I want to give you a template of what to do leading up to a race from the perspective of 7 days out. There is nothing you can do in the last week before a race in regards to your training that will make you more fit, However, you can overtrain and under recover leading into a race and that will promise to under deliver your true fitness. So, what can you do to optimize all your training leading up to race? In a simple answer: Feed your body the optimal nutrition it needs to be healthy, hydrated and fueled up.
It’s race week and you're in a training taper, what are you going to do with all that extra time? I think the best use of your time is resting and executing exceptional nutrition to make sure you are fueled and ready when you toe the starting line.
5-7 days out from your race:
To perform your taper correctly you need to start backing off your running by now, in fact this may be the first time your muscles have been able to fully restock their glycogen stores in several weeks. As you start restocking glycogen you will gradually begin to store more carbohydrate, helping build up your energy reserves for race day. To do this without overeating and gaining weight before your race, try to consume at least 2.5-3 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight over these 3 days to meet your needs, and space that carb intake out throughout the day. For example, a 140-pound runner would need to consume around 350-420 grams of carbs while a 185-pound runner would aim for 462.5-555 grams of carbs. This may sound like a lot but remember it’s over 3 days so divide that number by 3 and that is how much you need to eat per day. Listen to your body and build up to it over the 3 days and spread out your intake. If you are decreasing your mileage correctly your body will be a sponge to absorb glycogen.
For reference, 400 grams of carbs might look like:
Breakfast: 1 cup of oatmeal loaded up with 1 cup of blueberries, 1 cup of milk(dairy or soy), and 2 tablespoons of slivered almonds.
Lunch: 3 soft flour tortilla tacos with chicken or fish and whatever veggies you would like, 1 cup of rice and black beans on the side. A snack could be an apple plus 30 chips with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter for dipping and a glass of milk.
Dinner: 1 cup of pasta topped with your favorite sauce, with a side of garlic bread.
I’m just focusing on the carbs in this scenario so listen to your body's calorie needs and adjust down your fat and protein since you won’t need as much of either one to repair muscle and provide energy.
3 to 4 Days Out: Up the Carbs
This is your chance to boost glycogen stores one final time and allow for maximum storage. Carbohydrate intake can be increased to 3.5-4 grams for every pound of body weight to further increase your glycogen stores. That’s 490-560 grams of carbs for a 140-pound runner and 647-740 grams of carbs for a 185-pound runner. Remember, don’t put all these carbs on top of your current nutrition plan or you will be overeating and gaining weight in your taper. Take in the same amount of calories but get a larger percentage of those calories from carbohydrates. So cut back on fat and lower protein to a baseline of .8g/pound of body weight. So for a 140-pound runner, 112g per day and a 185-pound runner, 148g per day.
Disclaimer: For every 1 gram of carbohydrate stored in the body (as glycogen), there is approximately 2 to 3 grams of water retained, so you may see your weight creep up a little, but this is normal water weight. It’s only temporary, nothing to worry about, in fact it’s an important part of glycogen’s function).
1-2 Days Out: Minimize the fiber
In 24-48 hours your intestines are going to get bounced around and the last thing you want is a lot of fiber slowing your digestion. I suggest limiting high-fiber foods such as bran cereals/baked goods, whole grains, and large amounts of fibrous vegetables for the final few days prior to a race for several reasons. A couple days of lower fiber means less bulk in your intestines and this equals less weight in general. This will minimize the chances of getting the mid-race runs.
In terms of what to eat in the last 1-2 days, make your last big meal 2 days before the race. This gives your body time to digest the food and move it through your system. You don’t want to do it the night before...think of running the morning after Thanksgiving! In this meal you will have 60% carbohydrates in the form of rice, pasta, potatoes, or some other kind of starchy veggie that is lower in fiber. Shoot for 0.8-1.0g per pound of body weight in carbs. For our 140-pound runner that’s 112-140grams of carbs and for our 185-pound runner that’s 148-185grams of carbs. Adjust the protein and fat as needed to stay in your calorie window.
