Saturday, January 24, 2009

Coach's Corner: Food Before Races

Pat Evoe This post is pulled from the J&A newsletter archives of Sept. 2007. Here, Pro Triathlete, Patrick Evoe discusses fueling before workouts and races:

Food Before Morning Workouts and Races

I've been asked several times by athletes as to the best foods to eat in the morning before a race or workout. The answer to this question is almost always "it depends."

For shorter activities...
If the activity is immediate, in an hour or less from the time you have to eat, put something in your stomach that will not cause you issues once you start. For morning workouts and races with around 1.5 hours or less duration, your body is usually already fueled (if you've been eating and drinking correctly in the days before). Usually a couple hundred calories and some fluids will suffice to increase your blood glucose level and replace the fluids lost overnight. I've found that a banana and sports drink or water are enough that I can almost immediately begin warming up. Similarly, something like Clif Bloks and water offer quick calories and fluids that also don't give me gastrointestinal issues.

For longer activities...
For a more prolonged event like a marathon, long bike ride, or Ironman, it's important to take in more calories and fluids, while allowing your body longer to move the food along in the digestion process. Morning meals rich in carbohydrates are important for getting fuel in your system to be utilized later in the day. Therefore it is important to allow enough digestion time for these larger meals. This is completely personal. I've found that I can eat a large meal three hours before a long distance event and not feel full at the start, but two hours is not enough time.

What I eat...
Different athletes have their different morning rituals. You'll hear talk of bagels, oatmeal, pancakes, or pasta. My preference is to fire up the waffle maker in the hotel room and enjoy waffles with syrup at 3:30 am the day of a long distance event. I've read that Rutger Beke, a top Belgian pro triathlete, eats twelve pieces of white bread with jam the morning of an Ironman. The commonalities among these opinions are that all the meals consist of carbohydrate rich foods.

The Final Word...
In summary, if the duration of the event is fairly short, then taking in small amounts of calories with fluids should get you ready to go. The longer the activity, the more food and fluids you need to take in race morning, but also the longer you need to allow for digestion. The key is to experiment with all nutrition changes in your training. Don't wait to see if Beke's white bread and jam works for you until the morning of your Ironman. For me, I'll stick with my waffle maker.

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