By Andrea Cullen
April 15th 2014
In support of Cycle Against Suicide 2014
For a full version of this article please follow the link here and here; I will pay forward all monies received to Cycle Against Suicide so I ask you to consider ordering this little e-book to help make a difference OR pay forward my time by clicking the donate button below to contribute to Cycle Against Suicide… and create a chain of thanks.
Hundreds of you are reading this article and very few are generous to donate a few quid towards this fantastic campaign… I am asking you to consider being the difference…. even if it is only the money from your week’s coffee fund it all makes a difference…. thank you 🙂 )
This advice given in this article applies to athletes involved in any endurance cycling event lasting longer than 60-90 minutes that is relatively intense.
Although specifically written with an event in mind, the core principles apply to every training day and every endurance training session (with the exception of caffeine, carbohydrate loading strategies, and the need to keep foods simple).
On event day it is your nutrition strategy that reaps the rewards of your previous weeks and months of training or if you are a non-competitor your nutrition is what will get your ass comfortably from A to B, on consecutive days and without too many sore muscle consequences!
In my e-book I discuss some of the more common mistakes that I see in endurance athletes coming into the clinic. For practical reasons I am keeping this article straight to the points regarding what you can do now to prepare and enjoy your endurance cycling event.
What I will say is that if your current books, articles, friends and fellow cyclists have told you to carb up on breakfast cereals, pasta, sports drinks, jellies and bread, then brain delete this! The same goes for the breakfast cereal, bread, white pasta and most sports drinks; BIN THEM.
I believe that your race strategy can be easier than you think, and need not be obsessively down to the last gram of carbohydrate. I believe that the detail is in the food choices that you make; the frequency of your meals and snacks, the quality of your choices, and the exclusion of foods not helpful for health and performance. Focus on the foods recommended here, do your best to eat well, and don’t sweat the smaller details such as grams, millilitres, and calories. Do a race review after each race or stage of your race and then tweak as you go.
Your race nutrition strategy is to optimise the delivery of fuel to the mind and body whilst avoiding bloating, reflux, fullness, cramping, nausea or vomiting.
Why is event day nutrition preparation important?
Your pre- and during-event strategy is important for the following reasons:
To make sure that you are fully recovered from any previous training sessions or previous stages in multi-stage events.
To maintain hydration that is tuned in with your body and is at a level optimal for sustained endurance performance, cognitive function, and physiological function.
To ensure liver and muscle glycogen stores are optimized. This is important to maintain during-exercise blood glucose levels to fuel optimum physical and mental performance.
To fuel your pace.
To provide you with consistent energy levels and keep you mentally tuned in at the start and for the duration of the event; poor nutrition not only affects stamina, but also concentration, mood, and motivation. Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar levels) and low blood amino acid levels result in feeling fatigued, and contribute to those hard to shake parasitic thoughts of “giving up”.
To optimise reaction speeds, keep the muscles strong, maintain correct biomechanical form and movement; and hence prevent the likelihood of an injury.
To prevent or limit muscle damage and reduce post-event muscle soreness and stiffness; the post-event recovery snack and subsequent post-event meals are crucial to limit muscle trauma and commence the repair process. Water, electrolytes, carbohydrates, amino acids and fatty acids all play a role in recovery of fluid balance, recovery of energy stores, cellular membrane damage limitation and cell repair; this does not happen by chance out of fresh air!
To support your immune system and prevent post-event coughs, colds and viruses/ infections; getting your nutrition right will also limit post-race immune and inflammatory consequences.
The final week countdown!
The final countdown week can be different for everyone. For some individuals involved in a hectic schedule of races and endurance events this is one event in the middle of many others. Other athletes choose this event as their main peaking event, and for many this may be the first exciting biggie that comes with fraught nerves and giddy excitement.
How aggressively you attack this, your final week of preparation, can depend on a number of factors. In the more extensive e-book I discuss many more strategies specific to the final week countdown such as:
- – Recovering from a recent event?
- – Planning on training right up to the event?
- – Planning on tapering you training prior to the event?
- – Do you train low and race high?
Countdown Week Quick Checklist:
- Do you eat 60-120 minutes before cycling?
- Do you eat protein in this pre-event meal?
- Do you natural, wholegrain, and preferably gluten-free carbohydrates when carbohydrates are chosen?
- Do you focus on taking on board quality water and fluids in the 60 minutes before training and competition?
- Do you use high quality salt, such as Himalayan, Hawaiian, Celtic, or Sea salt in your daily diet? Possibly extra during carb loading phase.
- Do you have a fluid strategy for events and stages lasting >60 minutes? With electrolytes if needed or craved
- Do you have a recovery nutrition plan for events and stages lasting >60 minutes?
- Have you educated yourself about which gels, drinks, electrolytes, sports bars, and recovery products are the real deal and healthy or helpful and which should be avoided? And most importantly which you like and settle comfortably on the tummy.
- Do you have a pre-event nutrition strategy for the 3 days prior to and the day(s) of the event? Have you shopped in advance to prepare for event day? And looked into transportation, storage options and also how to carry fuels on your body or bike when cycling?
To avoid over-eating in your carbohydrate loading phase, pay attention to the quality of food and avoid adding unnecessary calories from junk foods, saturated fats, dressings, mayonnaise, cheese, crisps, fried foods, etc. This is important so that you obtain the required amount of carbohydrates without accessory calories. It may not matter for one event, however if you have multiple events or stages ahead over-doing your calories may result in weight and fat gain.
