Race Week Nutrition Plan

You’ve made it!! Race week is finally here! All that hard work you’ve been putting in for the last 4-9 months is time to be put to use. All those early mornings, late nights, sacrificed Saturday cocktail hours, the sore legs, chlorine soaked hair, and blistered feet are ready to be put to the test and you couldn’t be more excited. Race week is really magical but it is also really over whelming and exhausting. You start asking all of these questions:

  • am I ready?

  • what do I eat?

  • When do I eat?

  • Do I need to carb load

  • how much water should I be consuming?

  • How much training should I do?

So on and so forth. Now this article isn’t totally about everything regarding race week, that would be a very long article but we are going to focus on the concept of what to eat the week of your race as it is the one thing that can be the most confusing as well as have the most impact to you on race day.

The age old myth is that before long endurance events you need to consume an immense number of extra calories and specifically carbohydrates with this idea of carb loading. This myth has taken hold so much that it has now become the “thing to do” for almost any race no matter the distance and most specifically this is to happen the night before.

While it is important to build up glycogen stores (coming from when carbohydrates are broken down) you only store glycogen in a much smaller amount that you think; at around 400-800 cals in the liver and 1,400-1,800 cals in your muscles. Once you consume more than that your body just gets ride of it in the form of waste. Secondly, it can take anywhere from 22 hrs to four days for the body to actually store the glycogen that it has made and turn around to be ready to use it as fuel (note that the large time window has everything to do with your activity levels and how much you depleted your glycogen stores before hand). So the chances that if you fuel up with a huge pasta dinner the night before that your body is actually going to have turned that into fuel that it can use is very slim. Rather you will be more apt for Gastrointestinal distress due to large amounts of food just sitting in the gut waiting to either be turned into “fuel” or waste.

So what does that mean for your race week? Well, I am going to lay out a simple race week road map that you can follow to hopefully help guide you to fueling your body for optimal performance rather than spending your race in the porta-let.

7 Days Out

Not much from a consumption standpoint needs to change at this time frame. You want to continue to make sure that you are eating whole foods, staying away from processed and refined foods, as well as maintaining a good balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats from the examples below. The key is that during this time frame you want to eat as similarly as possible to how you have been eating during your entire training cycle. Don’t try anything new race week is always a good rule of thumb to stick by.

6-5 Days Out

Similar to above you don’t really need to be making a lot of changes regarding your nutrition and daily fueling during this time frame, still maintaining a similar calorie load and following your standard daily nutrition plan. You may have arrived at your race venue and if it is somewhere new or exciting you may be apt to try the new local cuisine, be Leary of doing so especially if it is something you do not normally consume as your body may react to it in a way that you don’t like.

This can also be a time frame in which you find yourself overly hungry, a little bit bored, and jittery which can often lead to reaching for all the snacks that you can find. Doing so is not necessarily a bad thing because you do want to eat if you are hungry, the key is to make sure you are still choosing snacks that are nutrient dense and whole foods that your body will actually process as fuel rather than waste. Try to avoid the age old cravings that kick in for the sugary, processed and refined carbohydrates during this time frame as they will only hinder your function come race day. If you find yourself reaching for more snacks than normal try to maintain a small increase of not more than around 200 to 300 calories a day, much more than that and again your body will merely process it as fat and waste.

Here is an example of a daily nutrition plan 7-5 days out that I really like.
Breakfast - 7:00 - 9:00 am
1 cup of oatmeal with protein powder and 1-2 tbs of peanut butter
Snack 1 - 9:00 - 11 am
2 hard boiled eggs with half an avocado
Lunch 11 am - 1:00 pm
Salad with tomatoes, walnuts, cheese, chicken, dried fruit, and small amount of blue cheese dressing.
Snack 2 - 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Protein Shake: Peanut butter, protein powder, beets, frozen fruit, cocoa powder, almond milk.
Post - workout Snack (if you are done by 3 or 4 pm)
Apple with peanut butter or 1/2 cup cottage cheese with tomatoes.
Dinner 5:00 - 7:30 pm
Grilled salmon, side of grilled Brussel sprouts, and sweet potato
Pre- Bed - 8:30 - 9:30
2 oz dark chocolate and a protein shake

4-3 Days Out
This is where the changes occur, especially around that three days out more than 4 days out. Here you want to increase your carbohydrates and your calories. This does not mean going out and indulging in a huge pasta buffet or eating all of the donuts you can find the store. In fact it does not even mean increasing the amount of carbohydrates by a large amount, it is more around that 250-450 extra calories depending on who you are. If you think about it, Doctors don’t want pregnant ladies to eat more than about an extra 300 calories a day than they normally do and they are growing a human so why would you consume a vast more than they do? (sorry for the pregnancy reference, it is the life I am living at the moment).

