How and why we choose certain foods and fluids for race day
Choosing food for your body (fuel) can be a complex process, both in training and again on race day, particularly in hot and humid environments. So our own Sport & Exercise Nutritionist, Abby Shaw, has put together some tips to help you out.
It is important to remember that there are many different factors to take into account such as gender, size, muscle mass, fitness level, training conditions and of course sport of choice.
So what works for one person may not be best suited to you. This is intended as a general guide.
Importance of Hydration
There are many reasons why we choose certain foods and fluids for sporting events and this can be affected by factors such as the nature and duration of the event, climatic conditions (hot, cold, sunny, windy etc), pre-event nutritional status or our own physiological and biochemical make-up (what we individually need).
Hot/ humid temperature. One of the worst conditions an athlete can face is a hot, humid and windless one, in which exercise occurs at a high rate of intensity. This can put the body under extreme pressure which can in turn affect performance.
The way our bodies deal with extreme heat is through thermoregulation, which helps us to stay at a consistent core temperature (36 to 37.5ºC). Hot/humid conditions can disrupt thermoregulation, however we can help to prevent this stress on our body by correctly hydrating and refuelling.
The way our bodies deal with increased temperatures and humidity is by losing heat through the surface of the body by sweat, which can then evaporate on the skin surface causing heat loss. However in hot and humid climates, heat exchange between the body and environment is substantially impaired and this can lead to serious performance reduction and increase risk of heat illness.
If we don’t prepare ourselves for this loss of sweat then our core temperature usually increases and this can lead to negative side effects such as dizziness, nausea, and disorientation.
Carbohydrates (CHO) and electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium) during long events can help to prevent these nasty side effects and maintain a safe core temperature so our bodies can work more effectively.
Challenges meeting high energy demands
For events and training lasting longer than 1 hour, keeping well hydrated and refuelled is important to help provide energy to the working muscles, meet daily energy and nutrient requirements and keep hunger at bay.
Supplements such as electrolyte drinks and liquid meal supplements should be considered if you are competing or training or competing for over 1 hour. Sports drinks are a fantastic choice because they are quick to drink and hydrate you while providing quick carbs and key electrolytes to your muscles.
Other great options if tolerable are white bread sandwiches, energy bars, bananas, sweet biscuits, dried fruit and sports gels.
The general rule of thumb is that we require between 30 – 60g of carbohydrate per hour during endurance training. Examples of great food/fluid options that are around 50g of carbohydrates include:
- 2 x jam or honey white sandwiches
- 2 x pieces of fruit bread
- 1 x steamed bun
- 1 x bagel
- 2 x energy bars
- 2 x bananas
- 700ml quality sports drink
In addition, during even longer events (2 hours plus) you may also want to include small amounts of protein or fat into your race fuel to help prevent hunger.
Options are not limited to sweet foods and savoury ideas like pizza breads or baked potatoes can be a welcomed change for the taste buds. Examples of great food choices with added protein and fat include:
- Baked potatoes (turkey bacon, turkey ham, chicken, ham or cheese fillings) yes, people really do eat baked potatoes and pizza while out biking or running!
- Sandwiches with Nutella or Peanut butter (better still, both!)
Alongside having effective carbohydrates during training and competition attention should also be placed on fluid intake, especially in hot and humid environments. Tips for maintaining hydration in competition:
- Start exercise well hydrated.
- Drink plenty of fluids from the time you wake up and keep drinking to a plan all day.
- Steady drinking throughout the day/night will have you better prepared than drinking large amounts of fluid irregularly.
- Include carbohydrate-rich beverages such as sports drinks to continually top up carbohydrate stores and maintain fluid balance.
- “Still” beverages (e.g. sports drinks, cordial, water) may be better tolerated than fizzy drinks, especially if you find you are nervous before the event
- Keep fluids cool with ice (alternatively, freeze drinks the night before allowing them to defrost slowly over the day of competition).
These are just suggestions and is not a limited list of potential race day food. The idea is to give you guidance and suggestions to help you navigate around the supermarket, or sports store as you prepare for your big day. Good luck!
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