Taper your training before the event:
This is the usual practice before an event and most certainly if you are competing in an endurance cycling event. Most definitely avoid over-training at the last-minute; trust in your training preparation and cut back on distance in the final week. Seek expert advice from a coach or someone with more experience if you are unsure. Most often it is the amateur and not the pro that burns out from over-doing it.
In addition to tapering your training it is recommended that you raise your total daily carbohydrate intake for at least 24 hours pre-event to refuel and super-compensate muscle and liver glycogen stores. Additionally, pay heed to all the recommendations given here regarding water, fluid, electrolyte and medium chain triglyceride intake.
The crucial point is that you refuel, recover, and load muscle glycogen levels such that you have fast pace, stamina, and endurance in the tank for that finishing time you are chasing AND that the event is enjoyable which it will be when your brain detects ample fuel in your stores for performance.
Countdown lifestyle tactics:
As you draw close to the big event your nutrition, sleep and stress management become increasingly important. If you were driving in the grand prix you would pay heed to your engine, fuel and oil; your body is no different. It ceases to amaze me how many athletes leave nutrition to chance. When you realize that once you go past the 90 minute mark (approximately when intensity is relatively high) your body starts to deplete in muscle glycogen and becomes increasingly reliant on an external source of energy (sugars) to maintain blood glucose levels and hence pace and performance you can see how important your during-event carbohydrate strategy is. And this presumes that you have optimal fuel in the glycogen tank to start (which is why your pre-event strategy is important)!
Race pace has also been related to initial glycogen store levels; hence emphasizing the importance of your pre-race carbohydrate (and training tapering) strategy. Furthermore your ability to maintain blood glucose levels and prevent or delay the development of hypoglycemia and fatigue is also related to your pre-race glycogen stores.
Your nutrition is a key part of your event/ race preparation. The good news is that, even if you haven’t been as saintly regarding what went on your plate for the past months as you did getting your behind out for training sessions; you can earn still somewhat earn those angel wings by getting things right this week and making the most of your nutrition countdown strategy.
“Remember that the pre-race ‘carb-load’ is not an excuse to throw nutrition caution to the wind and stuff yourself on all the naughty treats, breads, cakes and creamy pastas in your reach as it is a recipe for not only poor health and performance but also comes with a high risk of unwanted weight gain. This is especially true if you compete in multiple races throughout the season or have multiple stages in your event (as in the Cycle Against Suicide event)”….
Before we go full steam into race preparation tips I want to add one observation of mine from many years of experience working with the best of our Irish athletes.
The most successful athletes prepare themselves not only nutritionally and of course physically, but most importantly; mentally. I have been absolutely inspired by the power of self-belief more than once. I truly believe that mental strength and self-belief is at the true core of every successful athlete and every single successful athletic performance. Never underestimate the power of your mind; I highly recommend that you include mental training and visualisation as part of your daily training strategy and race preparation.
Although I am not a sports psychologist, I urge you to mentally prepare yourselves for not only this event, but every event. There is a lot to be said for visualizing yourself as you compete (visualize the race course), feeling good, enjoying it and all the while performing well.
The key is to focus ahead on how you feel during the whole race experience and how you feel in your body while competing and also how it will feel when you finish.
Andrea’s pre-event tips:
Pre-event nutrition starts ideally 3 days before the endurance event and will be most effective if you taper your training. For a more comprehensive list please follow the link to the e-book; all proceeds go the Cycle Against Suicide.
Keep it simple:
- Keep things simple and stick with what works for you; once you find a routine that works for you, then it is best to avoid unusual food additions. Many things can go wrong on the day, so it makes sense to practice and fine-tune all competition strategies in advance. Make a plan and then stick to the plan. If the plan works then use it the next time, if not adjust as you learn more about your unique needs.
- Meals on high carbohydrate pre-event days need not follow the traditional format; eat what you fancy and what suits your needs. I.e. more than one breakfast type meal is fine, or having a more savoury meal as breakfast for example rice or sweet potato and an egg is great also.
The carbohydrate dance:
Please note that some athletes may prefer to start their carbohydrate loading strategy approximately 3 days pre-event and some 1 day pre-event. The key is to find what works best for you according to the duration of the event or number of stages in the event in question. I highly recommend that you adhere to gluten-free or wheat-free recommendations to avoid excess bloating, fluid retention, and gastrointestinal distress.
The key is to glycogen load, and not to intake excess calories so as to store fat and hence risk permanent weight gain. Extra calories are recommended for longer / ultra-distance events and in hotter climates or at altitude.
Do not wait until your last meal to load up on the carbohydrates; this strategy will be too little too late.
Expect to gain several pounds when a carb (glycogen) load is done correctly. For every gram of glycogen the body also stores 3 grams of water. Don’t panic, this is not true permanent weight! Your muscles may feel a little heavier at the beginning of the event; however these feelings will subside as the body uses up the glycogen for energy and associated stored water throughout the race.
When you taper essentially a trade-off is done to shave calories from your total calorie intake while still permitting extra intake from carbohydrates; this is best done by dropping your fat and protein intake slightly below your normal intake and being vigilant to exclude any unnecessary calories (e.g. mayonnaise, salad dressings, fat on meat or fish, butter, etc.).
As a general guide a carbohydrate intake of 10g (up to 12g) per Kg body weight is recommended; I don’t advocate obsessive gram counting, try to eat intuitively and focus on quality.
