Being able to tick the box that says you’ve run a marathon or done an iron man event is on many peoples bucket lists, and rightly so - being able to swim, bike, run (or any combination of these) for an extended period of time is a fantastic achievement!
Getting the nutrition right is essential to ensuring you’ll perform at your best come race day, though it is the often forgotten part of these events. Here are 6 tips to help you get your nutrition right for your endurance event.
Eat based on your goals
There’s been so much in the media in recent years about if you should be low carb, high fat; high carb low fat, or somewhere in between. Best practice is about eating enough of the right nutrients to support your training, help you achieve your goals and keep you healthy. Consuming enough carbohydrate to support your training is essential; eating carbs before and during endurance races allows you to race at your individual maximal sustainable pace. Not enough means you won’t be able to move as fast. Given that for the majority of people participating in endurance activity, the goal is to do the best you can (and by best I mean fastest speed over the distance), carbs are king. This doesn’t necessarily mean high carb though; it means eating enough to support your training, which means more around training sessions and races, and less at other times. The one caveat here is if you do happen to not be aiming for your maximal sustainable pace; maybe you’re pacing a friend who is less experienced, and doesn’t move as quickly as you, you’ll likely find that during the event you can get away with consuming less, as you’re moving at slower than your maximal sustainable pace.
Choose your food carefully
Some foods are better suited at certain times than than others. For example, carbohydrate which is digested quickly is better consumed either right before or during endurance activity, for example a sports drink or gel. Lower GI, or slower digested carbohydrate is better when you have more time before hand, or the day before, for example whole grain bread, brown rice or pasta. Lower fat choices right before activity are also suggested, as higher fat choices slow digestion. (Unfortunately) donuts do not make for a good choice!
Timing is key
Eating adequate quantities before, during and after sessions is essential. Eat something before hand that is easily digestible that leaves you feeling comfortable. For most men, aiming for 40-60g of carbohydrate is adequate per hour during a training session or race, however some people do tolerate more. Aim to eat within 30 minutes of finishing the training for best recovery results, and to help manage appetite later on in the day. See the meal organiser to help you plan this.
Include some fasted sessions, and some fed sessions
Doing some of your training sessions fasted will help your body better adapt to using fat as fuel, as will including some sessions where you’ve eaten before. As a starting point, for your longer sessions and resistance sessions, eat something before hand (eg banana, muesli and milk, toast with peanut butter and honey). For shorter sessions, do these without eating before hand.
You play the way you train
We all know it’s silly to wear new running shoes on race day; nutrition is the same. Practice your nutrition strategies during training to help instill you with confidence in what you have planned, and to iron out any kinks in your plan.
Remember to drink
Drinking enough fluid day to day is essential for a number of reasons. These daily needs significantly increase as soon as you add endurance training and events into the mix. Remember to check the colour of your urine and aim for pale yellow to colourless, and if you find you sweat a lot, also incorporate electrolyte drinks as well to help replace those lost in your sweat.
Food choices for race day:
Here is an example meal plan of the day before, and day of a race:
Day before –
Breakfast: Muesli with fruit and milk
Snack: Crisp bread with avo and tuna
Lunch: Whole grain sandwich,
Snack: Dried fruit, nuts, yoghurt, ,
Dinner: Pasta or rice with tomato based sauce,
Drinks during the day: Water, and sports drink (for hydration and carbohydrate)
Day of –
Before hand: Banana and smoothie, electrolyte drink or water.
During – carbohydrate gels or sports drink, or homemade date balls or oat bars. In longer events sandwiches with honey or jam, and bananas make good alternate options. Is super important to practice in training sessions what you’ll use on race day.
After - Eggs on toast, chocolate milk… and a beer.
Chloe McLeod is a Sports Dietitian for Parramatta Eels NRL club, and Co-Owner Health & Performance Collective.