Race Day Preparation and Performance Strategies
Preparation the morning of and days leading up to a race are dictated by the distance of the race, your nutritional and training habits, and your experience level. While it is important to hydrate and fuel properly, it is not suggested to experiment with approaches that you aren’t accustomed to the day of the race. What you eat will also depend on what type of diet you follow (regarding the consumption of meats, whether you consume a high or low carbohydrate diet, etc).
Nutritional preparation begins a couple days prior to the race. Food can take anywhere from 24 to 72 hours to be digested, absorbed, and excreted. Therefore, the quality of the food that you eat in the days leading up to the race will be more important than what you consume the morning of in order to have the proper micronutrient and macronutrient balance. It is important to remain consistent. If you already hydrate adequately and consume a balanced diet of protein, carbohydrates, and fats, you do not need to make any drastic changes. This is especially the case in the 5k and 10k distance when you are unlikely to fully exhaust glycogen (a product of carbohydrate breakdown) storages. When you begin to venture into the half marathon and full marathon distance, a greater consideration into carbohydrate consumption and loading (discussed below) is worth considering.
Carbohydrate Sources (include but certainly aren’t limited to):
Bread, Pasta, Rice, Quinoa, Potatoes, Peas, Beans, Fruits, Pretzels, certain Sports drinks and Energy Bars, etc
One thing to take into consideration within carbohydrate intake is the Fiber content. Fiber absorbs fluid and can occupy “space” for adequate consumption. This will give you a sensation of being full and can potentially cause gastrointestinal distress; the latter being very debilitating when racing.
Do I need to Carbo-load?
Carbo-loading does not mean hitting up Olive Garden for pasta and all-you-can-east breadsticks the night before your race. Carbo-loading is executed by decreasing your carbohydrate intake for several days about a week in advance. Several days prior to race day, training volume can be decreased and you should begin to consume a diet high in carbohydrates so your muscles store a higher concentration of glycogen. In addition to Fiber’s contribution to fullness and GI distress, you may want to consume a diet low in fats at this time so you don’t feel too full as you attempt to load up on carbohydrates. However, as we mentioned above, for races like the 5k and 10k, it is unlikely that you will need to place too much of an emphasis on carbo-loading. Carbohydrates are important as they are the body’s preferred energy source but for these distances the most important thing is eat foods that give you sufficient energy and don’t leave you feeling sluggish.
Should I Train the Day Before my Race?
The benefits of training don’t manifest immediately and therefore, your Saturday race is not going to be largely impacted by your Thursday and Friday training. The goal of training for the several days prior to your race should be to get you to the starting line feeling as healthy and strong as possible. This could mean placing a larger emphasis on soft tissue work or going for a walk. Short runs where you build up to a small period of time at race pace the day prior could be a nice confidence booster as well; but understand the purpose and don’t turn it into a harder workout than it needs to be.
This section could be several paragraphs long, referencing all of the benefits of sleep on performance, recovery, and injury reduction. Instead, I will simply state that very few things (foam rolling, supplements, additional training) trump the importance of sleep. Prepare your clothes and equipment the night prior to the race so it isn’t on your mind or take up time in the morning. Prioritizing sleep throughout the week leading up to race day is of the utmost importance.
The Effects of Alcohol on Race Performance
Alcohol decreases the body’s production of anti-diuretic hormone which causes you to urinate more frequently and lose water; therefore, having a dehydrating effect. Alcohol may also limit the inflammatory response to training and therefore negatively impact recovery. The effect of alcohol appears to vary from person to person and is dose-dependent, dictated by one’s past experience, and influenced other factors such as quantity and proximity to race day.
Eating the Morning of the Race
Nutrition-wise, the morning of the race doesn’t require a large meal. Eat or drink a carb source that you know for certain won’t upset your stomach. Personally, I like to begin this process far enough in advance that I have time to go the bathroom before the race. Get there early enough that you don’t arrive stressed out and have time to move around and loosen up; especially if you have a longer distance to travel and will be spending a significant amount of time driving.
Should I Make a Pit Stop at the Water Station?
Hydration strategies for a race are largely impacted by temperature, distance, and duration. During a warmer race, when more fluid is lost through perspiration, it may be necessary to rehydrate along the way. Previous studies have concluded that a loss of more than 2% of your bodyweight via sweating has a negative effect on endurance performance; but more recently, literature has stated that anything less than a 4% loss is unlikely to cause much of an effect. During a shorter distance race, it is unlikely that you will lose enough fluid to require a stop at the water station to replenish. In races that exceed a half hour, hydration strategies such as when to drink water vs. a sports drink may need to be considered.
So if you’re lining up for your first 5k and concerned about your hydration along the way, my only suggestion would be to only drink if you’re thirsty but not excessively. Assuming that you consumed some good carbohydrate sources in the days leading up to a race, you are very unlikely (barring a medical issue) to need Gatorade along the course.
The Positives of Negative Splits
Negative Splits is the idea that you run the second half of a race faster than the first half. This allows your body to warm-up to the pace and not burn out early. However, effectively running negative splits without costing yourself precious seconds towards a PR relies on you having a solid understanding of what pace you’re able to run at for a given time or distance. Regardless, starting at a comfortable pace and gradually building your pace throughout the race will increase the likelihood of you finishing strong.
- Don’t make any drastic changes to your nutrition or hydration leading up to the race
- Consume a diet with good carbohydrate sources
- Spend the several days prior to your race recovering so you can perform your best
- On race day only consume food and beverage that will make you feel good
- Take additional hydration and nutrition strategies into consideration for races longer than 10k
- Begin with a conservative pace and gradually build your speed
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