Your guide to race week nutrition

How to maximise your nutrition and glycogen stores to ensure you have a great run come race day. By sports nutritionist and naturopath Kira Sutherland

Welcome to the Blackmores Sydney Marathon pre-race nutrition guide. This guide has been designed to take the guess work out of what to eat for the few days before the race and race morning itself. You have put in all the effort with training over the months and now it’s time to maximize your nutrition and glycogen stores to ensure you have a great day.

Race week nutrition

Well your race day is getting close and it’s time to get your nutrition organized. Hopefully you have already practiced your race fueling plan a few times and feel good about how you are going to approach the days fueling and hydration, please see the general nutrition guide if you have not.

For races lasting longer then 1.5-2 hours it’s beneficial to focus on what is now called ‘modified carbohydrate loading’ for the first 2-3 days before your race. The aim is to arrive on the start line with excellent glycogen stores (carbohydrates) so as to delay fatigue and performance decline.

Carbohydrate intake / loading

  • For days 3,2,1 pre-race take your carbohydrates up to 70% of total daily intake
  • This should be somewhere between 8-12 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight. Thus a 60 kilogram female will need to consume about 480 to 720 grams of carbohydrate per day. For an 80 kilogram male this will equal 640-960 grams of carb per day
  • If you have never ‘carb loaded’ before, start on the lower end of this scale and see how you feel, do not go to the highest amount as this level may not be needed, especially if you are running to finish rather than race hard
  • I have found with clients that most people do really well on 8-9 grams per kilogram and don’t need to move to the larger amounts which are more useful if you are doing a 24 hour endurance race or long distance triathlon. This is a marathon and most likely will be over in 3-6 hours
  • When you increase carbohydrates in the diet you need to decrease your protein and fat so as not to be over eating
  • It is good to decrease fibre intake at this time as well to limit the chances of gastrointestinal upset during the race. Thus you eat more white rice and pasta than whole grains etc.
  • CHO loading is not about over eating it is about increasing CHO for optimum liver and muscle glycogen stores
  • For every gram of glycogen the body will hold 2.5 to 3 grams of water and thus an athlete can experience weight gain of up to 2 kilos when well CHO loaded
  • Your body will use this extra water during the race too!
  • CHO loading has been shown to enhance endurance and postpone fatigue in endurance exercise at a steady state
  • It does not help increase ones speed
  • This is not the time to be dieting or carbohydrate phobic as it will leave you short of fuel for race day
  • Please see the carbohydrate chart below for specific amounts of CHO in differing foods
  • CHO loading is about upping your CHO intake, not upping your calories. Be aware to stay within your normal food intake (calorie) range where possible
  • This is where you can let go of ‘perfect eating’ and enjoy some unusual treats such as: fruit juice, jam, honey, jelly snakes, jelly beans, flavoured yoghurt, sports drinks, crumpets, pancakes and other white breads
  • Don’t go over the top but you do need to get the CHO amounts up so let go a little
  • There are many websites and Apps  that will calculate your calorie and CHO intake for you so you can see if you are hitting your ‘loading’ goals. The 2 easiest APPS that I have found are mynetdiary and myfitnesspal
  • Alternatively you can search the web for almost any food to see what it contains. SELF Nutrition Data is a very useful website

The following is a guideline of meal ideas for the week before the race. This is not an exact plan for any specific person, these are meal suggestions that are high in carbohydrate and low in fibre. The volume of food you need will depend on your body weight, training volume, sex and caloric needs

Breakfast Lunch & dinner Snacks Other
Yoghurt with 1-2 piece of fruit and a sprinkle of seeds and nuts 120-150 grams protein such as: red meat, chicken, fish etc. plus vegetable stir fry (unlimited veggies) and white rice Yoghurt with a piece of fruit and a tablespoon of honey (berries, banana, fresh dates etc.) Fluids – best is water, mineral water and herbal tea to keep fluid levels topped up for race day
Smoothie – 20 grams protein powder or yoghurt, fluid of choice (juice, milk, coconut water etc.), 1 banana, ½ cup berries and honey 120-150 grams protein plus unlimited veggie salad and 1 of the following: toast, pasta, potato, sweet potato or rice Hummus or guacamole and rice crackers or crumpets with honey If you are short on CHO it is ok to add a few jelly snakes, honey, sports drink etc. to get to your CHO goals
Porridge ( oat or quinoa or rice) with a few sultanas or strawberries and some honey ( not race morning) Frittata (eggs and veggies use lots of potato and sweet potato) plus salad Fresh fruit, dried fruit or dates and small amount of raw nuts Best to avoid alcohol in the week before the race…beer is not good for CHO loading
2 eggs as you like them, 1/3 avocado and 2-3 pieces of low fibre toast or gluten free toast plus fruit or juice Baked veggies plus 120-150 grams meat / fish / other protein source Muesli bar, gluten free muesli bar, hot cross bun or a high CHO sports bar Great to add a little extra salt to food in the few days before the race
2 eggs with spinach, fetta and mushroom sauté and 2-3 pieces toast or potato/sweet potato mash Lasagna made with lots of veggies (in it) or with a salad Jelly snakes or jelly beans DO not over hydrate, but make sure to not be dehydrated
150 grams of cereal (2 cups) plus milk, 1 banana and berries/dates Home-made slow cook stew/goulash with protein and tons of veggies, add potato, sweet potato or rice for increased CHO Chocolate milk, fruit juice, sports drink, 4:1 recovery drink can all be great high CHO snacks Any breakfast can be eaten for lunch or dinner and vice versa
Pancakes with maple syrup, yoghurt and fresh fruit Wrap or sandwich with 120grams protein and plentiful veggies/salad or baked potato Small smoothie – see breakfast recipe Post training 4:1 Carb:Protein is your best recovery ratio! Within 30 minutes!
2-3 Crumpets with honey or jam and a nut butter Recovery drink in a 4:1 (CHO:Protein ratio) Rice pudding or sushi rolls with rice If in doubt use a food diary app such as mynetdiary or myfitnesspal

