to Eat Before the Big Race:
Pre-Race Nutrition for Your Next Triathlon
Brian Shea - Personal Best
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!!
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