Regular meals and snacks (e.g. every 3 hours) are crucial to achieve your carbohydrate goals, while also supporting balanced blood sugar levels. Keep all meals similar in size to avoid food over-load; lunch and dinner especially should be similar in size. A moderate dinner followed by evening snack may work better than a giant dinner.
If you are properly carbohydrate loaded, you should expect to be 2-4 pounds heavier due to the extra water stored in your body.
Carbohydrate loading can leave the muscles a little stiff so the inclusion of ginger, turmeric, herbs and spices may ease these sensations.
If you have been following a gluten-free or wheat-free diet then it is advisable to continue to do so; in fact I recommend excluding gluten products completely for all clients as they tend to cause bloating and gastro upset in many people and this can be extremely noticeable when loading up on gluten-containing carbohydrate foods. The very last thing you need to deal with on race day is bloated belly, diarrhoea, or gastric distress.
It is preferable to choose foods that are low on the Glycaemic Index and to combine these with a small to moderate portion of protein and to complement with some healthy fats so as to keep meals low in glycaemic load (i.e. slow release of sugars into the blood stream).
I recommend that savoury foods are your first choice for most meals, however a conservative intake of the following ‘sweet’ options may be helpful in your strategy:
A conservative intake of the following will help you achieve your carbohydrate loading goals:
Home-made cooked sweet rice (e.g. mix rice with mango, raisins and coconut milk or chopped dates/ prunes, berries and coconut to make a tasty dessert; add cinnamon to balance blood sugar levels).
Fruit salad (choose from recommended fruits)
Grilled or stir-fried fruits (e.g. pineapple, banana, mango, and apple are tasty)
Cooked buckwheat, millet or polenta dessert
Stewed fruit (add cinnamon for flavour and health benefits) (consider mixing rice or gf oats through)
Fruit compote (consider mixing rice or gluten-free (gf) oats through)
Home-made gluten-free pancakes/ waffles
Gluten-free fruit crumble
Home-made fruit breads/ muffins
Home-made healthy gluten-free carbohydrate bars or muesli bars (i.e. healthy recipe version. Email the clinic and for a small donation I will forward some recipes )
Fruit smoothie (add protein to lower the glycaemic effect)
Organic yogurt, Greek yogurt and cottage cheese (if you tolerate dairy foods) (e.g. top with some seeds, dried fruit or chopped fruit, flaked grains such as gluten-free oats, rice flakes, millet, quinoa or buckwheat flakes, and coconut flakes and consider mixing a scoop of protein powder through to make a complete snack.
- Be cautious of sweet foods that you haven’t prepared yourself as they may contain high quantities of hidden fats. Avoiding eating a lot of fruit (> 3 raw portions) as it may upset your stomach; moderate intake of dried fruits can be helpful as they are a dense form of carbohydrates (e.g. several figs, dates or apricots with a small fistful of nuts).
The carbohydrate hot-list
- Healthful gluten-free carbohydrate options that makes great choice for carbohydrate loading include:
Rice/ corn wraps
Cooked rice pudding
Yogurt/ Greek yogurt/ Quark
Home-made vegetable and fruit juices/ smoothies
Sport bars: Pulsin/ Bounce
Oats/ gluten-free oats
Carb powders such as Quadricarb and Vitargo
Health breads and muffins (health ingredients; preferably gluten-free)
Carbohydrates that are not gluten-free also include all wheat, rye, and barley products, couscous, spelt, kamut and bulgur wheat
Root veggies are great options to add to meals: Try sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, parsnips, celeriac, butternut squash, squash, beetroot, carrots, pumpkin, and sweet corn.
- Excellent fruits to choose include: berries and cherries, tropical fruits (papaya, mango, pineapple, pomegranate) and summer fruits like watermelon, melon, peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots. These should be consumed whole with their skins; but may also be eaten stewed, grilled or blended into smoothies.
- Apples, pears and citrus fruits work well in juices. Bananas are a carbohydrate dense fruit that works well as is, or grilled, stir-fried, or blended/ mashed into foods and smoothies or juices.
- Balance blood sugar levels by adding a small portion of protein such as some nuts or seeds or protein powder when possible.
Power fruits pack antioxidant punch:
Melon – esp. cantaloupe
Nectarine & peach
- Dried fruits are carbohydrate bombs, consider:
Raisins and currants
Avoid dried fruits coated in sugar
- Get smart with your carbs by mix and matching several into a meal; the following are suggested strategies; get creative!
- Enjoy two carbs with your main meal, e.g. potato with rice, sweet potato with quinoa, butternut squash with gluten-free pasta.
- Choose root veggies such as parsnips, sweet potato, celeriac, beets, carrots, squash and potato as your veggies.
- Mash potato, squash or root veggies into your home-made pancake or muffin/ bread mixtures before cooking.
- Add home-made fruit and vegetable juices to snacks and meals (add ginger for added antioxidant and anti-inflammatory oomph).
- Add cooked squash, butternut squash, sweet potato, potato or parsnip to curries.
- Add potato or other root veggies to omelettes and serve with rice on the side.
- Add sweet corn, peas, root veggies and gluten-free noodles or grains to soups.
- Add root vegetables such as squash, potato, sweet potato, or parsnip into casseroles, soups, pasta sauces, bolognese, stir-fries, etc.
- Switch from leafy salads to root vegetable salad dishes.
- Serve roasted, steamed or mashed root vegetables on the side of grain and pasta dishes.
