Race Day Nutrition. By Daniel Moffatt Martin
Before I get into this piece, I am going to say straight up, I AM NOT A NUTRITIONIST. There are some very well educated, qualified people out there who can guide you in the area of sports nutrition, however I will shed some light on a few basic fundamentals around what to eat on race day, and how to adjust eating strategies for different race formats.
Deciding what to eat on race day is very much an individual choice, as long as it comes from the correct group and macronutrient. The way to identify this is by looking at what kind of energy the body is demanding.
When we are riding and racing, our body is essentially performing a high intensity effort. The main fuel supply for any high intensity effort is carbohydrates. This will be for almost every athlete, but today we are focusing on our riders. Carbohydrates are going to be our main staple for energy production and to keep fuelling us throughout the race day. Our longer lasting efforts, say a 2-3 hr cross-country will start to break down our “good fats” storages also as we begin to lower the intensity and increase the volume.
So this is where we can start to plan ahead the day before –
The Night Before
Most of us have heard about the carb-loading principle. Well it is very true and used by many athletes around the world. I won’t go deep into the biology of it, if you want to read deeper into it have a look at this report from the team at the AIS
The easiest way to look at it is you want to fill up your fuel reserve tank the night before so you are loaded and ready to go in the morning. Refer back to the above link to identify the correct amount of carbohydrates for your body weight and exercise type. You can also introduce some good fats with your night time meal because you are going to need the longer lasting energy for a long day of competition tomorrow. Good fats may include –
– Fish (omega 3)
– Olive oil
The Morning of Race Day
Again we are looking to simply ‘top up’ those reserve tanks and get ourselves feeling primed and ready. Carbohydrates are going to be our best choice, and looking to minimise fat intake here. This is going to help with easier digestion throughout the morning leading into the start of the race day.
Throughout The Race Day
Because we are doing a lot of high intensity repeat efforts throughout the day, those carb storages are getting used up fairly quickly. So it makes sense to be refuelling ourselves with what our body is demanding.
Here’s really the only difference between riders I find –
Club level – If you are racing 2 classes at club level you might have x6, 8-10 min races spread across the whole day, so you really only have time to be quickly topping up those carb storages between rides. I recommend things like;
– Mueslie bars
– Rice cakes with honey or peanut butter
– Small sandwhich or roll depending on time between races.
National Level – Nationals are x2, 30min motos with a few hours between efforts, so you can potentially have a small meal between rides. Again look for carb sources and make sure you are leaving enough time for proper digestion. A small top up of fruit closer to and after the ride can also help with glucose levels for some ‘quick energy’.
Sprint Format – Like the club motocross days, you may find yourself completing 5-8 repeat efforts throughout the day, so a similar approach to the above mentioned would be advised.
Cross Country – This will consist of one longer duration event. So you will only be able to approach the race with the fuel and storage levels that you have pre loaded the night before, and the morning of the race. Timing is crucial with pre-race meals and the optimum space between eating and racing is suggested to be 3-4 hours for larger meals, such as baked beans on toast or cereal and milk for breakfast and 1-2 hours for small top ups like a sports bar or fruit. Check this link below for a full list of recommended foods.
After the race day is completed it is now time to recover and repair! This is where our other macronutrient protein comes in. Protein is best known for muscle and tissue repair so getting some good protein sources in at the end of the day will help with recovery. Again we need to replenish our carbohydrate sources so we can add just a moderate serving of carbs to our post-race meal.
Lastly, I wanted to mention what is definitely the most important part of our nutrition requirement and that is hydration! This is something people can still get wrong and again, I wont dive too deep into it but just shed some light on the subject.
We are constantly losing fluid throughout the day. The main thing I see people doing wrong is they are only drinking sports drinks and not a lot of water.
Our sweat is made up a lot of different minerals but it is actually still around 95% water! So when we think we need to constantly replace electrolytes, we need to actually replace the water first. Replacing the electrolytes is still important, so I tell my riders that for every full bottle of water (1 litre), they are to have half a bottle of sports drink. This is an easy way to make sure we are replacing the most important ingredient first and still getting our bonus minerals also.
Rehydrating at the end of the day is very important especially if we are backing up and riding the following day at multiple round weekend. Easiest way to do this is;
– Weigh yourself at the beginning of the day in your riding gear
– Weigh yourself at the end of the day in your riding gear
– Record the difference (you will be surprised!)
– For every kg of weight you have lost, you need to replace that with about 1.5 L of water over the next 12-24 hours.
So remember, with nutrition it is very much an individual choice and if you can adopt some of these key points you can make a significant change in your race day performance simply by making sure your body is fuelled up and running at its maximum capacity.