The morning of race day, or before a big exercise session, your nutrition is never more important. It is not something that can, or should be taken too lightly. The choices you make can set you up for a huge success, or a huge failure. Obviously heading into a race, you should have already tested these foods on your stomach to see how well you tolerate them. Just like you would test your chosen fuel during the race.
A pre race meal should follow a few guidelines… First and foremost, you need to hydrate. Overnight, your body does lose some of its fluids which can leave you in a debt of up to 700ml in the average person. We obviously don’t want to drink too much the night before, or we will be getting up for a few too many trips to the toilet meaning poor quality sleep. The first thing I do every morning is take 10 minutes to sip on a large glass of water. It doesn’t matter if I am heading straight out for a run, or just having a recovery day. A pint of water, or about 570ml does me nicely.
Once rehydrated we need to start thinking about what is going to fuel you through the first hour or two. This should ideally be 2-3 hours before you hit the start line depending on start time. The food you should eat needs to be satisfying (nothing worse than being hungry on the start line!) but not too heavy. High fiber foods like oats or porridge tend to soak up a heap of water while in the stomach and sit there expanding which can be a possible cause of gastro intestinal stress. Also limit really high carb foods as this will send your sugars up far too high, with an eventual crash actually leaving you lacking energy at the start line.
Foods high in amino acids are a great choice as they help stimulate the body into fat burning mode while giving performance enhancing benefits too. I have spoken about them previously, but in short, studies have shown they can help reduce the perceived effort and reduce the heart rate in athletes. Eggs, bee pollen and supplements are all options to consider here. Aminos, which are actually the building blocks of protein, can help slow down the digestion of carbohydrate, meaning you are less likely to hit that sugar high and subsequent crash. Also by slowing it down, you are in effect being drip fed the carbs at a slower rate meaning a far more consistent energy supply.
Some good choices can be things like eggs with fruit. I like my eggs raw, or if I’m eating out, poached or lightly fried so the yolks are still runny. A bit of sea salt will help digest them. Fruit like a slice of melon, banana or berries are a good choice, but I would avoid apples, pears or dried fruit. I even know some people who eat baby food as pureed foods tend to digest quite well. Just make sure it’s more like a mixed fruit/vegetable with a protein source also.
Smoothies can be also well tolerated if drunk slowly. I like to have a modified version of my breakfast smoothie which I make with some water in a blender, a handful of spinach or kale leaves, a banana, some coconut oil and maybe even some raw cacao powder to add a nice chocolate taste. Blend it all up, add 2-3 eggs and blend for a few seconds more and that’s a healthy breakfast that will easily see you comfortable at the start line.
Energy or sports bars I tend to avoid as they are generally made with sugar alcohols like malitol, sorbitol and maltitol, all of which cause excess gas by fermenting in the gut. Not good! If you are a coffee addict like most people (I’m one of those weird people who can’t stand the stuff) just limit it to one cup. All that caffeine can cause you to be a bit too jittery and increase your heart rate.
I would avoid gels at the start line. So often I see athletes just minutes before the gun goes off, sucking down an energy gel. The reason this does not work is because most athletes get a bit nervous before starting a big race. The body reacts to this by dumping sugar into the blood which is a hangover from the caveman times where you may need a boost in energy to get away from a lion that is chasing you. It’s exactly the same mechanism. So leave the gels for at least an hour in.
Try these things out in a few of your bigger runs before you hit the race, keep what works for you and discard what doesn’t. We are all different, so what works for me may not work for you. But keep to a few simple guidelines and race happy!