After months of training, race day is finally here. You’ve put so much time and effort into your training, the last thing you want is to be unhappy with your performance when it matters most. Nutrition is fundamental in maximising performance and should never be neglected, in fact it should be prioritised on par with your training. What you eat and drink before and during a race should be practiced extensively in training prior to the event so your body is comfortable with any nutritional strategies. Turning up on race day with a stomach full of food that you’re not used to is likely to hinder performance.
Nutrition should not be overcomplicated, just keep it simple with a well-structured plan that prioritises a food-first approach. Here are a few tips on how to plan your nutrition so you’re fuelled and ready to run a 10K race.
Carbohydrates fuel performance but the body only has a limited supply and is stored in the muscles as glycogen. Carbohydrate loading is a common strategy in endurance events, and for a 10K race, sufficient glycogen stores can be attained in the 24 hours before. Increase dietary carbohydrates with each meal the day before along with ample protein, and reduce total fat intake to allow for the increased quantity of carbohydrates to avoid unwanted excessive calorie intake.
Gastrointestinal distress (GI) is very common in endurance athletes and this can occur by eating too many foods that are not easily digestible. Focus on carbohydrates that are low in fibre and have a moderate to high-glycaemic index to avoid feelings of bloating, flatulence, stomach pains/cramps etc. Too much fructose (fruit sugar), protein and fat before exercise and dehydration may also cause digestive discomfort.
Avoiding gluten has become a popular fad/trend in many people of late who claim this to be healthier. Unless you suffer with coeliac disease, an autoimmune condition caused by a reaction to gluten, there is no need to eliminate gluten from your diet. Research has shown there to be no performance enhancing effects by eating a gluten-free diet in those without gluten/wheat intolerances, however if you have experimented with different foods and found that eating a gluten-free diet reduces feelings of GI-distress and enhances your performance then go for it.
Hydration is also extremely important for performance. When we exercise the body cools itself by sweating. Starting exercise in a dehydrated state means your heart has to work harder already to pump blood around the body, so you’re going to fatigue quicker. Dehydration of just 2% reduction in body weight can impair performance, so make sure you turn up to the race well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water. You can check how hydrated you are simply from the colour of your urine – the clearer the better! Hydration also supports glycogen synthesis as water is stored in the muscles, so don’t worry if you notice you’re a little heavier the day before competition!
Your pre-race meal will be down to your preferences. If you can stomach food, a high carbohydrate meal (typically breakfast) should be consumed 2-3 hours before. Options may include:
- Porridge with tsp. cinnamon, banana & honey
- Muesli, Weetabix or other preferred cereals
- Dried/fresh fruit and low-fat yoghurt
- Poached eggs on toast
- Bagel/toast with ham or honey/banana/peanut butter
- Fruit juices
If you struggle to stomach food before a race then carbohydrates in liquid form may be more suitable. A smoothie, flavoured milk or carbohydrate supplements may be beneficial e.g. sports drinks/gels.
As you get closer to starting the race, sip on a carbohydrate-electrolyte drink and water to maintain blood sugar & hydration levels. Other supplements that may enhance performance include caffeine, beetroot juice (dietary nitrates) and sodium bicarbonate (Caution as this may cause symptoms of nausea, gastrointestinal distress and diarrhoea). Use of any supplements should be practiced in training!
A 10K race can typically last anytime between 30-60 minutes, and as endurance events go this is not very long. So long as you have fuelled properly with adequate carbohydrates before the race, you shouldn’t need to worry about consuming additional carbohydrates during the race. Drinking small amounts of water to thirst to replace water lost via sweating is recommended to maintain performance.
You’ve crossed the line and achieved a personal best…straight to the pub, right? Well, that’s up to you, but having something to help your body recover first is recommended. Having 20-25g whey protein is sufficient to maximally stimulate protein synthesis, together with high-glycaemic index carbohydrates will quickly replenish muscle glycogen stores. This can be as food or drink, but obviously fluids are vital for rehydration and are more palatable than food after exercise. To fully rehydrate you should drink fluids that also contain sodium and other electrolytes to replace lost salts through sweating and help the body to retain water.
However rather than researching through all of the recovery supplements out there, there is a natural nutrition source that you should consider. So before you have a beer, enjoy a pint of milk! Milk is the ultimate recovery drink as it contains natural sugars, protein and electrolytes. Research clearly demonstrates milk to be better than any sports supplement for replenishing muscle glycogen stores, stimulating protein synthesis and also for rehydration. Flavoured milk products are equally effective and probably more suitable on the go.
- Increase carbohydrate intake 24 hours leading up to an event
- Focus on easily digestible high-GI, low-fibre foods with ample protein and reduce fat intake
- Hydrate well the day and morning before a race
- Pre-race meal should contain sufficient carbohydrates with moderate protein and to your preference
- Practice any nutritional strategies prior to competition so you’re used to it
- Additional carbohydrates are not needed during a 10K race, just drink water to thirst
- Maximise recovery with a pint of milk or milk-based product
- Do what works for you and keep it simple