It's not just what you eat that can affect your race. How and when you eat can have just as much impact on your performance.
If you've ever bonked or suffered from gastrointestinal issues, the problem could have stemmed from improper pre-race food preparation.
If you fuel properly on race day, there's a greater chance that you'll cross the finish line with energy and without a sour gut. Here's what you need to know about how and when to fuel up.
1. Remember: Distance Matters
Too many people "carbo-load" before a race—or suck down energy gels during the event—when their body can perform following the same nutritional regimen needed to complete a standard workout.
When you consider food preparation for a half marathon, sprint triathlon, short road race, or even an Olympic triathlon, remember that no dietary fuel is needed during the race. Use your body's internal fuel stores rather than relying on dietary carbs if it's a short race.
2. Fuel Only When Necessary
Most athletes start fueling way too soon, and with too many calories, most of which are carbohydrates. Don't overrun your body's natural ability to tap into fat stores for energy before switching over to carbohydrates.
Internal fat stores, waiting to be used for energy, vastly outweigh carb stores, making fat the nutrient of choice to burn.
Instead of loading up on carbs the night before, wait to fuel 2 to 3 hours into a workout or race. Fat stores jump into action and provide the energy you need during this time period. After 2 to 3 hours have passed, you can begin feeding the body more calories, which should include carbs, fat and protein.
3. Know That Nutrition is Cumulative
You won't be successful if you eat poorly throughout the year and manage to string together seven straight days of great nutrition the week before the race.
You've heard the analogy of an athlete's body being equated to a high-performance car. Give the car low-octane gas, and its performance is limited. Give the car high-octane gas and it reaches its full potential.
The combination of great daily nutrition coupled with poor training nutrition can also fail you come race day. The key is to keep it consistent. Eat clean all day, everyday—whether you're in training mode or not.