- Add sweet corn and peas to cooked vegetable dishes and grains.
- Enjoy mixes of grains as your cooked breakfast, e.g. oat, buckwheat and quinoa flakes.
- Blend fruits, banana, and dried fruits through your cooked ‘porridge’.
- Add pasta, rice, or cooked grain through your soups or casseroles.
- Blend dried fruits and bananas into fresh fruit smoothies.
- Mix sultanas, raisins, apricots or dates through cooked grains such as rice or quinoa.
- Add dried fruit or sweet corn to cooked cold grains to make a tasty salad.
- Add fruit puree or jam (small amount) to cooked breakfast grains, smoothies or pancakes, and if dairy is tolerated to yogurt, cottage cheese or Greek yogurt.
- Blend chopped dried fruit through home-made pancakes.
- Add hummus or small portions of beans or lentils to cooked rice and grains (beans are a predominantly carbohydrate food, however they can be gassy!).
- Now is the one time I will say go wild with the relish as due to the fruit and sugar content it is actually helpful in your carb loading strategy
- Potatoes and root vegetables alone are usually insufficient in carbohydrate content to match your increased needs so I suggest that you add them to meals instead of making them the focus of the meal.
- Save carbohydrate sources such as carbohydrate drinks, gels, jellies, and high sugar drinks for race day and during the event if possible. These are helpful for energy but are not nutritious foods and so do not provide meaningful nutrition. If you compete for a whole season, then obviously substituting these energy foods for real food will have a detrimental cumulative effect on your nutrition status and hence health and performance.
- High in fibre foods can lead to gastric distress in some athletes, however I find that when gluten grains are avoided this is not a problem. So I do not recommend the use of white pasta or white bread type foods to replace natural carbohydrate foods as listed here.
- Remember that when you are tapering, you are exercising less, so you need to make each calorie count. Don’t waste it on “empty calories” like biscuits, sweets, pizza, and ice cream.
- Ditch these processed carbohydrate foods instead for more nutritious healthy options that are gentler on the stomach and contribute valuable nutrients towards health and performance.
- Muesli type breakfast cereals are often loaded with hidden fats, so I would avoid unless you have studied the label or consider making your own.
Although you may not be a body builder and looking for the increased muscle bulk that a strength athlete is chasing, protein is equally important albeit in smaller quantities for the endurance athlete all training year round. This topic alone will require a whole other e-book! Suffice to say protein is an important part of your pre-event strategy that should be included in most meals and snacks in small to moderate portions.
For more guidance click the link into the e-book
To maintain a calorie intake that is not excessive drop your usual protein intake slightly so as to accommodate the increased intake of calories from carbohydrate foods. How do you do this? The portion of protein should be smaller on your plate and that of carbohydrate foods larger.
As long as you are including a small to moderate portion of protein in most meals and snacks you can rest assured that you are obtaining sufficient to cover your needs.
Strategies to limit excess calories sneaking in from fat during the carb loading phase include: limiting fatty protein choices such as minced beef, lamb or pork (unless it looks visibly lean); removing all visible fat from cuts of meat; and removing the skin from poultry.
Recommended protein options may include:
Cold water omega-3 rich fish
Lean red meats
Eggs; hen, duck and goose, whole and white
Whey protein and vegan protein blends
Beans and lentils (caution can be ‘windy’)
Nuts and seeds
Condiments such as hummus, bean dips, lentil or fish dips
Cottage cheese and Greek yogurt, if dairy is tolerated (NB dairy is not considered a Paleo food friendly food if you are aiming to eat Paleo).
- One of the most frequent mistakes I see in an athlete’s food diary is failure to consume some protein with their pre-event breakfast; e.g. eggs, sliced chicken/ turkey, protein powder blends, etc.
High fat junk foods or processed fats are never recommended as part of a pre-race (carbo loading) strategy, unless you wish to waste precious fuelling calorie opportunities.
It is recommend you avoid the following in addition to processed foods in general where fats may be hidden:
Chocolate (occasional intake of organic high % cocoa dark chocolate is permitted)
Creamy or cheesy sauces or pasta dishes (e.g. carbonara, lasagne)
Fried foods/ deep-fried foods
Low-fat margarines/ spreads
Fatty sauces (e.g. hollandaise, white sauce, and although coconut is a helpful fat, large portions of creamy coconut dishes such as Korma are probably best avoided also)
Mayonnaise and shop purchased oil dressings, mayonnaise-filled salads
Oily looking dishes
Crisps, Taytos, etc.
Processed meats, bacon, sausages, luncheon meats
And here is the bit where you really wish I am going to tell you that chocolate and mars bars are good loading foods! Sorry but no!
As a rule I am not anti-fats, in fact they contribute crucial nutrition for the endurance athlete and are encouraged in the day-to-day diet, however, when a calorie space must be made to allow for extra carbohydrates it is sensible to reduce your overall fat intake, by limiting the following foods for the duration of your event preparation:
Cooking and salad oils
Visible fat on meats and poultry
Skin on poultry
- And maintaining a low to moderate intake of the following healthful fats:
Salmon and oily fish (salmon is especially beneficial daily for several days prior to the race as it is rich in anti-inflammatory EPA, DHA and astaxanthin).
Nuts and seeds
MCT oil supplements
- The fats of prime importance are the omega-3 fish oils as these play an anti-inflammatory role and also coconut oil fats as these are a helpful fuel and so I suggest prioritising these in several of your meals over all other fats.
