Take note of these common pre-race nutritional mistakes and fix them before they slow you down. – BY ESMÉ MARÉ, REGISTERED DIETICIAN
The week leading up to your big race can be overwhelming and the last thing you want to do is eat too much of the wrong foods, and too little of the right foods, or at the wrong times. Here’s what you need to know.
1 Improper carbo-loading
Many athletes eat large portions of carbohydrates, especially pasta, the night before a race, to top up their glycogen stores. However, this could lead to digestive problems on race day. Rather start a week prior to race day, gradually increasing carbohydrate and fluid intake each day. This will maximise glycogen storage.
2 Too much fibre
It’s important for athletes to consume a healthy, balanced diet with adequate amounts of fibre, which aids in the maintenance of normal blood sugar levels, reduces risk of heart disease and reduces the risk of constipation. Consuming more high-fibre foods than you are used to prior to race day could cause uncomfortable bloating and flatulence. If you are more sensitive to foods high in fibre, then cut back on foods such as beans and bran cereals two to three days prior to race day. Remember that fruit and vegetables should still be consumed. If you are racing more often, reduce your fibre intake only on race day to make sure that you are not cutting too much fibre out of your diet.
3 Eating and drinking too late
It’s best to have your last dinner no less than 13 hours prior to your race, and do not over-eat. This will prevent gastric discomfort and a sleepless night, especially if you have pre-race jitters. A liquid breakfast can be eaten two hours prior to the race and a solid breakfast can be eaten three hours prior to the race. This will ensure that you begin your race with sufficient fuel. Practise what to eat at dinner and breakfast before long workouts – this way you’ll be able to determine what works best for you before race day.
4 Trying something new
Avoid eating unfamiliar foods in the week before race day. They could lead to gastric discomfort and diarrhoea, which could leave you dehydrated, slowing you down or causing you to pull out of the race.
5 Skipping breakfast
If you have difficulty eating breakfast before a race, wake up earlier to give yourself enough time to eat your breakfast. A smoothie works really well if you cannot stomach solid food.
6 Drinking too much water
Athletes should drink adequate amounts of fluids the week prior to the race. However, drinking too much water before the race could dilute your electrolytes, which may cause cramping, muscle weakness and hyponatraemia. Electrolytes play a big role in muscle contraction and an imbalance can lead to a decrease in performance.
These common pre-race nutritional mistakes may influence the performance of your race, but every runner is different, so this is a trial and error process. As an athlete you should listen to your body and learn what works best for you.