Two of my goal races this running season have now come and gone, and through a combination of both my training, and my nutrition, I finished both races within my goal time range. 1:49 for the BMO Half Marathon, and 48 minutes at the Sun Run 10km.
While training builds up my fitness, my strength and stamina, I attribute much of my race day energy and ability to endure the quickened tempo to how I choose to fuel my body leading up to the race. I emphasize different nutrients at different points in my training, in order to match the goals of my training at different points leading up to the race. The week before any race become the critical window to fine tune your digestion, stock up your reserves of key nutrients, and focus on hydration.
Whether it’s a 10km, or a half marathon, when your training is focusing on muscle development, i.e. strength gains (rather than just building up your cardio base), and you find yourself building in quality runs with intervals, sprints, stairs, hill training and athletic conditioning (potentially in a gym setting), I advocate focusing on quality protein to allow your body to retain and develop new muscle tissue. If you are not consuming adequate protein during your training, your body will begin to catabolize (break down) muscle tissue for energy and to free up essential amino acids. This is detrimental to making the maximal strength gains you are working so hard for.
I generally advocate apx 1.5g of protein for every kg of body weight for active individuals. For males this can be higher, and for endurance athletes (half marathon training, and above mileage) protein needs are also heightened. Typically endurance athletes have higher protein requirements than strength based athletes because they are constantly exhausting their muscle’s fuel supplies over extended durations, and this accelerates the rate of muscle tissue breakdown (especially if you don’t re fuel mid-run).
As you near race day and your training tapers, your nutrition will also adjust. Many of your quality carbohydrate based snacks remain an integral part of your nutrition plan, however as you would have previously used these to pre-fuel a workout, you are now consuming them with less physical output, and using more of the sugars to maintain your reserves of muscle glycogen, rather than instantly burning them for fuel. I actually really enjoy a beer or two a night in the week before a race as well. Increases carbohydrate intake, and the fermentation can boost digestion when consumed before a meal. I don’t drink the night before a race however.
I generally don’t advocate dried fruit, but for active individuals, it makes a great pre-workout snack, and helps keep both calorie and carbohydrate content high in the race lead up, while still being easy to digest, and quite clean. I particularly like dates and figs, but mind you buy them sulphite-free. There’s some really clean, convenient snacks available if you like a little variety. I like Vega’s Vibrancy Bar, Endurance Bar and Protein Bar, which all involve a base of dates, alongside high protein nuts, seeds, and essential fats. Navitas Naturals also makes great little bite size squares with a base of nutrient dense whole food ingredients. For a treat, I like Bliss Balls (see below), which can come coated in chocolate!
In the week before a race, I also really like to focus on hydration (ample water and electrolytes), and fresh or lightly prepared vegetables (for enzymes, vitamin and mineral content).
The day before a race is your crucial window. If you’ve not been as diligent as you would have intended in the week before, do whatever you can in the 24 hours before to keep focused and strategic about your intake. Hyper-hydrate with electrolyte water to keep the ideal water balance in your cells. You should not feel at all dehydrated in the day before the race, and to avoid bathroom trips every ten minutes the day before, you should be building up to your “hyper hydration” in the week before. Being well hydrated is important for temperature regulation and circulation of nutrients. Try adding a coconut water, or a Vega Sport Hydrator daily in the week before, along with drinking enough water to equal at least half your body weight in ounces.
For the practice of “carb loading” popular among distance runners, technically your second to last major meal before your race is the time to do it. For example, in an am race, your lunch the day before is your chance to go all out. This gives your body plenty of time to digest and assimilate. I don’t always carb load, mainly just for runs above 15km, or over 90 min’s in duration. My “last supper” usually involves fish or eggs for easy to digest protein and healthy fats, alongside ample dark greens for iron, calcium and magnesium, as well as a starchy carb such as market fresh pasta (preservative free) or root vegetables. This is one time when I advocate simple carbs, which require less breakdown to convert into sugars, in the body. Feel free to take a digestive enzyme with your carb heavy meals.
Finally the morning of! I like quick, and simple carbs again. For me this is typically sourdough (bagel, english muffin or toast) because the fermentation assists with digestion, but it is relatively low fibre (keeping digestion quick). I add a simple sugar like maple syrup, and also coconut oil for a quick burning fuel that sustains energy well. Try and avoid dairy the day of a race to avoid potential cramping. I have also recently tried Vega’s Endurance Gel on toast (see below) after the recommendation from Brendan Brazier, a former professional Ironman competitor, and formulator for Vega. However, as I consume these gels mid-run too, I found it was too much of the same taste and texture (I’d consume 3 gels for one race), and so I still prefer jam, raw honey or maple syrup at this point if I want a bit of extra sugars. If you are gluten free, you could mix bananas with maple syrup and hemp seeds, or have a Vega Endurance Bar. Aim to eat at least 60-90 minutes before your race, and most nutritionists will advocate even earlier in advance. I have personally found I can eat my last meal one hour before, if I follow the guidelines above.
I always finish off with a power shot of Vega Pre Workout Energizer 20 min’s before the race. Mix 2 ounces of water with one scoop, and carry it in a recyclable bottle so if you are at the race early, you can drink this quickly while getting into the corrals, and ditch the bottle to the side. The 2 ounces of water I have found is tolerable and won’t make you have to pee minutes before the start!
At any point in training, there are also a few supplements I recommend, depending on the individual:
For those with high stress loads in their personal or professional life, I recommend taking an additional B-Vitamin supplement to help your body recover from, and maintain energy during the additional physical stress of training. You can obtain B-Vitamins in a recovery drink such as Vega’s Recovery Accelerator, use a food based vitamin complex such as one by Mega Food (brand), or maximize your intake of avocado’s, whole grains, nutritional yeast and quality animal protein for food sources of the B vitamins, including B12 which primarily comes from meat.
For athletes with a family history of heart disease, those susceptible to muscle cramping, or prone to calcium loss (drink coffee or carbonated beverages regularly), I recommend an additional calcium & magnesium supplement to protect heart rhythm, regulate muscle contraction and relaxation, and maintain adequate dietary intake. I like the cal:mag supplements from New Roots, AOR, or New Chapter. None of them contain calcium carbonate (the cheapest, least absorbable form), and all contain several co-factors for absorption, such as Vitamin D.
Finally, for those with inflammation from a recent injury, joint pain, or low immune function, take 1000mg + of fish oil daily (or an algae based Omega 3 supplement) to therapeutically provide relief.
Hope this helps on some of your upcoming races or long distance training runs. I’ll be continuing to refine my tactics and explore new food combinations over the next upcoming races: Run for Water Half Marathon May 27th, Millarville (my home town) Half Marathon June 16th, and as part of Team Vega at the Tough Mudder June 23rd.