This week on 32Gi Sports Nutrition, we focus on pre-race nutrition ahead of the Telkom 947 Cycle Challenge. This mass participation cycling event in South Africa has riders that come in all shapes and sizes. However, the basic pre-race and during race requirements are pretty much the same for all. These miss these universally helpful tips.
As we get closer and closer to the end of the year, some fantastic events continuing around the globe and back here in South Africa we have one of the biggest cycle races. The Telkom 947 Cycle Challenge around the streets of Jo’burg, it’s a fantastic race. Not the easiest race, there’s some climbing, not very long climbing but definitely some difficult climbing.
You’ve got to make sure that you are fuelled and you are ready for that challenge. On this edition of 32Gi Sports Nutrition, Mark Wolff is back with myself, Mr Active, David Katz. Mark, let’s start ahead of the race because the work has been done effectively, but the day before a race is important when it comes to nutrition and importantly part of that, of course hydration isn’t it?
Mark Wolff: Yes, Dave, 100%. You really do need to start looking at nutrition I would say a week before the event. Specifically, around things such as trying to keep any nonsense out of the diet. I would try and limit sugar intake and limit junk food intake, at least the week before. Try and hydrate as much as possible, obviously hydration comes in the form of water. Try and eat cleanly the week before the event.
One of the other reasons is you want to try and get to the event in a good weight shape as well. You don’t want to land up gaining any additional weight when you aren’t putting in a lot of training the week before. A lot of people try to burn off more calories than they’re eating. But in that last week it’s not going to happen. Keep that diet in check and I think that’s also something that’s very critical.
Hydration is one of the most critical pre-race aspects
As you get to around 72 hours before the event, that’s where you really need to start focusing on your food. We can start off with a few things. I think hydration is probably one of the most critical aspects. There I’d be making sure I’m getting in around 30-40ml of fluid per kg of body weight per day and that is very important. Because you need to arrive on race day properly hydrated and for the fluid to be pulled into the system properly. To be properly hydrated, it does take time.
Drinking frequently through each day will definitely help. One of the other things you should also try and focus on is again keeping it clean. You need to know if you have any food intolerances. Many people do but they don’t listen to those messages when it comes to food intolerances. I’m talking about lactose intolerance or people that are fibre intolerant.
In those cases, if you are lactose intolerant, you should definitely try and avoid dairy 72 hours before. If you’re fibre intolerant, you should probably limit or reduce the amount of fibre intake as well a couple of days before. There are some athletes that actually three days before an event, they cut fibre completely in order to make sure that their digestive systems are nicely intact for the day and that they aren’t going to be agitated whatsoever. It’s not just about fuelling, I think it’s also about comfort. You don’t want to have any digestive disorders on the day.
It’s like somebody the night before a race going and eating a big piece of steak which the next morning is obviously going to be carried with them through that race. It’s also about comfort levels. We’ll talk a little bit more about fuelling now, but that’s where my focus would be; is around hydrating properly, eating cleanly and if there is anything that impacts you negatively, whatever it is, avoid those particular foods to make sure that you don’t be impacted on the day.
24 hours to go – pre-race nutritional tips
Most people have been training for quite a number of months for an event like this. The last thing you want to do is arrive at the Telkom 947 Cycle Challenge and actually land up with a stomach problem on the day or even just lack of energy and fatigue. You want to be in tip-top shape to put in a really good effort.
As far as talking about the day before an event goes, that’s probably the most critical. As you get closer to the event, so the criticality of what you consume becomes more and more important. I think the day before an event is one that’s also critical. A lot of people tend to overdo it. They tend to over-eat. It’s not a long race, the Cycle Challenge, it’s really not a long race. For many people it might be a long race but if you talk about it in hours compared to an ultra distance event, it really isn’t a long race.
We’re talking between two and a-quarter-hours probably for the elites, maybe even less. Up to maybe six hours for the backpackers. Over that period of time everybody is going to look at different types of fuelling. I’ll get into the fuelling now. But the day before the event, I would just say keep your eating clean. You can slightly up your carbohydrate intake, probably around the daytime. Make sure you definitely hydrate the day before the event, that’s very important, to hydrate the day before the event.
Don’t go and cram in all that fluid in the evening because you really aren’t going to sleep, you’re going to be running up and down to the loo every five seconds. The most important thing is to actually hydrate consistently through the day. Smaller amounts of water as you get closer to the evening. But you can take in larger volumes earlier on in the day because obviously you’re not so worried about sleep.
