It’s taken me a few years to figure out exactly what kind of race day fueling works best for me. For someone with a history of an eating disorder, learning to fuel my body properly for races had a slightly bigger learning curve than your average runner.
Being able to fuel my body properly really started with changing the way I looked at both food and exercise.
I had to stop looking at running as a way to burn calories and start looking at food as an ally and not an enemy. For many who have a distorted relationship with food and body image adding “extra” calories before or during a race seems difficult, but without it our bodies cannot function at their best.
I’ve learned that the only way my body will perform optimally and reflect the hard work I’ve done is if I provide it with the fuel it needs, that means eating well in the days leading up to a race, the morning of a race, during the race and after. I’ve learned a lot over the years and while the “formula” I’ve arrived at is pretty specific to my own body and my own experience, I think sharing it will hopefully help you discover your own fueling strategy for your next race.
Typically, I eat three hours prior to race start. So if a race has an 8am start I’ll try to have my breakfast at 5am or a little after. I like to have a half a bagel with a peanut butter and an over-easy egg. This breakfast works great for me, it sits well in my stomach and I feel like it is a great mix of carbohydrate, fat and protein.
Eggs don’t work for everyone pre-race, but they work for me. But there are some things that don’t work for me but work for others, like bananas. Yuck. I can’t have those on race morning, hello banana burps.
In the past year I’ve started taking a gel or a gel block ten minutes before a race. Because I’ve eaten breakfast three hours before the race start, I like to top off my glucose stores with a quick shot of GU. Overall, with the exception of a few races I’ve noticed a better feeling at the start of races.
During the Race
I used to carry gels with me during a race and only take it if I “felt like I needed it.” If you’re waiting to take fuel in a race until you feel like you need it, it is too late. Now I take a gel every 45 minutes whether I feel like I “need” it or not. Some of the mountain races I’ve run this year aren’t long in terms of mileage (usually at or under a 10K), but in duration they can get close to half marathon time. Which means I’m still fueling at the 45 minute mark. There have been a few races where I haven’t and in the last half of the race I’ve faltered and felt drained.
Immediately after a race I like to re-fuel with a recovery drink, a mix of Vega Recovery Accelerator and a few spoonfuls of collagen powder, this combined with 12-14 oz of water goes down relatively easy after crossing the finish line.
Then it’s all about getting in quality protein, carbohydrate and healthy fats in a quantity that is satisfying. Don’t skimp on those post race meals!
Finding What Works
The most important thing is to find what works for you. Experiment on training runs and if you have a race that isn’t a big goal race, try something out in that race. They say nothing new on race morning, but if you’ve got a race you are running and it’s not a goal race or you don’t have big expectations for it, don’t be afraid to try something new on race day-just be prepared to deal with whatever happens.
What types of fuel work best for you? Do you fuel during races? How do you time your fueling?
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