By Lindsay Ford, MS, RD.
PSE Fuel Head Coach

Nutrient dense foodA common, and important, question we receive concerns race-week fuelling strategies. What do you eat on the lead up to a race to ensure you’re optimizing performance.

1) Lets address the week or two prior of the event. PSE Director of Training, Jason Donaldson, summarizes tapering for your event with the following words of advice,

“Regardless of your race length, you shouldn’t go much longer than 60 minutes two weeks out from your event. The cortisol that it creates is not worth it. The work has already been done and now your main job is to recover.”

If you are genuinely prioritizing quality sleep, wise taper training and lower volume then your body should feel ready to go going into the event.

2) You shouldn’t have to do anything drastically different with your nutrition. What you have been consuming day in and day out throughout your training is exactly what you should be doing the week out from your event. If you have been consuming three main meals with two snacks per day, continue to do so. If you have been relying on eighty percent whole foods, continue to do so. If you have been having the same 20-30 foods, continue to consume the same 20-30 foods.

The week or two prior to your event isn’t the time to “test” new fuelling strategies or some sort of new diet that may or may not support your performance.

One, it can mentally mind f*ck you. Second, what is the point? You should have your nutrition dialled in from the time you hit week two or three of your training. If you haven’t figured it out by the time you approach two weeks from your event then I think there is a bigger question to ask.

3) Your hydration and sleep are two huge variables that matter just as much as what you are eating. Before a big event, you may need to add a little more electrolytes two to three days out from your event to ensure adequate water retention.

Electrolytes refer to salt, magnesium, potassium and calcium. How you do this doesn’t have to be anything more than adding ¼ tsp. to ½ tsp. of pink Himalayan salt to warm lemon water once per day, in conjunction with what you have already been consuming on a regular basis. Integrating electrolytes can also mean using salt when cooking and not fearing things such as salted nuts.

In addition to electrolytes, monitor caffeine intake. Caffeine is a stimulant that can definitely cause more harm than good if you are dealing with any anxiety or race day jitters. The last thing you need is to sh*t yourself before the whistle blows. I don’t think we need to address why sleep is so important, it just is.

4) If you are honoring a true tapering protocol then your body should naturally be restoring glycogen and loading those stores without you necessarily having to consume more food. The body is pretty smart. It will replenish and store what isn’t being used. Tapering can be really tough for some people because they may feel more lethargic, tired and heavy; however, understand you still need to eat what you have been eating during your training weeks and that will help prepare your body for the event.

If you are one that performs and feels better with more food the days leading up to the event then continue to do so, but most athletes don’t need more than 20-25% more energy intake (only for events that would last two hours or longer).

In regard to events lasting two hours or less, the nutrition conversation would be highlighting the night prior, or morning of, to support enhanced performance.

Lastly, I would strongly encourage that you log and track what you are eating and drinking throughout your training weeks. This logging and tracking will help you notice what works, what doesn’t work, what gives you enhanced performance, what foods you need to limit, what beverages hinder your performance the next day, what times of days you need to prioritize recovery, what you could differently, etc. These patterns will help you figure out what you need to do the week prior to the event as well as the day before.

Keep it simple. Keep it to what you know and honor your taper.

Trail runner in mountains