Q. I want to practise my nutrition for race day but my trainer says I should wait until a few weeks before the race so I get the maximum benefit - is he right?
A. It's imperative that you experiment during training to find out what will work best for you on race day. So I would say that the more time you have to try different sports bars, gels, energy drinks and timings, the better.
As well as thinking about which carbohydrate you'll take on board during the race this is also a good time to plan the meals for the night before, breakfast on the day and your recovery immediately after and in the days following the big race.
You can use your long training sessions to find out what works best and you can put it all to the test at some of the smaller competitions before the main event so that you feel confident you'll be taking in the right stuff on race day. The buildup to these smaller races would also be a good time to practise carbohydrate loading.
You do not want to be experimenting too close to race day - something may not agree with you and you could end up with some digestive issues that put you off your stride for race day or, worse, mean you have to pull out of the race. So all experimenting should be done during training; also, find out what gels and drinks will be available to you on race day and try them out.
Other considerations will come into play if you are travelling abroad to race, such as how food and hydration strategies change with the climate, what catering facilities will be available at your accommodation or what foods are likely to be served at hotels -
will you be able to get your usual muesli breakfast or will you have to take some with you?
Approaching race day happy with your dietary and hydration strategy will help you to feel prepared, prevent last-minute panicking and remove the element of nasty surprise.
Henrietta Bailey is a nutritionist who works as part of the Pure Sports Medicine team (puresportsmed.com). She specialises in sports nutrition and performance, obesity, cardiovascular issues, and diabetes and insulin resistance. She has worked with professional athletes and non-elites. She is a member of the Nutrition Therapy Council (NTC) and the British Association for Nutrition Therapy (BANT).