The backlash of overdoing it the night before
Make your bigger meal your lunch time meal and rather eat an earlier dinner and make that meal a small meal. You don’t have to stress too much about overeating at night, there’s no reason to have a massive past or spaghetti bolognaise or whatever it is the night before. It’s just going to overload you. You’re going to lie in bed with pre-race nerves as well as a full stomach. You’re just going to lie there and you’re going to really battle to fall asleep. I think the most important thing the night before an event is to actually get some good sleep.
It starts off very early in the morning, most people are going to be out between 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning, that’s not a lot of sleep. So sleep does impact your energy levels and the more sleep you get, the better off you’ll be. The biggest focus meal would be the morning of the event. Keep it clean, keep it simple the day before, don’t overdo it.
A lot of people ask me: What kind of meals should I eat? First of all, don’t do anything different that your body isn’t used to. I would also avoid eating out. I only trust my own hand when it comes to food preparation, especially before a race. If you are travelling out of town and coming up to Johannesburg for the event, I would suggest that you probably bring some foods with you that you know, that suit you. You don’t have to rely purely on hotel or lodge food etc.
As far as the night before, it could be as simple as eggs on toast, it could be a pasta, it could be a chicken or egg or tuna salad, it could be toasted sandwiches. It could be anything that you find that would be suited to your particular eating patterns or diet.
All you need to know about pre-race breakfast
As far as the next morning goes, the day of the race, I would say that you need to consume a meal a minimum of two hours before the race. Don’t eat any closer to the race because you want to make sure that what you have eaten has digested nicely and that will be utilised as fuel for later on in the event. Do not skip that pre-race meal.
A lot of people like to skip meals and they’re just going to feel much more hurt much later on because their blood sugar will drop. I think that’s another very important aspect, is making sure that you don’t skip that pre-race meal. I think that’s the most critical meal of the day, that’s your fuel for the race.
What you consume again, depends on the kind of diet that you follow. For people who are high carbohydrate eaters, to have oats or a muesli or eggs on toast or just toast with banana on it and peanut butter or nut butter, all of those options. If that’s something you would normally eat and you have tested it during training, I would say great, go ahead and do that on race day.
Obviously for your low carb, high fat eaters, it’s a completely different thing. You guys will probably take in a lot higher fat, I would take that in the form of medium chain triglycerides, so a lot of the MCT’s. Focus on your coconut oils and any other forms of MCT that you can get in. Because that will free up a lot of free fatty acids and help with energy levels as well.
Again, you need to hydrate before the event, I think that’s something that’s also very critical, to consume fluid. Again, don’t overdo it, you don’t want to overload your bladder before the event. There are some people that consume large amounts of fluid but they can handle it. Again, consume the amount of fluid that is suited to your body so that you don’t land up running up and down to the toilet while you’re trying to wait in the starting blocks. Because temperatures are lower, your bladder contracts, you’ve over-drunk and what’s going to happen is you’re going to feel it on the day. I think that’s another important aspect.
Is caffeine a pre-race secret weapon?
One of the things that I’m a very big fan of pre-race and this is if you can consume caffeine. I’m a very big fan of caffeine intake. I think it’s got an amazing benefit. If you are going to consume caffeine, you can consume anywhere from 1-2mg per kg of bodyweight, even 3-4 hours before an event. Caffeine takes around 60 minutes to metabolise properly. It has got a shelf life of probably around 4-5 hours.
So if you do want to utilise that as a benefit then at least 60 minutes before the event you could take in some caffeine. Then you could actually take it again at the start and you can take it through the event. More for the race snaking guys, I think that’s quite a benefit. Keep it simple, keep it clean and if there’s any questions, I suppose they can ask the firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re available and we will be at the expo that week as well.
DK: Mark, that was something I was going to ask you. You do most of the expos, so Mark Wolff and a lot of the 32Gi team will be available at the expo at the Ticketpro Dome. Mark, that’s some great advice leading up to the event.
We’ve talked previously about planning for the actual race. What you’re going to consume during the race, some tips there for the guys. Yes, you need to have that plan in, but what are the key things they should look out for during the race?
MW: Dave, it’s quite an important question and I think a lot of other people out there will say: Take a gel. Take a bar. Take a drink etc. But the truth of the matter is, everybody is very different in what they can consume during exercise. The first question that I always ask somebody is: What are you currently doing during training? I think that’s the most important question.