For example if you are someone who normally only eats 1/2 cup of oatmeal for breakfast in the morning you should eat 1 cup of oatmeal instead. Or if you are someone who doesn’t normally eat rice with their salad at lunch think about adding in 1/4 - 1/3 cup of rice with your lunch salad. Little increase like that are all it takes to increase and fill up those glycogen stores you need for race day.

You also want to ensure that you are consuming easily digestible carbohydrates such as oats, whole grains, and sweet potatoes (refer back to the list above for “good” types of carbohydrates).

During this time frame you really should be focusing on your hydration as well. Now there is a lot of back and forth as to whether you really need to up increase your water consumption. As an athlete you should be consuming around 80-120 ounces of water a day anyways and that really doesn’t need to change as long as you have been good about it. In fact if you pre-load with too much water you can cause and in-balance of sodium and other electrolytes in the blood which can be very dangerous.

2 Days Out

As you get closer and closer to race day you may feel like your gut is becoming more and more touchy due to nerves. This is standard and it is ok. At this point really make sure to keep your foods simple and easy to digest. If you haven’t cut out your vast amount of vegetables, that I sure hope you have been eating every day of your life, then you really want to decrease them a lot on this day and then the next day cut them completely. This is due to the fiber content in vegetables that can stay in our guts and cause issues down the road.

You also want to avoid fatty or greasy foods that are hard to digest and could cause your stomach to become upset not only on race day but also on this day which then could make eating later on much harder.

1 Day Out

Now this is the day where most people derail their nutrition. Nerves take over, the craziness of the day takes over and people either revert back to this idea of needing to carb load or they get so busy with dropping off gear, meeting friends, and soaking up the experience that they forget to eat or eat at really irregular time frames.

Some people say that breakfast should be your biggest meal of the day on this day but I like to have lunch be the biggest meal of the day. You still want to ensure that you eat a good hearty breakfast sometime around 9 am so that you are not eating your lunch to late, which then subsequently turns into a late dinner.

Lunch should include a few grain-based carbohydrates and protein. It should also include some fat however you want to make sure that those fats are not from fried foods, and heavy fats like creams but rather fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, and avocados.

You don’t want dinner to be your biggest meal of the day because you want to go to bed with a lite stomach, not something that is heavy and when you wake up in the morning you still feel overly full. Stick to easily digestible foods. My go to dinner before an Ironman is grilled salmon and a quinoa/lentil blend and I always treat myself to a chocolate chip cookie. Because you want to eat your dinner around 6 pm which may be earlier than you are used to you can still have a small snack before bed, such as a protein shake, but focus on keeping it really light. You want the food to be easily digested over night and not still sitting in your stomach in the morning.

Race Morning

This is very very simple. You want to stay with your tried and true foods that you’ve tested time and time again for your long workouts. You should eat your main breakfast around three hours prior to the start of your race and aim to consume around 400-600 calories.

My Go-To Race Morning breakfast is 1 cup of oatmeal, 1 scoop of protein powder, and some peanut butter.

Make sure to keep sipping on water and electrolytes throughout the morning. Because it will been three hours since you last ate before you hop into the water or start your run you want to have something super light and easy to digest that you can snack on 30-45 minutes prior to the race. Examples: banana, gel, chomps, crackers with peanut butter, rice balls, etc.

Now you are totally ready to ROCK YOUR RACE!!!! Daily nutrition does not have to be scary and overwhelming and race week nutrition doesn’t either!!! Take out the stress of it and just do what you already do on a regular basis and you will be great!! I hope these tips help to guide you through race week and take that little stress away from you!



Kayla Bowker