- Your choice of cooking method is key in limiting additional fat calories sneaking in: steaming, grilling, baking, casserole, poaching, etc. are recommended over frying/ deep-frying.
- Become the fat police and watch out for hidden fats: e.g. toasted breakfast cereal, muesli, certain sports bars, some brands of pasta or curry sauce, muffins, croissants, cakes, biscuits, certain pasta dishes such as lasagne, etc.
Coconut flesh contains super healthy fats and the coconut water is a mother nature perfect electrolyte drink.
Water is the medium of life, all chemical reactions within our bodies occur in the medium of water. When you are exercising hundreds of thousand chemical reactions are occurring every second, within the fluid matrix of your cell. This fluid medium of water is more than “just water” as the water has special properties within the cell; when you consider that 99% of our molecules are water, you can begin to see just how important optimal hydration from the right type of water is for physiologic function.
For optimal sports performance it is crucial that you are well hydrated on race day for several reasons:
Facilitation of energy generation = perceived as feeling good and performing with energy
Blood flow through the cardiovascular system = less stress on your heart
Cognitive function = clear thinking
Competition day hydration
Dehydration can impair physical and cognitive performance but not as much as we have been led to believe (and not as much as carbohydrate depletion). Work by Tim Noakes does confirm that a certain amount of dehydration during endurance events is to be expected and is related to the ‘burning’ of glycogen fuel stores and will not impair physical and cognitive performance.
2-8 % body weight loss is acceptable IF drinking to thirst during endurance or ultra-endurance events. You should not be dehydrating to this degree (> 2-4%) during shorter distances such as multi-stage events or events from 2 to 3 hours in duration.
As part of your preparation strategy it is crucial that you start the race optimally hydrated (when optimally glycogen loaded you will also store extra water weight along with your fuel stores. This is because glycogen holds water in a ratio of 3g of water to 1g of glycogen; so you can expect to be thirsty when consuming extra carbohydrates).
Conscientious athletes maintain hydration day in and day out, such that their morning body weight remains relatively stable on most days. This means drinking intuitively to thirst; not forcing water in. Your weight will fluctuate however, if carbohydrate recovery does not match your training needs; working with a good coach or nutritional therapist will help you nail your individual requirements and interpret fluctuating body weight measurements correctly.
Be extra vigilant about hydration in the week prior to an event. To ensure you are properly hydrated sip on fluids throughout the day (preferably in between meal times so as to not affect digestion). Again this does not mean forcing fluids, but rather listening to your body and not getting caught out without water to hand when out and about. It’s silly things (that happen the best of us) like getting caught in a hot car for 4 hours without water to hand, or on a plane travelling to an event, or in the office under air con and letting work distract you for hours without some form of fluid beverage that catches us out leading to dehydration. Pay attention to your body’s cues for thirst.
Instead of looking for a specific number of ml to drink, I urge you to use your body’s own measures of hydration. You should have to urinate every 2-4 hours and your urine should be pale yellow (unless you are taking vitamin or B vitamin supplements which will colour the urine).
Tim Noakes has written extensively on the topic of hydration and electrolytes, and I consider his advice to be the best that there is out there currently (Noakes has 50 years of experience in this field; personally and professionally). The following recommendations are based on Noakes’ advice for hydration, electrolytes and fuelling.
To Summarise Tim Noakes recommendations:
- Noakes argues that the body can self-regulate; in other words the body is capable of accurately telling you what it needs, regarding fuel, hydration, pace and rest. This is counter to what many experts in the past have told us, that we cannot trust our bodies (catastrophe model).
- Drink to thirst not to a schedule.
- The best way to hydrate is with water, and when competing ensure a steady stream of calories from sugars to provide sufficient energy to the exercising muscle.
- If it tastes good you need it – water and fluids should taste ‘good’ and not be forced.
- Start streaming sugars early into your event (for example starting 30 to 40 minutes in).
- The ball-park for water/ fluid requirements is 400-800ml per hour; with less volume recommended for slow and light athletes and more for faster and heavier athletes.
- It is important to keep your stomach turned on with a steady stream of calories from sugar; consume » 60g glucose per hour (e.g. 2-3 gels per hour). Up to 100g per hour of glucose may be tolerated (and recommended for ultra-endurance events) if coming from a mixed supply of sugars (e.g. glucose, fructose and maltodextrins).
- According to Noakes review of the research, drinking does not prevent heat illness.
- Ingesting salt is unnecessary, unless for psychological or neuro-muscular reasons; take sparingly (to achieve this I suggest carrying electrolyte capsules, tablets or dissolvable tablets with you to take as and when you feel necessary during an event).
- Urine frequency or urine colour (during and post-event) has nothing to do with hydration or kidney function.
- Avoid pushing fluids above thirst during or after the race.
I examine this in further detail in my e-book and cover topics such as:
- Competition day hydration
- Competition day fluids
- Over-hydration is dangerous
- Competition day hydration and body weight
- Competition day hydration and its relation to body temperature
- Competition day hydration and its relation to salts and electrolytes
- Competition day hydration and its relation to urine colour recommendations
- Fluid and general recommendations for marathon and ultra-distance athletes
- Exercise associated postural hypotension
So what to drink in your pre-race strategy? The following are suitable options; keep water your main focus and save carbohydrate gels and drinks for race/ event day.