24 Hours Before The Race: Eat Balanced and Normal
Now is not the time to do anything special with your nutrition, eat normal balanced meals like you would do on any training day. The real focus now is staying hydrated and keeping your electrolytes topped off. Make sure you drink plenty of liquids all day long, especially electrolyte fluids. I like to sip on what is going to be used in the race so I get used to it. If you are going to use your own electrolyte fuel then sip on it or use electrolyte tabs such as Nuun. Carry a water bottle with you throughout the day to remind yourself to drink and sip away.
Your main meals should still be carb centric but remember to keep the fiber down. I like to think in terms of how your plate should look and that’s 60% carbs, 30% protein and 10% fat. Ideally, you won’t be too active today, so you may feel full quickly. That’s fine, you shouldn’t try to stuff yourself.
Good choices for your carbs are: Sweet potatoes, pastas, baked potatoes, white rice, bagel with banana.
18 Hours Before The Race: Light and Hydrated
Go by how you feel. If you aren’t hungry don’t force feed yourself. If you are hungry, use small meals/snacks every 2-3 hours, but absolutely cut out fatty meats, fried foods, dairy products, fatty cheeses, nuts, and all roughage. We want the GI system digesting quickly and staying as empty as possible. You should only be consuming light, digestible foods like energy bars, bread, and small sandwiches.
Keep drinking water and electrolyte beverages and avoid overly salty and high fiber foods.
YOUR LAST MEAL: What to Eat the Night Before the Race
The last dinner before your race can have a lot of pressure on it, but if you have been preparing all week, you’re already set up for a good race. You want to eat a high-carb, low-fat meal to ensure your body has enough time to fully digest everything. Think 70-75% carbs, 20-25% protein and minimal fat. Dine on something you know you can handle so you don’t wake up race morning with an upset stomach. Don’t try anything new, save that for after the race. Consume foods low in fiber to prevent diarrhea, intestinal cramping and bloating. For example, choose regular spaghetti instead of whole-grain spaghetti.
Avoid a late dinner. You don’t want that food sitting in your stomach come race morning. Think 12 hours minimum before the race starts, so if it’s a 7:00am gun, be done with dinner by 7:00pm the night before. If you get hungry before bedtime, go ahead and snack on some high-carb foods, like bananas or dates.
Foods to avoid: anything spicy, high in fat, deep-fried, or highly acidic, like tomatoes, chocolate, and mint.
In the next article we will talk about Race Day nutrition and break it down from when you wake up through your entire race, to race recovery but here is a checklist to summarize race week into race day.
Study the course, know the nutrition on course and develop a nutrition plan.
Practice till it’s habit: Train with your race nutrition plan, train with the drinks on course, train with gels or whatever you will use. This is when you want to find out if everything works.
On your last few long runs, practice your night before meal and your breakfast plan. Find out what foods, amounts, and timing works best for you.
If you’re traveling, make a reservation for dinner the night before at a place that you know is good. Don’t wait till the last moment. If you are staying somewhere you can cook, even better. Grocery shop several days before and have everything you need.
5-7 DAYS BEFORE
Have your race nutrition ready, don’t wait till the last moment.
Increase your carbohydrate intake by eating 2.5-3.0g per pound of body weight over these 3 days. Don’t just eat more food, make it carb specific.
3-4 DAYS BEFORE
Carbohydrate intake can be increased to 3.5-4 grams per pound of body weight.
Expect some added water weight from the retention due to carb increase.
1-2 DAYS BEFORE
Reduce fiber intake 1 to 2 days before the event if you often suffer from gastrointestinal problems.
Last big meal 48 hours before. Shoot for 0.8-1.0g per pound of body weight in carbs
24 HOURS BEFORE
Stay hydrated and keep electrolytes up. Sip all day.
Small snacks with low fiber, moderate glycemic carbs and moderate salt.
Have your standard race breakfast that you have trained with 2.5-4 hours before.
Avoid high fiber, high fat and high protein foods.
Aim for at least 100 grams of carbohydrate.
Drink enough fluid but keep electrolytes high. Urine color should be light.
THE HOUR BEFORE
Start your race fueling 5-15 min before the start (a gel with a few sips of water is an example).
We will talk a lot more about race day in next week’s article so you have a definitive plan for the race. Once you toe the line you will be rested, fueled and ready to race!