Preparing for Virgin Active 947 Ride Joburg or the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon (or any other big race or event)? Kim Hofmann, registered Dietician and Virgin Active’s expert on all things nutrition, has your back.
Just as you plan and schedule your training sessions, it is important to plan how you eat during the training weeks before the race and what you will eat and drink before, during and after training and races. Being well prepared for any race means you’ve tried out your unique nutrition strategy while you are on long runs and know what works best for you.
Make sure you eat enough
Training time is an important time to make sure that enough energy is taken in. Athletes that don’t take in enough energy can suffer from impaired performance and poor adaptation to training. This can lead to illness and injury. Carbohydrates are a good and easily accessible form of energy for the body. The best diet is therefore one that is high in carbohydrate, moderate in protein and low in fat. The best way to do this is to eat at least 1-2 fistfuls of pasta, potato, rice etc. or 2-4 slices of wholewheat bread with half to one palm size portion of lean fish, chicken or meat at the lunch and dinner meals. Choose high quality nutrition sources from wholesome foods such as wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, plant fats and lean proteins. A diet rich in plant foods provides the body with vitamins, minerals and a mixture of phytochemicals, which are “non-nutritive” substances that provide health protection benefits.
If the volume of foods feels like too much, use concentrated carbohydrates (e.g., dried fruit, fruit juice, cereal and energy bars, sugar-sweetened cereals, sugar, honey, jam, sweets, biscuits etc.) to boost the energy intake. Just remember that many of these foods are poor in nutrition, so they should not be the only ones that you have. Eating smaller meals regularly throughout the day is a good strategy to get enough energy in. One thing to remember is that too much fibre, protein or fat can make it more difficult to get enough energy into the diet.
Timing is important
Whatever your nutrition goals may be leading up to your big race (such as shedding those last few kilos), never compromise on optimal nutrition before, during and after hard training bouts or races. Carbo-loading is very effective for good energy during the race, especially if you did not eat much carbohydrate during your training time. For carbo-loading, increase your carbohydrates 3 days before the event while you are decreasing your exercise. Eat slightly bigger servings of carbohydrate foods or more concentrated carbohydrates. It is also a good idea in the last 24 hours before the race to decrease high fibre and high fat foods and to eat small portions of protein to make space for some extra carbohydrates.
Having a meal an hour or longer before a long run or ride will provide fuel and give the gut time to process the meal to prevent stomach upsets during exercise. It is important to leave the gut feeling comfortable – it should not be too empty and not too full. Low or high GI carbohydrates can be used. Choose foods you are comfortable and happy with.
Fuel and fluid stores get depleted after 60 – 90 minutes. The important point is not to wait too long. Ideally, start eating and drinking within the first hour (30-45 minutes into the race is ideal) and every hour thereafter. Adapt around your capacity and comfort as well as opportunities. Sports drinks are very convenient, but solid foods (peanut butter and honey sandwiches, potatoes, energy bars) can also be used.
During long bouts of exercise, energy and fluid stores get depleted and replacing these stores is essential. The sooner you eat and drink after a stage or race, the better you will recover. Your appetite may be decreased, but start dinking carbohydrate energy drinks as soon as you have finished. Eat a high carbohydrate meal/snack within 30 minutes as this is the window period for optimal recovery and continue eating high carbohydrate snacks every 2 hours for about 24 hours. Remember to include fluids and start incorporating protein into the meals/snacks for muscle repair.
Ensure that the foods and fluids you choose during your run or cycle are easy to eat, easy to carry with you (portable) and easy to digest. This might mean carrying a hydration pack to ensure you get sufficient fluids in, or unwrapping bars or date balls before the start of the race to ensure easy access. Consider foods that are not too dry, are easy to chew and swallow (such as food purees) and be mindful that higher protein and fat foods are not easy to digest during intense exercise bouts. Try all nutrition strategies during training and preparation races – don’t try anything new on race day!