Herbal tea, especially green tea
Home-made hot water + grated ginger + lemon + cinnamon (+ cayenne pepper)
Tea/ Rooibosh tea
Store fluids in BPA free containers
Home-made vegetable + fruit juice
<1 coffee per day
- Add salt (sea salt, Himalayan, or Hawaiian salt) to your meals to aid electrolyte intake and support hydration balance.
- Coconut water is a healthful option increasingly favoured by athletes. It is also a suitable ‘sports’ drink option for during an event. Be sure to choose a pure unprocessed natural brand. And remember that coconut water alone will not meet your carbohydrate requirements during endurance events.
Fluid and general recommendations for endurance-distance athletes and/ or extreme conditions:
Please pay heed to the following:
- Markers of hydration: watch body weight, thirst, cognitive function, swelling, nausea.
- Fluids should taste good.
- 60-100g carbs per hour, gels and real foods.
- Consider taking additional branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), caffeine, and MCT fats on board.
- Salt may be helpful when fatigue not related to sugars and hydration kicks in; especially if you crave it.
- If pain occurs it is NOT recommended that you take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) – ibuprofen and NSAID use increases the incidence of syndrome of inappropriate ADH secretion (SIADH) and kidney damage.
- Training status; Don’t compete when unwell
- Pace and core temperature – if getting too hot slow it down and implement external cooling measures.
- Sneak in healing foods:
Add the following to increase your antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and phyto-nutrient intake:
Colourful berries and cherries
Tropical fruits like pineapple, papaya, pomegranate
Fresh garden herbs (e.g. oregano, rosemary, thyme, parsley, coriander, marjoram, tarragon)
Dried herbs (e.g. oregano, mixed herbs, rosemary)
Fresh or ground turmeric
Chili and cayenne pepper (caution if you are not used to these)
Nitrate or citrulline rich foods such as beet, spinach, rocket, dill, and watermelon
Quercetin and lycopene containing foods
Sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium rich foods
For a comprehensive list with food tips and meal examples please click the link to the e-book:
Be gentle on your tummy
The following strategies may help limit the chances of an upset tummy in your final precious pre-race days:
- I always recommend that athletes remove gluten from the diet, and are cautious about their own tolerance of dairy; however you may notice some more unusual foods causing problems also. Some athletes are sensitive to the following foods:
Milk containing foods (may cause diarrhoea)
Wheat/ gluten containing foods (cause bloating in a significant percentage of people)
Beans and lentils
Windy vegetables like sprouts and cabbage or over-cooked broccoli, leeks and onions
Excess fruits, especially apples, kiwis, oranges, grapefruit, blackberries
Garlic and onions (especially when raw)
Spicy hot foods
Limit sugar filled sports drinks and gels to use on event day
- As best you can avoid having too many pre-race food superstitions, however do pay heed to your own individual reactions and become more aware of these unique and potential pitfalls. If you have a bizarre reaction, then make a note of this for the next time and avoid if necessary.
- Pre-race nerves can lead certain athletes to get extremely nauseous prior to race day. This affects not only food intake but sometimes also fluid intake. In these situations try the following tactics:
Eat more regularly but consume smaller portions.
Sip smaller volumes of fluids more often (Kangen water is much easier to absorb and bloats less than tap and bottled water due to its micro-clustering properties).
Try to condense your calories into power fruit and grain smoothies and all-in-one soups or stews (with protein, grains and root veggies all added).
Stick to bland foods, e.g. plain rice, quinoa or gluten-free pasta with some plain chicken or fish blended through.
Cooked grains like oats, millet or quinoa with chopped dried fruit and a scoop of protein mixed through.
Blend banana, dried fruit or pureed fruits through cooked breakfast grains or sweet rice.
Mash potatoes or root veggies through your grains.
Practice your fluid and sports gel/ dried fruit/jelly sweets strategy well before the event, in training scenario to assess what sits well in your tummy.
- Avoid meals that your system is not used to; pack your own safe foods for travel to the venue if necessary.
- Drop your vegetable and fruit portion to approximately ¼ to 1/3 of your plate to permit space for the all-important carbohydrates and a small-moderate portion of protein.
- Maintain your diet of naturally rich in fibre foods to promote regular bowel movements but don’t go overboard. Too many refined carbohydrates can result in constipation but too much fiber could cause diarrhea and intestinal distress on race day when nerves are added into the mix (especially if you choose gluten-containing foods). If you eat a natural diet this achieves your goals with little effort.
It is important to consider food availability, transport, preparation, and weather conditions (i.e. bring food with you; I don’t recommend leaving it to chance).
Cold bags are super for transporting your own food. These are available from Argos, etc.
Avoid skipping meals or going for longer than 3-4 hours without food in your week prior to an event. Not only can this affect your energy and carb loading strategy, but it could leave you open to catching a cough, cold, or viral infection.
If travelling by plane to your venue, bring snacks with you and purchase extra water for on the plane; don’t trust the airline to accommodate your pre-race nutrition needs!
Don’t forget to consider how you will carry food and gels, drinks etc. on you during the race. Consider all weather scenarios, as a hot day may result in a lack of pocket space in your clothing!
The following are handy snacks:
Steamed baby potatoes (option to wrap in a slice of meat/ fish).
Sushi style sliced cooked meat or eggs on rice (caution fish sushi, check quality).
Home-made sweet potato chips.
Health bar: Pulsin, Poliquin, Bounce, Vega sport, Salba, Bonk Breaker, etc.
