Nutrition and hydration for races - up to 10 miles

Nutrition and hydration for races - up to 10 miles

Sarah Coope gives practical advice on how to get it right for the big day - here the main priority is hydration, including avoiding alcohol.

Follow these guidelines before, during and after your race to be 'well stoked':

The week before:

I recommend keeping up the habit (or make a start now!) of drinking three litres (just over five pints) of water daily - carry a water bottle around with you to make this more convenient.I also recommend:

  • Planning your meals around a 55-70% bias to carbohydrate.
  • Avoiding fried and heavily spiced foods.
  • Aiming for classic high carbohydrate content meals such as pasta, rice noodles with a stir fry of lean meat and vegetables, jacket potato with filling.
There is a common misconception that beer drinking is carbo-loading and good for glycogen stores - it isn't
Avoid alcohol before an important race. This can be dehydrating and take energy away from you as your body processes the alcohol. There is a common misconception that beer drinking is carbo-loading and good for glycogen stores - it isn't - any unused energy from alcohol will get stored as fat.

I recommend eating meals and snacks that are high in starch or fibre (e.g. bread, pasta, rice, noodles, cereal, beans, sweetcorn) regularly to avoid blood sugar dives. These can occur when you have too long between meals or rely on simple carbohydrates (e.g. sugars and sugary food) for snacks and meals. A low blood sugar level can take a lot of energy to rebalance so is a situation best avoided.

On the day before the race I restrict fibre intake to a minimum, avoiding foods such as salad, lightly cooked vegetables, beans and bran. This can help avoid the incessant need to visit the loo during the race. If the race is an early start then aim to eat your main meal the day before by 5 p.m. This will allow time for it to have gone through your system before the race starts.

Race day:
 
Race start © Sarah Stirling
race startAim to get up at least two hours before race start. Have a hot drink to encourage bowel movement. Eat a small carbohydrate snack such as a banana and toast, or bowl of low fibre cereal with low fat milk. An energy bar would also suffice.

Aim to have finished eating at least an hour before racing. Alternatively, if your race is very early and you can't face eating, have a gel about 30 minutes before race start.

The jogging/running action can stimulate the bowel so always do a warm up run of at least 10 minutes and give yourself time to find a loo before the start.

During the race:

There may be a drinks station in a 5k or 10k/10 mile. Unless you are an experienced athlete and feel you can go without until the end of the race, use them. There is no need to stop running:
  • slow down and take the cup
  • squeeze it into a funnel
  • jog for a few seconds then take a sip
  • hold it in your mouth until you are ready to swallow
  • drink and sip some more - try to get in at least 8 sips.
Each sip amounts to approximately 25 ml of fluid. As your aim should be to take about 200 ml of fluid, try to have at least 8 sips at each water stop. Often when the first water stop comes up you do not feel thirsty but remember you will need to get to the next station or the end of the race before another opportunity so make use of what's there. If you are going to be running longer than 1 hour it is worth considering taking an energy gel with you. Have this just before an aid station so you can drink a cup of water with it to assist digestion.

After the race:

When you have finished have a carbohydrate snack ready. If there were no drink stations, start to drink immediately, sipping little and very often. Continue to replace the fluid loss by drinking water, or weak sports drink regularly during the rest of the day. Your weight should be stable by the end of the day. If you do have some celebratory drinks following your race then aim to drink a glass of water for each alcoholic drink you have.

If you do have some celebratory drinks following your race then aim to drink a glass of water for each alcoholic drink you have

Up to an hour after exercise is when the muscles are most receptive to replacing glycogen. Aim to consume 0.7 gram per kilogram of body weight. Therefore a 70 kg (11 st) person would need 70 x 0.7 g of carbohydrate, i.e. 49 grams of carbohydrate. A small amount of protein (e.g. red meat, poultry, fish) can help carbohydrate absorption. If you cannot tolerate eating after a race, drink a sports recovery drink or carbohydrate replacement drink.

It can take a few days before the glycogen stores are replenished fully, so continue eating well, and avoid hard training for a few days following the race to allow the body time to refuel.

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