An often overlooked aspect of racing is ensuring you take in the proper hydration and nutrition throughout the race. No matter how well an athlete prepares for an endurance event, especially for a race such as a marathon, issues such as cramps or “hitting the wall” can derail an otherwise perfect day. Tips for proper race nutrition are discussed below.
Know your Sweat Rate
Many marathoners mistakenly believe they do not need to hydrate during a race until they are thirsty. However, once an athlete feels thirsty, he or she is already dehydrated. An important piece of data to calculate during your training cycle is sweat rate, which will help you better plan when – and how much – you should drink during an event. To do so, weigh yourself immediately before and after a run, subtract the difference, and then multiply the number by 16 to convert the data into ounces. If you drank any water during your run, be sure to add that in, as well. Next, divide the total by the number of minutes you ran, and then multiply by 60 in order to convert the data into oz/hour. Commonly, athletes have a sweat rate in the range of 30 – 70 oz/hr, which should give a runner a better idea of how much hydration is required during a race or long run.
Practice Drinking on the Run
There are two common approaches to water stations during a race, which include walking through the water stops or running through them. Regardless of your approach, practice your plan during a long run. Often, marathoners find that drinking from a paper cup on the run can be difficult, and there are numerous techniques to do so efficiently, such as pinching the cup or even bringing along your own straw!
Practice with the Race Electrolyte
Each race will have a different electrolyte drink on the course, such as Gatorade or Powerade. Electrolyte replacement beverages are important on race day because they not only ward off cramping, but they also provide necessary carbohydrates. However, it is crucial to practice with whatever brand and flavor of the drink is going to be made available, because it is better to find out beforehand (as opposed to mile 20) that the specific sports drink does not sit well in your stomach.
Take in Carbohydrates throughout the Race
Similar to hydration it is important to take in fuel throughout the race instead of waiting until you feel hungry. Most nutritionists recommend taking in 40 – 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour of exercise. For many runners, this means taking a gel every 4 – 6 miles of the race.
Practice during Long Runs
One misconception is that athletes can benefit from performing their long runs in “carb-depletion” mode, meaning no intake of carbohydrates or fuel during the run. While an occasional depleted long run may be beneficial, it is also important for runners to practice with the gels they plan to use during the race to test for gastrointestinal discomfort.
Do a “Dress Rehearsal”
Four to six weeks before your race, do a dress rehearsal where you consume the same breakfast, hydration, and nutrition as you would during the race. For instance, if planning to run a marathon a good dress rehearsal would be to race a half marathon at marathon pace.
Don’t Try Anything New on Race Day
Finally, the most important tip for fueling is to never try anything new on race day. As tempting as it may be to try a new flavor of gel you purchased from the race expo, it is never a good idea to leave anything up to chance during the event you have spent months training for!