Far too often, athletes put themselves at a “metabolic disadvantage” during a race by fueling improperly prior to the race. The article, “The Pre-Race Meal” (which you can find in The Endurance Athlete’s Guide to Success), discusses this in greater detail, but we mention it here as well because it’s definitely one of the biggest fueling errors athletes make. It’s also one that is super easy to remedy. Let’s look at the two primary factors:
1.) Over-consuming food the night before the race in the hopes of “carbo loading” - It would be nice if you could maximize muscle glycogen stores the night before the race, but human physiology doesn’t work that way. Increasing and maximizing muscle glycogen stores takes many weeks of consistent training and post-workout fuel replenishment. Excess consumed carbohydrates are only going to be eliminated or stored as body fats (dead weight).
2.) Eating a pre-race meal at the wrong time – Let’s assume you’ve been really good – you’ve been training hard (yet wisely) and replenishing your body with adequate amounts of high-quality calories as soon as possible after every workout. As a result, you’ve now built up a nice 60-90 minute reservoir of premium muscle glycogen, the first fuel your body will use when the race begins. A sure way to deplete those hard-earned glycogen stores too rapidly, which is definitely not going to help your performance, is to eat a meal (or an energy bar or sports drink) an hour or two prior to the start of the race.
Recommendations: Don’t go overboard with your food consumption the night before the race. First rule: eat clean, which means no refined sugar (skip dessert, or eat fruit), low or no saturated fats, and no alcohol. Second rule: eat until you’re satisfied, but not more.
If you’re going to have a pre-race meal the morning of your race, you need to finish it at least three hours prior to the start of the race. If that’s not logistically feasible, have a small amount (100-200 calories) of easily digested complex carbohydrates 5-10 minutes prior to the start. Either of these strategies will top off liver glycogen stores (the goal of the pre-race meal) without screwing up how your body burns its muscle glycogen.