Nutrition: The Race-day Food Plan by Dominique le Roux
Why is it that a word that’s slang for sex is so dreaded by athletes? It’s a word that sounds so bouncy, after all. Like the sound a ball makes as it goes down the stairs: bonk, bonk-bonk, bonk-bonk-bonk.
Even ‘hitting the wall’ isn’t quite right. I always feel as if the wall bounced out of nowhere and hit me: ka-BONK!
Perhaps you know that feeling too: you’ve been running/riding/paddling/swimming for a couple of hours, doing just fine, and then your perceived exertion suddenly increases and speed decreases. You might even start feeling dizzy, lethargic and confused. (“Why am I doing this race again? What on earth was I thinking? And what did I ever see in this sport anyway?”) While you might berate yourself at the time for not putting in enough training, the reality is that bonkers have generally not put in enough eating.
“The two largest factors contributing to performance are hydration and glycogen. Even if you’re missing one, your game is going to suffer tremendously with lack of strength, focus, and endurance,” says nutrition consultant James Duscio (beginnertriathlete.com). While you obviously can’t compensate for a lack of training, fitness or strength by eating, you can give your body its best possible chance by ensuring it is well provided with energy and hydration every second of the race. Look at Lance – Mr Armstrong is not making up for a lack of training or preparation when he chows five energy bars and another five gels per average day of the Tour de France. (Source: www.supercycling.com)
Of course, the other problem that we face is that our bodies’ abilities to digest food decreases as intensity increases. So sitting on the couch eating an entire tube of Pringles is very easy if you’re watching the Tour de France, but eating just a handful during a race is a chore in itself.
We should actually be practising, it seems. And working out a definite plan, rather than just winging it and hoping we’ll avoid the bonk with luck and a pocket of sweet stuff. “Developing your plan starts months before your race, when you determine the correct race pace. During your long training rides/runs, experiment with your pacing and find a heart rate range that feels comfortable and at which you can eat and digest an adequate amount of food,” advises Rich Strauss of Crucible Fitness Training Academy (www.cruciblefitness.com).
RACE DAY FOOD PLAN
Fast Fuel’s Elton Holland points out that no nutrition strategy is set in stone. Experimentation is always encouraged - but not on race day.” He’s worked out a system over years of trial and error that he now knows he can rely on. It varies with the length of time he’ll be competing, but it always starts with breakfast.
Pre event (45min to 2 hours before)
Wake up on your big day, and you’re already at a loss: liver stores deplete constantly, even while you’re sleeping. “The maximum liver stores are around 150g, which deplete at a rate of around 9g per hour when resting. People who exercise or work in the morning without eating may only have 50% or less of their liver stores remaining after a night’s sleep and before they take their first step. This can severely limit their resources unless they have breakfast before commencing an endurance event,” according to long-distance running guru Norrie Williamson.
In fact, for longer events, Williamson reckons a more substantial meal. “Because longer events have a lower intensity (eg Comrades pace is about 20% lower intensity than 10km race pace), the need to be fully carbo loaded is less critical as much of the energy source will come from blood fatty acids. It stands to reason then that a more substantial meal will be required prior to the longer events. Wally Hayward, the famous South African runner who set world bests at 100 miles, 24 hours, London to Brighton, and who won five Comrades races, used to eat a steak three hours before a race.”
In 'Everyone’s Guide to Distance Running' (Struik), Williamson suggests that, because the refreshment tables at races usually don’t contain savoury or protein- and fat-rich snacks, one should start long events with a well-balanced meal to compensate for the fact that your body will mostly be getting carbs over the next hours.
Prestart 10 min before
Williamson reckons muscle glycogen stores are sufficient for about 90 minutes of continuous exercise. Go beyond that without replenishing and that wall jumps out and hits you (Bonk!) as your blood sugar is faced with the dilemma of whether to help energise muscle versus brain.
Post-event (within 45 minutes)
Williamson has the last word: 'Shoe manufacturer Nike has a slogan that states ''There is no finish line.'' This is true. When you complete a training session or cross the line in an event, it represents the start of the build-up to the next training session or event. Replacing the energy used in a completed session is the first step you can take to impact on the effectiveness of the next session. It is one of the most powerful aspects of sports nutrition and one of the easiest to do but you only have a limited time in which to maximise its benefit.'
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