Updated: Jul 27
By Carolyn Stocker, MS, RD, CSCS*D
Chaski coach Carolyn Stocker is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). Currently, Carolyn teaches nutrition at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA and is a collegiate strength and conditioning coach.
No matter if 2021 provides some 'in person' races or if second-tier virtual races continue to be the norm, you need to know how to best fuel and hydrate. Here are some simple tips to make sure you stay properly fueled and hydrated to get to that finish line.
Stick with Your Typical Routine
The most important piece of advice for races is to never try anything you've yet to try before. No one wants to visit the porta-potty too frequently, leaving you drained and unmotivated. Take in the same foods and liquids as your training runs. This will help with stomach issues and your nerves.
If you get nothing else out of this article let it be this: practice practice practice your fueling and train your gut. Yes, you can train your gut like you train your muscles! Pay attention to how foods and beverages make you feel during your run – are you feeling constipated, do you have a water belly, are you having diarrhea?
What Do You Actually Need?
The goal of fueling during your race is to stay energized with carbohydrates and hydrated with fluids. Aim to consume 30-60g of carbohydrates every 45 minutes if you will be racing for more than 90 minutes. Some options are dried fruit; orange or apple slices, commercial gels, blocks, your favorite candy, dried cereal, pretzels, potato chips.
If you have a finicky stomach, liquids will be a little easier on the stomach so you may consider sports drinks or fruit juice. To keep up with your hydration, it is important to consume a ½-1 cup of water, sports drink, or electrolyte tablets every 20 minutes.
If you are racing > 6 hours, incorporating foods with ~20g of protein at about the 3-hour mark, in addition to your carbohydrates. This may help delay muscle damage and therefore, fatigue. We suggest deli meat, beef jerky, meal replacement shakes, protein bars, nuts, eggs (not raw obviously), or homemade smoothies.
(For Virtual Races) Plan your Route and Get a Little Help from Friends or Family
Knowing your exact route will allow you to strategize the best fueling and hydration plan for your race. Carrying your fuel can allow for easy access when needed, but can also be an inconvenience. Consider setting up an aid station and run a ~40 minute looped course with your favorite fuels and pre-filled bottles.
Ask a friend, family member, or training buddy to support your aid station. They will help you with your fueling and hydrating but also give you that much-deserved encouragement!
Focus on the Pre and Post Fuel Too
Similar to fueling during, you should not try anything new before your race. If you are three hours out from the start line, you can have a more substantial meal with carbohydrates, a little bit of protein and fat (such as a sandwich), eggs & toast, cereal or oatmeal with milk, or your favorite protein with rice.
If you are less than an hour away from the start line, focus on carbohydrate-rich foods such as a granola bar, oatmeal, dried cereal, banana, pretzels, or graham crackers. Make sure to arrive at the starting line hydrated, drink 2 cups of water about 2 hours before, and continuously sip water until you get started.
The post-race meal is the most important meal of the day. Your muscles are like sponges after exercise so your muscles will need to be refueled with carbohydrates, repaired with protein, and hydrated with fluids. It is best to consume a balanced meal 30-60 minutes after exercise. This is when you can enjoy your favorite foods and not have to worry about stomach issues like during the run.
If you have a finicky stomach within an hour after exercise, consider liquids such as chocolate milk or a smoothie. Continuously hydrate after a run and monitor your urine color to make sure you are rehydrating properly, your urine should be like “lemonade not apple juice.”