Let’s look at example of a 1 day meal plan for a  60 kilogram athlete wanting to eat 8g of CHO per kilo of body weight = 480 grams day, using the above meal plan and the CHO table below.

Breakfast

  • 200 grams of vanilla yoghurt ( 45 grams CHO)
  • 1 banana ( 30 grams CHO)
  • 2 Tablespoon honey ( 30 grams)
  • Sprinkle of seeds/nuts (minimal carb)

Snack

  • Sports bar ( 45 grams CHO)
  • Fruit juice 250ml ( 30 grams)

Lunch

  • 2 pieces of bread ( 30 grams)
  • Nut butter
  • 2 Tablespoons jam ( 30 grams)
  • 150 grams baked sweet potato ( 30 grams)

Snack

  • 3 tablespoons hummus ( 6-7 grams CHO)
  • 15 rice crackers (30 grams)
  • Chocolate milk 350ml ( 35 grams)

Dinner

  • Protein of choice
  • 1.5 cups white rice ( 65 grams)
  • Stir fry veggies ( aprox 20-30 grams)

Snack

  • 15 jelly beans ( 45 grams) or
  • 1.5 hot cross buns ( 45 grams )

This meal plan totals approximately 480 grams of CHO.

Please remember this is not about being perfect or eating only super healthy, this is about getting your glycogen stores to a great level for race day. You can go back to eating your kale, chia seeds and quinoa after race day!

Eating the more carbohydrate dense foods is what you need to aim for, it will feel like a lot of food but 42.2 kilometers is a long way to go and you need to make sure your fuel take is full!

I have found with clients that if they are really struggling I move to high CHO liquids and white rice to hit their goals

Race Morning Nutrition

The morning of a race can be a nervous time. It is best to consume tried and tested foods/fluids and to never eat or drink anything new on race day no matter how much someone talks up a product.

Foods

  • The goal is to replenish liver glycogen stores from the overnight fasting state
  • Timing of your pre-race meal will depend on the start time of your event
  • If the marathon starts at 7 or 7:30 you should aim to eat a light breakfast 2 or so hours before the race start
  • Don’t sacrifice sleep for an earlier, larger meal as eating CHO during the race will compensate for a smaller meal eaten here
  • A light meal of mainly carbohydrate is best at this time
  • Aim for 1-2 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight. Thus if you weigh 70 kilos have a light meal of approximately 70 to 140 grams of carb
  • Eat at the smaller end of this scale if you only have a short window before the race; use the larger end of the scale if you have a few hours
  • The meal/snack should be high CHO with low fibre, fat and protein to decrease the chance of gastrointestinal upset.  Meal replacement drinks, sports bars and sports drinks can be useful when nerves or time are a factor
  • Great food choice can be; white bread, crumpets, honey, jam, bananas, smoothies etc
  • Often whatever you eat before a long run is the best thing to eat on race morning
  • Be aware, oats are very healthy but some people find they contain too much fibre for them on ‘race morning’ and result in gastrointestinal issues during the race

I wish you a wonderful journey running your marathon, enjoy the day, race well and be proud of yourself, it’s quite an accomplishment!- Kira

What does 30 grams of carbohydrate look like?

Click on he image below to download our carbohydrate cheat-sheet

carbohydrate table download


Kira Sutherland BHSc, Grad Dip (Sports Nut, IOC), Adv Dip Nat, Adv Dip Nut. is a Nutritionist & Naturopath that specialises in Sports Nutrition. With over 20 years of clinical experience Kira is passionate about working with athletes of all levels.

She is the previous Head of Nutrition Department at Nature Care College in Sydney and has lectured in Natural Medicine for well over 15 years both within Australia and overseas.

As a health educator, Kira has worked / consulted with an array of clients including: private colleges, health conferences, corporates, sports teams, individual athletes and the media.

In her spare time Kira is undertaking her Masters of Sports Nutrition, competes in Ironman triathlon and practices what she preaches.

This post originally appeared over at blackmores.com.au