Establishing Your Race Nutrition Plan

One hot topic at this time of year is race nutrition — there is a lot of information out there and learning what works best for you can be difficult.

Most of us know that nutrition is very unique to each person, race type and distance.

The obvious things to consider:

  • How much fuel do you burn?
  • What distance is your race?
  • What is the temperature and conditions of your race?
  • At what intensity will you be racing?
  • How long will you be out there?
  • Is your stomach sensitive?
  • Do you suffer from cramping?
  • Do you suffer from multiple potty stops?

The Basic Nutrition Plan

It’s best to answer these questions when building your plan. Then you can trial your strategy during key race specific sessions and B races.

Remember to keep your plan as basic and easy as possible.

Some tips:

  1. In hot racing, it’s best to avoid anything that could spoil, such as protein. It’s also good to avoid anything too hard to digest, such as bulky solids. I recommend bananas and pure chocolate as your solids option in heat.
  2. For electrolytes, taking lots tablets can be hard to manage and hard to digest. I recommend adding a bit of table salt to your mixed bottles or my favorite product now , The Right Stuff, added to your bottles (I’m not sponsored by them, I just really found their product to be incredibly useful). I recommend between 200-1000mg of sodium per hour depending on the person. If you’re a salty sweater, you may need to err to the high range. For the low range, many people can meet their needs from gels and sports drinks.
  3. If intensity is high in your race, liquid form of calories is best.
  4. If it’s going to be cold out you may need to increase your calorie intake.
  5. If you are going to be out there a long time and intensity is lower, consider eating some real food at some point in the day. Again, if it’s in special needs be sure it’s nothing that could spoil.
  6. For total calorie consumption per hour, I recommend between 250-500 calories. However, like sodium intake, it’s unique to each person, effort and intensity. Again, this is where practice comes in. You need to be able to learn appropriate pacing to absorb what you take in. So many people lose their heads when they add race day stress.

One of my favorite race day recipes is:

  • In my bottles on my bike: two bottles with 400-500 calories in each of gel, water and CarboPro with one packet of the Right Stuff.
  • Supplemental gels as I go and a banana if I feel I need.
  • Another two bottles mixed the same in special needs for a longer race and maybe a chocolate bar that contains no nuts (pure chocolate).
  • Supplement with water from the aid stations.
  • For the run: gels, cola and water. If it’s hot, I supplement with one salt tab per hour.

If your stomach goes south consider your pacing. Sometimes just walking or slowing down for five minutes or so will reset everything.

One other thing I’ve learned over the years is that although you may come up with a basic guide to what works for you, you need the ability to adjust and adapt as you race. Many races are ruined because people won’t budge from their plan and they ignore common sense — this is as dangerous as people who have no plan at all.

Fueling for races is unique to each race and each athlete. Have the ability to use your common sense built in many miles of training to know how to adjust as you go.

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