I asked them, "What is a good race day meal?" and the answer goes deeper than just a day. What's actually important is what you eat the whole week before the big day. We learned something new, and Kelli enlightens to help you eat well so you can have the best race you can!
Preparing for Competition One Week Out
So, you’ve got a big competition coming up and you’re in a cold sweat about what you should eat and drink leading up to it. There are many different ideas of how to eat the week before an important competition.
Many trainers tell their athletes to Carbohydrate Load with unlimited amounts of refined carbohydrates (the practice of trying to optimally load your glycogen stores before a big race).
Historically, athletes thought depriving themselves of carbohydrates 3-7 days before a race to deplete their glycogen stores, then bombarding their bodies with high amounts of carbohydrates later in the week would produce the best results.
Kale Salad With Avocado and Cherry Tomato from Noshtopia
There is a finite amount of glycogen your body can store – this will not change with diet adjustment the week of a competition. On the other hand, there is an indefinite amount of fat your body can store, and overeating compared to how much you are training during your taper can cause you to store fat and feel “heavy” during your competition. So, the week of your big competition:
- Continue to follow your meal plan if you are not tapering your training. Be diligent with staying hydrated.
- As you taper your training, eliminate training fuel as needed (your before, during, and after training fuel). Continue to follow a healthy eating plan.
- The day before your competition, if you are not training or training very little, consider doing 1-2 short sprints and follow with your normal recovery snack/meal with carbs and protein. This can replicate the increased enzyme action that loads glycogen after a normal training session.
- The day before your competition, only eat foods/drinks that you know do not cause stomach upset, bloating, or extra gas. Avoid any fatty foods (fried or high in animal fat) and maintain a balance of carbohydrates and lean protein. You can eat vegetables with dinner if you’d like, but avoid gas-producing veggies such as broccoli or cauliflower. Instead, try a salad with spinach, tomatoes, & bell peppers in addition to healthy carbs and lean protein.
- The evening before your competition, add a small amount of extra carbohydrates – just about 30 grams. Don’t overdo carbohydrate loading or you’ll go into your competition feeling heavy rather than fueled. Some example additions include:
- Large piece of fruit with 1 Tbsp honey = 30 grams carbs
- ¼ cup raisins or other dried fruit = 30 grams of carbs
- 8 oz. chocolate milk (made w/ 8 oz. milk + 2 tbsp syrup) = 37 gm carbs
- 1 whole wheat English muffin, small bagel, or 2 slices bread = 30 gm carbs
- ½ medium bagel + low-fat cream cheese = 30 gm carbs
- 8 oz. yogurt = 30 gm carbs
It’s important to think about the timeline of digestion in this scenario. It only takes refined carbohydrates ~15 minutes to be digested and hit the bloodstream. Then, they’re stored.
If your glycogen stores are not fully replenished, they can be stored there. But, for most athletes who haven’t just ended a training session, glycogen stores will be filled to their limit. So, any extra carbs will be stored in the cells as fats – which can be used in long endurance workouts, but do not have any advantage over whole, healthy carbohydrate sources.
So, instead of “quick-energy” carbs the night before a race, go for lower-glycemic, whole-food, healthy ones. Their slow digestion and even energy will be more likely to give you usable, efficient fuel the next day.
- The day of competition, follow your plan for pre-, during, and recovery nutrition (do not try anything new on race day!). Now’s the time for “quick-energy” sports foods! Make sure to stick with foods and drinks you know you digest well.
If you have multiple events in one day with breaks between them (such as being on a team for a 24-hour race), make sure to eat the recovery snack or meal after you finish each activity.
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