Tuesday, March 29, 2016

My Race Day Fueling Essentials

Went shopping and picked up a few of my favorites!
I am often asked what is the best thing to eat and drink on race day.  My answer typically goes a little something like this, "it depends on you, but here is what I like..."  I wish there was one simple fuel combination that worked for everyone, but there just isn't.  We all do not eat the same things, we have our own likes and dislikes as well as what works and does not sit well.  This same thing holds true with race nutrition and hydration. Speaking from personal experience, I have tried things others have suggested and have great success as well as failures.  And it continues to evolve with tweaks here and there with each subsequent race.  But from fuel to hydration, it will always come down to convenience, taste, effectiveness and how it makes you feel (the last thing you want is a mid run trip to the port-a-potty)!

Although you will not necessarily follow my fuel plan, a little guidance may help you decide on some things to try for your next race.  So I have compiled a list of some of my favorite race day fuel essentials along with when and why I take them when.  Hopefully this will help give you some ideas for your race day nutrition and hydration.

Days Before
I know, I know this post is about race day, but it is helpful to note the importance of proper nutrition and hydration in the days leading up to the race.  By now, we have all probably heard about carb loading and for many of us that means mounds of pasta and loaves upon loaves of bread.  Although many still believe (and still see great benefits in this type of carb loading), I myself steer clear of Olive Garden and opt for a "cleaner" type of carb loading.  In the days before the race, I get extra carbs in my diet by loading up with things like sweet potatoes, quinoa, oats, bananas and Ezekial bread.  Since these foods are already staples in my diet, I know how my body will handle them come race day.

I also up the water and electrolyte intake significantly in the days before the big event.  I'm a big water drinking to begin with but I start chugging more and more as well as incorporate electrolyte enhancers like Nuun Hydration to my water in order to prepare.  Another way I get more electrolytes is by adding a little extra salt to my food.  I'm not a huge fan of salt and typically use it sparingly, but in preparation for race day, I go ahead sprinkle some pink Himalayan salt on my food, especially those sweet potatoes...yummy!

Pre Race
It's the day of the race and the alarm clock goes off at 4ish in the morning.  I hop out of bed, gather my race belongings and prepare for the 30-45 minute drive down to the event.  But before I head out, I try to prepare my favorite race day breakfast.  Yes, it is a little challenging eating that early in the morning with that much time before the race, but it is incredibly important to get some food in my system.  I have evolved this meal over the years into what I find works best for me today.  It may change again, but for now, the following meal is not only nutritional, filling and easy on the GI tract, it is delicious!  So here is the recipe for my favorite race day breakfast:
Christina's Race Day Almond Butter Toast
2 slices out of Ezekial Bread
2 Tbps of crunchy all natural almond butter
1 ripe banana, sliced
1/2 (or less) honey
dash of pink Himalayan salt

Spread 1 Tbsp of almond butter on each toasted slice of Ezekial bread.  Arrange sliced bananas on top of almond butter toast.  Drizzle with honey, top with salt to taste.
So Yummy!
The drive to the event is the perfect opportunity to hydrate.  I bring a large bottle of water as well as a bottle with Nuun Hydration.  Once at the event, I taper my water drinking so that my stomach is not too full.  At this point, I am about ready for my final pre race nutrition.  30 minutes before the start of the race, I drink my BeetElite for energy and performance enhancement, then have my "snack."  Depending on the time that has past since I had breakfast and the duration of the pending race, I will fuel up with one of the following:

5-15k: Honey Stinger waffles give me what I need for the shorter distances and are super tasty!
Half-Full Marathon: ProBar Meal Bar (filled with plenty of carbs, protein and good fat) gives me enough calories, aka energy, to get me through a whole half and most of a full.  I will sometimes also eat a Honey Stinger along with the ProBar for a full if it has been a while since breakfast.

Mid Race
For shorter distance runs like 5-15k's, I do not need anything during the run itself.  My nutrition leading up to the event is typically enough to carry me through the 3-10ish miles.  After about 10 miles (a little over an hour), I start to need some fuel and this is typically where energy gels comes into play.  I have heard mixed reviews when it comes to gels but I have always been a fan.  Now I'm not saying I particularly like the taste and consistency of the gel, but it certainly is convenient and gives me the energy I need to push through.  I am able to keep the packet in the pouch of my shorts or race belt for easy access.  When I need it, I just rip off the top, choke it down with some water and keep moving.  I have tried several brands over the years from GU to Cliff, but more recently have discovered Huma and Honey Stinger gels and they have become my favorite.  The Honey Stinger gels are organic and are actually rather yummy unlike most of the other gels on the market.  I also enjoy the Huma gels because they too are organic and tasty, and are also Gluten free, dairy free, Vegan friendly.  Huma also makes a gel with caffine in it, which I really like to use out on those half and full distances.

I am also not opposed to using the gels provided on the course if need be.  Again, I have been using these for several years now, and know how they treat me.  I certainly wouldn't try anything new race day nor would I suggest anyone else do the same, so be sure to give them a try on your training runs first.

I no longer race with a hydration belt or Camelback, they downright annoy me (they're a necessary evil for training runs though).  Now I solely rely on pre race hydration and the course water and Gatorade.  I try not to do too much Gatorade to avoid all the sugar, so I mostly do water with the occasionally Gatorade for the longer distance races.  I try to hit every water stop taking in a little at a time, not to fill up my stomach so much but to be sure I continue to hydrate.  Regardless of the weather, I am sure to continually hydrate, and even more so during those hot, humid races.

Post Race
As much as I would LOVE to pig out immediately following a race, I cannot seem to eat a thing!  I am still full from all the pre race food and mid run gels and liquids, so I typically bring me a bar and coconut water to make sure I am getting something in my system post race.  A favorite bar of mine post race is the white chocolate raspberry Quest Bar.  It is nice little treat, almost like a desert, for all my hard work.  I find the coconut water to be super helpful in hydration and it doesn't have all the extra "stuff" in there like Gatorade and other sports drinks.

Once all the excitement of the race has died down and I have made it back home to my family, it is game on as far as food is concerned!  Sundays are typically my cheat day and if it just so happens to be on a race day too, I am in heaven.  Of course I wish I could eat half the things I would like to eat, it still is about making smart choices and in moderation.  But, hey you only live once, so I definitely let my hair down a bit when it comes to post race food.  And one of my absolute most favorite post race indulgences is BEER!  I love me some good craft beer, especially a super hoppy IPA.

Final Thoughts...
Just a couple of quick take-aways when it comes to fueling up for your next event:
  • Every runner and every race is different, find what works best for you and try to stick with it, tweaking here and there to make it even better.
  • To avoid unwanted GI issues, do NOT try anything new race day!  Use your training runs to test out nutrition and hydration.
  • Don't skip breakfast before the race, I know it sounds silly to mention it, but it happens, be sure to eat!  Food=Fuel and you need fuel to run.
  • Keep in mind what you're putting in your body the days leading up to the race.  Make sure to get additional carbs and electrolytes but be sure to avoid things that may upset your stomach or make you feel sluggish.
  • Be sure to drink plenty of water before, during and after the race.  Electrolyte enhancers are also helpful, but try to avoid excess sugar.
  • Treat yourself (in moderation) after the race, you've earned especially after those longer distances!

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