24 Hours and Counting – What to Eat Before the Big Race
Those final 24 hours before the big race are always filled with nervous anticipation, especially if it’s your first time toeing the line in a triathlon. Over time, that feeling slowly diminishes, but unfortunately never goes completely away even after years of racing. All the ‘what ifs’ fill your head. What if I get kicked during the swim, flat on the bike or cramp on the run? What if I forget my helmet? These things are all par for the course and are part of the excitement of choosing to participate in a multi-sport event versus hiding under the covers on a Saturday morning.
With all these thoughts flooding your head, there’s another critical component to your final countdown to the gun - what do I eat? This is a very easy question to answer, but you won’t find it this article as I don’t know. I do know who has the answer - you!
Not one menu is a perfect fit for all athletes, but there are some general rules which everyone can use as a guide during the final 24 hours leading into your race.
Hydration is Job #1: Possibly the single biggest issue which could negatively impact your race is dehydration. Losing as little as 1% of your body weight in fluid can decrease performance by up to 10%. A priority should be to start the race with your fluid reserves at full capacity and lucky for you this is very easy to accomplish.
Use Fluid Replacement Drinks. Fluid replacement drinks such as Cytomax or Accelerade are better than using water alone because it helps you maintain proper electrolyte balance.
Pass the salt. Many athletes will begin to heavily salt their foods in the days leading up to an event especially if conditions are expected to be overly warm. This helps the body retain water and reduces the likelihood of getting to the start line dehydrated.
Don’t overconsume. Only consume enough fluid so that your urine is very light to clear in color. Continuing to drink past this point could affect your electrolyte balance and negatively impact your sleep pattern. There’s nothing worse than having to visit the bathroom every few hours the night before your big day!
Eating "Clean” is Job #2: The last thing you want to do is have your toes at the water’s edge ready to kick off your race nature calls and you leave scrambling for the closest Port-o-John!
Find your meal. There’s no "one-size-fits-all,” diet that works for every athlete, but one thing that does hold true is you want to stick with a diet that your body can easily digest. As a general rule, in the last 24 hours before your race, you want to avoid those foods which are slow to empty from your stomach. Some foods which fall into this category include those that are high in fat, high in fiber or other high processed meals. Basically the more simple a meal, the better. One of my favorite pre-race dinners is posted here with it’s recipe.
Don’t let your last meal do you in. Your last large meal should be finished at least 12 hours before your scheduled start. This means that if you have a scheduled start of 7a.m. on Saturday; you should finish your last meal by 7 p.m. on Friday. This will ensure everything is fully digested before the race kicks off.
Morning Eating Job #3: The debate here is liquid versus solid. Do you drink your breakfast risking hunger or eat a hearty one and risk heartburn?
Watery First Meal. More and more athletes are leaning towards a liquid diet on race morning as the calories are more easily digested and you are also aiding in hydration. Timing is less critical with a liquid meal as it will empty from your stomach much quicker than a solid meal with a similar nutrient breakdown.
Solid Meals Before Race: If you’ve determined through training that your system prefers and can tolerate solid foods before your event, be sure this meal is finished at least two hours before your start time. Using our 7 a.m. start time, this would mean your last bite should finish by 5 a.m. In those final two hours before your event, it’s important that you keep your hydration capped. Keep drinking watered down sports drinks right up until the gun goes off.
There are many more elements to perfecting your individual pre and race day plan, but hopefully this will help get you going in the right direction. After all is said and done and your race day is over, make sure you keep a record of what you ate so you can refer to this in the future. If you had any digestive issues you will want to make note of this and conversely, if everything went as planned, you want to make sure you can repeat that same recipe for your next event.
If you have any other specific questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me either through the PBN Forum or via e-mail. Good luck with your season, hope to see you at the races!!