Another great post from Steve Born at Hammer Nutrition. While originally titled for long-distance triathletes, anyone racing long (I’d say half-marathon or more) can benefit from his expert advice. I’ve added some of my own “notes” along the way.
Make sure you apply these to help ensure race day success!
IN THE COUPLE DAYS LEADING UP TO THE RACE
1) Avoid the temptation to train too much and/or too close to race day!
You will not be able to positively influence your fitness level in the days leading up to the race; however, you can negatively impact your race by training during that time (training meaning anything of significant duration or intensity). As well-known coach Jeff Cuddeback states, “The week of an event should be about resting up and topping off your energy stores. Training is done to keep the engine lubed and tuned up, nothing more. If you think you’re going to further your fitness through training the week of your key race, you’re sadly mistaken. If you are the type to train right up to the event, you will almost certainly under perform.” Best performances, especially in long-duration events, are achieved by getting to the starting line well rested rather than razor sharp. In doing so, you may find yourself not hitting on all cylinders during those first few minutes. No problem, though… your body will not forget all the training you’ve done and it will absolutely reward you for giving it the time it needed to “soak up” all of that training.
2) Don’t let your diet deviate too much from what got you there in the first place!
• Fluids – Don’t drink excess amounts of water in the hopes of getting a head start on your fluid requirements for the race. Consumption of roughly .5 to .6 of your body weight is a good gauge in regards to how much water you should be consuming daily (example: 180 lb/approx 82 kg athletes should drink approximately 90-108 ounces/approx 2.7-3.2 liters of water daily). Note that if you’ve not been following this recommendation consistently, don’t start now, as this will overwhelm your body with too much fluid too quickly, which may increase the potential for hyponatremia.
• Calories – Don’t stuff yourself with extra food in the hopes that you’re “carbo loading.” The time period for carbohydrate loading (i.e., maximizing muscle glycogen storage capabilities) has, for all intents and purposes, passed. In essence, “carbo loading” is what you did in the 0-60 minutes after all your workouts leading up to the race. That’s when the glycogen synthase enzyme—which controls glycogen storage—is most active, and that’s how you topped off your glycogen stores. Most likely, any excess food you eat in the days leading up to the race will be stored as fat (i.e. dead weight), and that won’t help your performance.
• Sodium – Don’t consume extra sodium (salt) in the hopes that you’ll be “topping off your body stores” prior to the race. Since the average American already consumes approximately 6000 to 8000 mg per day (if not more), an amount well above the upper end recommended dose of 2300-2400 mg/day, there is absolutely no need to increase that amount in the days prior to the race.
(Hint: Adopting a low-sodium diet will do wonders for both your health and athletic performance). High sodium intake, especially in the days leading up to the race, is a recipe for disaster because it will greatly increase the potential for disruption of the hormonal mechanisms that control sodium regulation, re-circulation, and conservation. In the days leading up the race, be especially cognizant of the salt content in your foods, especially if you go out to eat. Restaurant food is oftentimes loaded with sodium, so dining out can dramatically increase an already high salt intake.
THE NIGHT BEFORE THE RACE
1) Eat clean, eat until you’re satisfied, then call it a night
You can’t positively affect muscle glycogen storage capabilities the night before the race, a time when the glycogen synthase enzyme—which again, is the enzyme that controls glycogen storage—is inactive (hint: that’s why post-workout refueling is so important). Consume complex carbohydrates, some high quality protein, and low-to-no saturated fat, make sure your meal is low in sodium, and be sure to drink sufficient amounts (but not too much) of water. Skip the alcohol, fatty foods, and dessert… save those “rewards” for after the race.
Tracy’s note: Sad trombone. (I set my 2010 marathon PR after having both cheesecake and beer with dinner.)
THE MORNING OF THE RACE
1) No calories three hours prior to the race – The first fuel your body will use when the race begins is muscle glycogen. Eating a pre-race meal at the wrong time will negatively affect how your body utilizes its finite stores of glycogen, which will negatively impact your performance. By refraining from consuming any calories in the 3-hour period prior to your workouts and races, you put your body in the ideal physiological state to use its finite stores of muscle glycogen most efficiently, while also utilizing the vast amount of calories from body fat stores more effectively.
2) Don’t sacrifice sleep to eat – A better strategy than eating 1-2 hours prior to the race is to consume 1-2 servings of Hammer Gel 5-10 minutes prior to the start. That will top off liver glycogen stores nicely (the goal of the pre-race meal) without negatively affecting how muscle glycogen is utilized.
Tracy’s note: I’ve been using one serving of Hammer Gel before my 20 mile runs, and then no nutrition during (about 2:40-2:45 of running). Even with the extreme heat and humidity, this strategy has been working for me!
3) Get charged! – Consume 1-2 servings of Fully Charged about 15-30 minutes prior to the start. Take your pre-race supplements at this time, then get ready to have a GREAT race!
Tracy’s note: Just ordered Fully Charged for the first time, stay tuned!
— Steve Born