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What to Eat Before the Big Race:
Pre-Race Nutrition for Your Next Triathlon

Brian Shea - Personal Best Nutrition

Those final 24 hours before the big race are always filled with nervous anticipation, especially if it’s your 1st time toeing the line in a triathlon. Over time, that feeling slowly diminishes, but unfortunately never goes completely away even after years of racing. All the ‘what ifs’ fill your head. What if I get kicked during the swim, flat on the bike or  cramp on the run? What if I forget my helmet? These things are all par for the course and are part of the excitement of choosing to participate in a multi-sport event vs. hiding under the covers on a Saturday morning.

With all these thoughts flooding your head, there’s another critical component to your final countdown to the gun – what do I eat? This is a very easy question to answer, but you won’t find it this article as I don’t know. I do know who has the answer – you!

The truth is, there is not one menu which is a perfect fit for all athletes, but there are some general rules which everyone can use as a guide during the final 24 hours leading into your race.

1. Hydration is Job #1:  Possibly the single biggest issue which could negatively impact your race is dehydration. Losing as little as 1% of your body weight in fluid can decrease performance by up to 10%. A priority should be to start the race with your fluid reserves at full capacity and lucky for you this is very easy to accomplish. As a general rule, most experienced coaches will recommend using a fluid replacement drink such as Cytomax or Accelerade vs. water alone as you want to be sure you maintain proper electrolyte balance. Over consumption of water alone will often cause an athlete to lose important electrolytes through their urine.  The best way to stay on top of your fluid intake is by using a fluid replacement such as those listed above. Lastly, many athletes will begin to heavily salt their foods in the days leading up to an event especially if conditions are expected to be overly warm. This technique will help with water retention and reduces the likelihood of getting to the start line dehydrated. One more rule about hydration, only consume enough fluid so that your urine is very light to clear in color. Continuing to drink past this point could affect your electrolyte balance (as mentioned above) and also negatively impact your sleep pattern. There’s nothing worse than having to visit the bathroom every few hours the night before your big day!

2. Eat ‘Clean’:  The last thing you want to do is have your toes at the water’s edge ready to kick off your race, and have nature’s call leave you scrambling for the closest Port-o-John! There is not a ‘1 size fits all’ diet which works for every athlete, but one thing which does hold true is you want to stick with a diet that is easily digested. You don’t need an article to tell you what foods these are, as I’m sure you’re familiar with those meals which you still feel sitting in your stomach hours after you’ve taken the last bite. From the moment you wake up on the day before your race, try to keep your eating as ‘clean’ as possible so everything has passed well before take your 1st stroke.

3. Last ‘Solid’ Meal:  Your last large meal should be finished at least 12 hours before your scheduled start. This means that if you have a scheduled start of 7AM on Saturday; you should finish your last meal by 7PM on Friday. This will ensure everything is fully digested before the race kicks off.

4. Race Morning:  More and more athletes are leaning towards a liquid diet on race morning as the calories are more easily digested and you are also aiding in hydration. The timing is less critical with a liquid meal as it will empty from your stomach much quicker than a solid meal with a similar nutrient breakdown. As noted in my Race Reports, one of my favorite pre-race meals is (1) Vanilla Ultramet blended w/ 16oz Pineapple Juice, (1) banana & 16oz water + (1) defizzed can of Red Bull. With that meal I will also consume (2)  Multivitamins, (2) Antioxidants, (3) Optygen, (2) Endurox Capsules and (6) Muscle Nitro. Each of these are typically consumed no later than 90mins before the gun.

If you do choose a light solid meal on race morning, be sure this meal is finished at least 2 hours before your start time. Using our 7AM start time, this would mean your last bite should finish by 5AM. In those final 2 hours before your event, it’s important that you keep your hydration capped so continue to drink watered down sports drink right up until the gun goes off.

There are many more elements to perfecting your individual pre and race day plan, but hopefully this will help get you going in the right direction. After all is said and done and your race day is over, make sure you keep a record of what you ate so you can refer to this in the future. If you had any digestive issues you will want to make note of this and conversely, if everything went as planned, you want to make sure you can repeat that same recipe for your next event. 

If you have any other specific questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me either through the PBN Forum or via e-mail. Good luck with your season, hope to see you at the races!!


Brian Shea is the Owner and CEO of Personal Best Nutrition and a certified triathlon coach through U.S.A. Triathlon. Mr. Shea is also an accomplished endurance athlete himself having competed in over 100 triathlons and marathons, including the Ironman Hawaii World Championships™ with a 9:31 personal best. Most recently, he was honored for his achievements with an All American ranking by U.S.A Triathlon. As a coach, he has worked with athletes of all abilities from the United States and abroad, formulating training and sports nutrition programs for optimum performance. He has available coaching slots for the '05 season and can be contacted at Brian@PersonalBestNutrition.com

 

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