DON’T try anything new on race day!
You definitely don’t want to change what somebody has done during training and then change it on race day. Because if you do that, chances are it’s going to hurt the person or it’s going to leave the person with a bit of discomfort during the race. I think the most important thing, and we can’t stress this enough and we stress it over and over again when we talk about fuelling is. You need to train your stomach for what you’re going to do in the race. I think that’s a very important factor.
One of the other aspects that you need to take into account is if you haven’t developed a fuelling strategy. Is what are you actually going to do on race day? I think you really need to be considering that quite seriously. It’s already too close to the race to be making any drastic changes. But one of the other questions I ask over and above what they’ve been doing during training is: Do you prefer liquid feed or solid feed? I think that’s also very important because some people can eat solids during exercise and others can’t. Some people prefer liquid intake. Then obviously there’s a combination between the two, some people can do both. So I think that’s one of the important factors.
Lastly, another very important question is, how long are you going to be doing this event in? How long is it going to take you? If you’re doing it in two or two and a-half-hours, your fuelling strategy would be completely different to somebody who is doing it in say five or six hours. Somebody is doing it in 2.5 hours doesn’t really need a lot of fuel.
Liquid vs solid feed options
First of all, their breathing patterns are going to be a lot more dense, a lot heavier. There’s no way that somebody racing a 94.7 in 2.5 hours will be able to consume by eating a food solid. Because their airways need to be completely open. They would probably rely more on a liquid feed. A liquid feed would probably be an isotonic carbohydrate energy drink or in conjunction with a gel etc. That’s probably the easiest for those race snakes.
I think if somebody is taking a lot longer, they will have the ability to look at food solids, if they can consume food solids. It’s probably better to do that because they’re probably going at a more controlled pace. I would say, their breathing is not as intense as somebody that’s racing at a much higher level. They have got the ability to actually consume probably more natural foods. Than taking from a supplement point of view, taking in supplements.
Again, our digestive systems are far more catered towards natural foods because we do eat food solids daily. So do what’s easier on the stomach. Do what you’re used to because if you do take supplements, you definitely need to train your gut to be adapted to those supplements. Again, it’s just a matter of determining, liquid feed or solid feed, what do you prefer. Then from there deciding which is more suited to you during that race.
Bonking – don’t leave your feed too late!
One of the other things I always stress to people is that when you do start feeding, don’ t wait for an hour or two hours into the race before you start taking in your nutrition. If you are going for longer, you want to try and get the nutrition in as early as possible. Because what you take in early is going to be utilised later. Another thing is that you’ve got the ability to take in nutrition early on. Because sometimes at a later stage you’re actually tired of consuming, whether it’s supplements, you’re tired of consuming anything that’s sweet.
You maybe want something that’s salty etc. It gets a lot hotter, the palate changes, it becomes more sensitised to taste. You’re losing a lot more fluid in the heat of the day. So I think all of these things need to be taken into account and the earlier on you feed, the better it’s going to benefit you later.
I would say once you’re into the race, about 20 minutes in and you’re feeling comfortable, I think that’s the stage that you can actually start feeding. Again, don’t overload the system, take in small amounts at a time. If you want to get in between 200-300 calories per hour, then rather do it by consuming over split intervals. Take in every 20 minutes, so three times an hour or every half an hour. But don’t go and eat just once because you want to keep those blood sugar levels stabilised as much as possible. The other thing is, smaller amounts are easier on the digestive system than taking in large amounts at a time.
A lot of people have asked me: Can’t I just consume as many carbohydrates as I want? My answer is absolutely not. It’s not about what you stick in your mouth, it’s about what the body is capable of absorbing. If you haven’t trained your gut to be able to consume 90g of carbs per hour and you just suddenly do that on race day, chances are you going to land up in big trouble. You rather keep it smaller and more frequent as opposed to trying to get in as much as possible. Sometimes minimal fuelling actually lands up being far better for you in the long run than overloading the system. Because once you’ve done that, there’s no point of return.
DK: There you have it, a complete pre-race, let’s say 24-hours before and during the race for the Telkom 947 Cycle Challenge. That key bit of advice, as always, don’t try anything new on race day. Thanks for joining us once again. From Mark Wolff and myself, Mr Active, David Katz, do tune in next week because we’re going to be looking at post-race recovery.