Bowl of cooked grains (with fruits and coconut or savoury as a cold salad).
Home-made gluten-free fruit muesli bars or energy bars.
Home-made protein and oats pancakes.
Home-made trail mix: coconut chips, dried fruit, mixed nuts and optional few squares dark high % organic chocolate.
Home-made smoothie (add protein to this to balance out the effects of sugar from fruit and dried fruit. Add grains to raise carbohydrate content).
Home-made pancakes topped with fruit+lemon juice+maple syrup+cinnamon or coconut butter+maple syrup+cinnamon or meat+relish (I suggest that an egg or protein powder is added to the pancake mix for protein).
Popcorn and berries with pumpkin seeds.
Fresh, grilled, stewed, stir-fried or pureed fruit.
Gluten-free oatcakes scraped with almond/ peanut/ pumpkin seed butter or coconut butter.
Home-made vegetable + fruit juice.
Greek yogurt, quark or cottage cheese topped with herbs or chopped dried fruit (if dairy tolerated).
Home-made protein containing muffins/ bread.
Vitargo and Quadricarb are excellent carbohydrate drinks should your carb goal be very high and tricky to achieve without feeling overly full.
If you would like to learn more about recommended supplements to support health and endurance please click the link to the e-book
Quick carbohydrate loading tips:
-Choose naturally free from gluten foods.
-Base each meal and snack around carbohydrate foods.
-Be smart with your carbohydrate choices; include several types and forms of carbohydrate in each meal and snack; mix and match so to speak.
-Strive for low GL (Glycaemic load) meals based on foods in their natural state.
-Add small portions of protein to each meal, and a touch of healthy fats.
-Add limited amounts of the healthy immune and inflammation modulating fats to your meals.
-Aim to include foods rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds.
-Avoid excess fibre or fibre fortified foods (e.g. bran fortified foods).
-MCT fats from coconut oil, full fat coconut milk and MCT supplements may also be useful in your pre-race strategy (small to moderate portion; i.e. on the side).
-As a rough guide your plate should look like 3/4 healthy carbohydrates, 1/4 protein and 1/4 vegetables with a dash of healthy fats.
For suggested meals please click into the e-book all donations will go to Cycle Against Suicide and are greatly appreciated.
Eating breakfast is important to prevent hunger and restore a normal blood sugar level after the over-night fast. Stick with foods that are familiar and those you have been eating throughout your training.
Carbohydrate foods should be on the breakfast menu, being of prime importance on race day; however don’t forget some protein and possibly coconut fats also.
I don’t recommend coffee with breakfast, instead choose a specialist pre-race or during event caffeine formula, should caffeine be on your plan. One word however, some persons feel anxious about running on a full stomach and coffee can be useful first thing in the morning to stimulate a bowel movement. This will leave you feeling lighter and less anxious about needing a toilet later on; just drink a small cup of coffee as this is all it takes, even the smell of coffee can do the trick for some 🙂
Carbs rule on race day!
Carbohydrate intake during exercise delays the onset of fatigue or the occurrence of hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose) and helps to maintain optimum performance and a faster pace, for a significantly longer period when exercise extends over 90 minutes.
Caffeine and small amounts of Protein or Branched chain amino acids may also have a performance effect, limit muscle damage, and limit or delay mental fatigue.
Today is not the day for experimenting; unless this is a practice race/ event.
30 to 60g carbohydrates per hour are required to maintain muscle and brain energy levels (i.e. stable blood glucose levels) throughout an endurance event (>60-90 minutes) 50 to 60g carbohydrate per hour is ideally recommended. Some athletes may require higher intakes and be able to absorb greater than this per hour (100g). (practice makes perfect).
Specialist foods and drinks are often preferred on event day:
Home-made sports bars (email the clinic and for a small donation we will send you some recipes)
Start to refuel (carbs and fluids) early into the event so as to prevent fatigue. This is favourable to treating fatigue when it is too late; when you may be onto a losing battle. Early re-fuelling from the start will help you maintain your race pace and prevent mental fatigue or slowing down. As the race progresses you may switch your focus from fuel to fluids.
Refuel to a plan rather than good luck and as practiced in training. However, be aware that weather conditions can be vastly different to predicted and require a change in game plan; this is ok.
Taste and texture (and even fluids temperature) can be ‘make or break’
Experiment with different kinds of energy gel, drinks, sweets and dried fruits to figure out which ones you like, and which like you!
Flavour, texture, sweetness, saltiness and consistency can mean make or break. Pt like recommending Powergel gels as their thick texture has led to many an athlete vomiting or feeling nauseous.
I do not recommend using gels and sports drinks together at the same time as this can be too concentrated in sugars for your stomach to handle. The general rule is you consume sports drinks OR gels/ bars/ food + water.
Avoid eating too many sweet or fructose rich foods such as dried fruit or sweets, unless you have an iron stomach as they can lead to stomach upset when taken in excess.
Aspartame is a sneaky ingredient found in many sport products that is detrimental to health. Avoid aspartame and other products containing artificial sweeteners including Acesulfame K and saccharin as best you can. My preferred sweetener is stevia.
Choose products that contain sugars such as maltodextrin and simple sugars like glucose, fructose and dextrose; with a higher proportion coming from maltodextrin.
Product gels and sports drink brands that I like include are listed here; all listed should be additive and artificial sweetener free.
Be aware that not all sports gels are gluten-free should you be truly gluten-intolerant. Some athletes are sensitive to maltodextrins.
