The Role of Nutrition in Training and Racing

Brian Fancher Photography

Brian Fancher Photography

Nutrition is a vital part of training and racing–you know that, I’m not stating anything new– but most people don’t really understand what that means and how nutrition can impact your performance. In fact proper nutrition is often one of the most overlooked disciplines in training. Athletes are more worried about the workout of the day, hitting different intervals, and working in their training around their busy lives. Eating before, during, and after working out is frequently forgotten. As busy people we might grab a ‘bar’ on the way out the door or eat fast food on the way to work or picking up the kids from activities. However, nutrition is a vital part of successful training and racing.

Here are some nutrition basics I’ve learned over the years– most notably from Hammer Nutrition (disclaimer alert! I’m a Hammer sponsored athlete so I’m a bit biased about their ideology and products. BUT I’ve tried many nutrition products and read a lot about nutrition over the years and find their philosophy about nutrition to be the best around.)

  1. What is the GOAL of nutrition ??
    1. During a race-– the goal of race nutrition is to postpone fatigue. Race nutrition allows you to perform at a high level for the duration of the race. You’re not trying to eat as much as you can to replace calories lost during exercise. In fact, proper nutrition during training teaches your body to use fuel efficiently so that your body learns to perform at maximum capacity on the fewest calories. Why is this?– as you increase muscle intensity your muscles need more blood so less blood is going to the stomach for digestion–if you’re eating a lot of food or more specifically, the wrong type of food, your body is not digesting it properly and this can lead to GI distress and can ruin your race. Obviously that’s not going to help your race times;). See below for a discussion about proper race nutrition.
    2. After the race — the goal of nutrition after a race or workout is to help you adapt to the stress of training. Training causes physical stress and depletion. Recovery is when adaptation to that stress occurs– it involves muscle tissue rebuilding, glycogen storage, and immune system functioning. To optimize recovery eat a meal or recovery drink with a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein within  30- 60 minutes after you finish your workout or race. Hammer has a handy recovery drink called…wait for it…Recoverite which provides everything you need for proper recovery. It’s great if you don’t have time for a meal right after your workout or are in transit. photo 1Personally I like to put my Recoverite into my breakfast smoothie. YUMMY! Whole foods are an option as well — almond butter/banana sandwich, yogurt with fruit, pita and hummus, avocado toast (maybe with an egg too:). There are many options.

Let’s talk about some other nutrition basics as well

  1. Hydration: How much do you need to drink? Think of Goldilocks– not too much, and not too little, it needs to be just right;-).  The proper amount depends on your size and the weather but can range from about 16-25 ounces per hour. Drink water as well as an electrolyte drink (think Gatorade, but please drink something healthier! I suggest Hammer Heed– provides electrolytes and some calories)
  2. What type of calories do you need? Easily digestible, complex carbohydrates. They make exercise nutrition for a reason…often whole foods like candy, pizza, etc. is hard to digest and can only provide a short burst of energy before a crash–imagine your kids eating bunch of candy…they have loads of energy for a short while then crash and burn. You don’t want that in a race. Race gels, beans and chews are designed to give you energy over a period of time. Again depending on size and the weather you need about 120-150 calories per hour. Personally in a long race I take in a gel every 45 mins to an hour. I wash it down with water and then alternate water and electrolyte drink at the water stops.
  3. Finally, the cardinal rule of race nutrition….drum roll please….DO NOT TRY ANYTHING NEW ON RACE DAY.  I have some funny/not so funny stories about what happened when I didn’t follow this rule. Let’s just say I learned that Imodium really does work wonders…The time to try food and drink is in training– practice pre-workout/race nutrition during training. Experiment with drinks and nutrition during training when it doesn’t really matter if you have to run to the bathroom a lot. Race day is not the time to try something new.

There is so much more I could talk about regarding nutrition but hey I’m not a nutritionist and there is only so much you want to read at one time. The bottom line is that nutrition is as important during training and racing as your workouts. Nutrition can make or break a race. Please be mindful of it throughout your training program and you’ll enjoy great success on race day!

Hammer on!  Siobhan

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