Q I’ve run a couple of marathons and read plenty of advice about what you should eat beforehand. Why should it matter what I eat on race day since it won’t have time to reach my muscles?
A It definitely does matter what you eat before a race. Assuming you’ve done a proper training taper and upped your carb intake during the week preceding the race, your muscle glycogen stores should be full. However, after a night’s sleep, the store of glycogen in your liver is depleted and your blood sugar level low. If you were to start a race like this you would have no reserves to draw on in the final stages, when muscle glycogen stores have run down. So, on race day your objectives are to top-up liver glycogen stores (this will come in handy during the latter stages of a long race), maintain your blood sugar levels before and during the race and to keep properly hydrated.
Eat breakfast two to three hours before you race. Go for slow-release foods (low GI) – ideally carbohydrates with a little protein, such as porridge with raisins and honey, or cereal with banana and low-fat milk, or toast and yoghurt – for sustained energy. Importantly, stick with familiar foods that you find easy to digest.
If pre-race nerves turn you off food altogether, try liquid carbs – a sports drink or sports meal-replacement shake (for carbs and protein). If you’re running longer than 60-90 minutes, keep your blood sugar level up by swigging an isotonic sports drink (roughly 500ml per hour) or taking an energy gel (half a sachet, or 13g carbs, every 15 to 30 minutes with a cupful of water), or tried and tested favourites such as jelly beans, bananas or dried fruit.
If you’re racing for less than 60 minutes, water is all you need to counteract dehydration. Aim to drink 125–250ml per 10–20 minutes. Remember one thing, though: don’t try anything new, even if it’s freely offered by the race organisers. It may not agree with you. What you eat and drink on race day really can make a difference to your result.
—Anita Bean, RW Nutrition Editor