For more specific guidelines please click the e-book link.
Start working on your hydration at least 24 hours pre-event by consuming ample fluids from water with added salt or coconut water. Beverages such as teas and watermelon juice are great choices also.
Take on board 50 to 60g carbohydrate per hour of competing (minimum 30g), starting quite early into the event (remember that you have to absorb the liquids and digest and absorb the food before it can give you energy!). If you are competing in a marathon or ultra-distance aim for 60g+ per hour (up to 100g may be tolerated).
Drink 200ml to 300ml of fluids over each ½ hour depending on your pace to give a total fluid intake of 400 to 600ml per hour (heavier athletes that sweat a lot may require higher fluid intakes of 800ml per hour; slower athletes require less conservative amounts). Use thirst as a guide.
Your options are:
Water / coconut water plus: Sports gels/ Sports beans/ Bars/ dried fruit/ Electrolyte/ Carbohydrate powders
I am not a fan of sports drinks such as Lucozade as they are full of unwanted ingredients, so I tend to recommend gels and water or coconut water or home-made sports drinks as first preference for events lasting longer than 60 minutes.
You must drink adequate fluids when eating solid foods or gels to prevent stomach cramping. If you have a sensitive tummy then I suggest nibbling on foods and sipping on gels over a period of time to ease digestive stress.
Don’t rely solely on water as hydration during longer events; add your carbohydrates and if desired; electrolyte salts.
For a simple summary of these guidelines with additional carbohydrate charts please click the link into the e-book.
When the big event is done and you are buzzed up after your event it is important to address your recovery before the celebrations commence. Recovery is important to support your immune system, to replenish fuel, to repair damaged muscle and organ tissue, and to limit post-event soreness, stiffness and to encourage a swift recovery back to normal training or for subsequent stages if this is a multi-stage event. Your recovery strategy is of increasing importance if you have a schedule of multiple events when time delayed in poor recovery is valuable time lost, or worse still catching a cough cold or infection is disastrous.
For more in-depth recommendations please click the e-book link
- Within 30-45 minutes of the finish, and preferably immediately, take on-board your recovery. This should include protein, carbohydrates, some salts, and water. I recommend specialist recovery products and water as your best option. Fats and antioxidants are helpful although these may be eaten in subsequent meals (salt also).
- I recommend using protein recovery products that are simple; my preference is to use plain whey or vegan protein with additional carbohydrates or an all in one blend.
- My first preference is to use a plain whey protein and to add additional carbohydrates as foods or pure carbohydrate products such as Poliquin Quadricarb, or Vitargo carbohydrates. Why? Because you can customise the amount of carbohydrates that you add according to your needs.
- Some all-in-one products contain creatine, beta alanine etc.; I recommend taking under expert individualised advice to ensure dosage appropriate.
- Recommended all-in-one recovery products include: Hammer, High 5, Kinetica 100% Recovery, MaxiMuscle Maxifuel Recovermax, Lucozade Sport recovery, USN Recovery XCell.
- Your approx. formula for protein and carbohydrate recovery is 0.25g protein per Kg body weight and carbohydrates 1 to 1.2g per Kg body weight respectively.
- Endurance events can often completely take your appetite away, if so then sip away on your recovery formula as best you can.
- Once you have taken your immediate post-race recovery, then it is recommended to eat a proper meal or at least a snack within one to two hours (i.e. as well as your immediate post-event recovery). This meal should contain carbohydrates, protein and some fats. Healthier options include: curry on steamed rice; fish with steamed vegetables on quinoa, gluten-free pasta, tomato sauce and chicken breast; fish, meat, or poultry with veggies and potatoes; steak and home-cooked sweet potato chips.
- If you are in the middle of a series of events, or an intense training schedule, then recovery food choices are very important and it is important to meet your needs without over-doing your calorie intake. Remember you have already carb loaded for the event, so more carbing up in your recovery, if you get caught up in post-event craziness, may lead to unwanted weight gain.
- Consider the following in your recovery meal:
– Carbohydrate foods should take up approx. half the space on the plate.
– Add moderate portions of protein. You can be a bit more liberal with what you fancy as long as the portion is moderate.
– Avoid breaded, deep-fried or fat-laden food.
– Aim for colourful fruit and vegetables on the plate; these provide antioxidants to quench delayed muscle soreness. The more colourful the better, greens and purples being especially beneficial.
– Aim to add in garlic, oregano, thyme, rosemary, ginger, turmeric (e.g. curry).
– Ginger (fresh root) is a must to reduce muscle pain and inflammation; aim to consume 1-inch in meals or drinks several times a day until you feel recovered. I love mixing ginger, lemon juice and dash of sweetening from stevia or elderflower in the blender with water.
– Add salt to the meal to encourage re-hydration.
– Treat yourself to dessert later if you like as a treat (meringue or crumble are good options)
– Focus on fluids from water, vegetable juices, soups, fruit juice+ ginger, herbal teas, pure cordial and green tea. It is recommended to drink fluids separate to meal time.
– Fresh watermelon + ginger juice or green tea blitzed cold with ginger are great recovery aids.
– Drink chamomile tea in the evening to reduce muscle pain and inflammation (and aid sleep).
– Consider another evening snack to further ensure recovery.
– Avoid alcohol as it delays recovery and exacerbates muscle soreness and absolutely avoid should you have an injury. If you are having a few drinks; be sure to address recovery first.
Good luck folks and please do let me know your feedback!
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