backpack if you decide to leave your backpack with your bike during the kayak and run stage, as a certain somebody may have done in the past!”