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Long distance eating: Race day nutrition

Presented by Clif Bar
Clif-sponsored athlete Tim O'Donnell
Clif-sponsored athlete Tim O’Donnell

Anyone who has done a long-distance race knows all too well the challenges of getting through an event without running into nutrition issues. We caught up with Tara Dellolacono Thies, a registered dietitian and nutrition strategist for Clif Bar, and asked for some advice on race day nutrition. An avid marathon runner, Dellolacono Thies puts her advice to the test on a regular basis herself.

How should athletes go about figuring out their nutrition plan for a half- or full-distance triathlon event?

Tara Dellolacono Thies: Your plans should be oriented towards two goals: energy and hydration. You should aim to consume 30 to 60 g of carbohydrate with 24 to 28 ounces of fluid per hour. The longer your race, the more you’ll want to move towards the higher ends of those numbers. You should aim to consume this fuel and fluid every 10 to 15 minutes. Taking in a drink that is made up of six to eight per cent carbohydrate formula will replace electrolytes lost in sweat, delay fatigue and minimize risk for GI distress while maximizing gastric emptying and enhancing fluid absorption from the intestine.

I usually suggest to people that if they are eating, they wash the food down with water. If you’re getting your energy purely through liquid, then you would use some sort of a carbohydrate/ electrolyte drink. So, for example, on the bike you might aim to eat one energy bar and 28 ounces of water (with V tsp of salt added) per hour. You can make it easier to chew the bars by slicing them into thirds. On the run you might aim to take in three Clif Bloks (one every 10 minutes) and 12 ounces of fluid every 30 minutes. Choose different flavoured Bloks to prevent taste bud fatigue and take them in with water. If you find that gels work best for you, on the bike and run you should aim to take one gel and 14 ounces of fluid (with V tsp salt) every 30 minutes. Use a gel flask to store up to three gels (and water to dilute) for easy sipping. Choose your flavour based individual preference and whether you want caffeine. Caffeine reduces your perception of fatigue, so I like to hold it as my “secret weapon” for the last part of a race.

It’s really important that you practice whichever nutrition plan you decide to go with in training to make sure it will work for you.

What should athletes be doing nutrition-wise in their training leading up to their race?

Keep your body in great health as you train to maximize performance, it is important to eat good food in an eating plan that works for you.

Create a foundation ally fit way of eating that works for you

If you want to kick-start a nutritious and sustainable way of eating, plan your meals and snacks ahead of time. Have the foods you like and want to eat as part of that plan on hand and ready to go for ease.

Eat fresh and organic first

A foundationally fit nutrition plan should have fresh foods at its core. For more fresh food options shop at your local farmer’s market and shop around the perimeter of the grocery store.

What should athletes be looking for in terms of their race day nutrition? What are the key factors/ ingredients that they should be aware of?

You should have your nutrition plans dialed-in long before your race. Failing to routinely apply well-researched fuelling strategies before long workouts, or haphazardly eating whatever is most convenient prior to a training session, can sabotage a great long-distance workout and bring unwanted anxiety and confusion to race day. Anxiety, fear and excitement can play a number on your digestive system, so it’s best to have your pre-race meal well-practiced and figured out well before race day.

Pre-race meal

Consume between one to three grams of carbohydrates, per kg body weight, three to 3.5 hours before your event. Consume an additional 10 to 20 g of protein to slow digestion and to prevent hunger, along with 16 to 20 ounces of fluid for hydration.

To help you dial-in your race-day nutrition, here are three pre-race meal suggestions to practice in training.

Screen Shot 2016-07-14 at 11.15.56 AMOption 1

  • 1–2 cup white rice
  • 1–2 tbsp nut butter
  • 2–3 tsp maple syrup
  • 1 banana

Option 2

  • 1 bagel
  • 1–2 tbsp jam
  • 1 tbsp nut butter
  • 1 cup grapes
  • 1 hardboiled egg + 1 egg white

Option 3

  • 1.5–2 cup Cream of Wheat
  • 1 oz. raisins
  • 1–2 tbsp nut butter
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 cup kefir (or yogurt)

There are many options available to athletes when it comes to getting their calories in training and racing. What should they consider when trying to figure out what they should be using?

Over the past few decades, a continued goal of sport nutrition companies has been to formulate a variety of foods and drinks, in all types of textures, flavours and forms, to help athletes train smarter and to go longer. With so many sport nutrition foods and drinks available it can be difficult to know where to start. When choosing your fuel consider these four things:

What’s on the race course?

You should be familiar with the types of sport nutrition options that will be available at the bike and run aid stations on race day. Although it is not mandatory to use similar products, it is in your best interest to practice using the sport nutrition options that are available on race day as endurance racing requires consistent intake of fluids and energy in order to meet fluid and electrolyte needs and control blood sugar levels. If you would like something different than what is available on course be sure to plan when you will eat it and where you will get it from.

Prioritize carbohydrates 

There is great research data showing that carbohydrate-based fuels are the predominant energy source for working muscles at high intensities and during long workout sessions. Because a decline in muscle and liver glycogen (stored carbohydrates) can greatly limit endurance performance, sugar, the primary ingredient in most sport nutrition products, can be absorbed quickly to help maintain steady energy levels.