If you have signed up for a RacingThePlanet event – or are considering pushing yourself to the limits, you should think hard about how you are fuelling your body.
Before, during and after your event, it’s very important to give yourself the best possible intake of nutrients to allow your body to be as healthy as possible, and thus work to its’ best ability. It’s not just about ‘carb loading’ before the race - it’s equally important to fuel yourself properly whilst training to help your performance and your recovery. As you will spend more days training than racing the information is mainly tailored towards GETTING READY. If you eat well most of the time you will perform better during the event.
Everyone will require different calories according to their build and metabolism, but there are general guidelines to healthy eating that may be useful.A well balanced diet, comprising mainly of fresh foods is the healthy way to eat. Avoid processed and packaged foods where possible as the nutritional content of these is poor – and you need to optimise your nutrient intake.
The food to eat for energy is CARBOHYDRATES not fats. Ideally 50-70% of your diet should be carbs. Once digested, they are converted into blood glucose and used for energy. They can also be stored in the body as glycogen, whilst fat cannot. Glycogen is a short term store of energy, held in the muscles and the liver that can be called on during extended physical activity. Be warned though – all carbohydrates are not equal. The best for endurance training and racing are slow burning carbs such as oat based cereals (porridge and muesli), brown, basmati and wild rice, wholegrain bread, pasta, grains, lentils, corn, peas, beans, hummus, buckwheat , spelt, millet, couscous, quinoa, polenta, baked beans and fresh fruit and root vegetables. These carbohydrates are slowly released into the body and will keep energy levels topped up for longer. Try to stay off refined white carbs – brown is best.
FAT intake should be limited because it takes a long time to digest. Opt for unsaturated (good) fats which are found in oily fish, unsalted nuts, mixed seeds, olives and cold pressed oils. They keep the red blood cells healthy (they carry oxygen around the body which is needed in heavy training sessions), and are important for the immune system, which is often overworked by endurance athletes. Try to avoid saturated (bad) fats, such as butter, milk, hard cheese, pastries, cakes, biscuits, processed and fast foods – these will make you feel sluggish and are also high in sugar and salt – as well as of little nutritional value.
PROTEIN is a necessary part of a healthy diet and although not thought to enhance actual performance it is important in endurance racing when glycogen stores may become depleted. It is essential for recovery, and repairing any damage caused to the muscles after excessive use. Choose lean meat and poultry, fish and shellfish, eggs, dairy products, pulses, nuts and seeds, soya products and vegetable protein foods.
VITAMINS & MINERALS: If you are training hard your body needs these to help release energy from foods, and keep the immune system working well. Increased energy metabolism creates a need for more of the B group vitamins to prevent fatigue. Include green leafy vegetables, mushrooms, legumes, avocados and bananas in your diet. Try to eat ‘a rainbow’ by selecting as many different coloured fruit and vegetables as possible. This will ensure you also get plenty of antioxidants and a great intake of vitamins and minerals.
Heavy sweating (especially in hot climates) may deplete IRON stores. Iron is vital for good muscle activity and required in haemoglobin to transport oxygen around the body. Good sources are offal and red meat, sardines in tomato sauce, boiled eggs, green leafy vegetables and breakfast cereals which are fortified with iron. (It may be worth seeking advice as to whether you need to take an iron supplement).
WATER & ELECTROLYTES: Dehydration leads to an increase in body temperature which diverts energy away from muscles to cool the body down. Generally you would be well advised to get into the habit of drinking between 1 -2 litres of water a day – every day – and more, when training hard.
During a RacingThePlanet event you will be allocated 9 litres of water, each day. You may think it impossible to drink this much, but you will need it due to the extreme conditions of the races. It’s also very important to drink your water allocation during the day, and the evening, and also the following morning while you are in the camp. This again will keep the body well hydrated.
Carbohydrates help to store water, as each unit of carbohydrate stored as glycogen is bound up with 9 units of water. So as the glycogen is used, the water is released. Dark coloured urine is an indication of dehydration – a pale colour is healthy – check your wee! Each night the main focus should be on rehydration to restore the electrolyte balance in your body. Sodium, potassium and chloride can all be lost during sweating, so an efficient method of rehydration and replacement of fluids is required. Powdered sports mixes are great. It’s strongly recommended to try these before an endurance race to make sure they agree with you. Ideally try after a hard training session to check you can stomach that particular brand, and see how you feel recovering. Some competitors have experienced feelings of nausea when taking the electrolytes with added protein & you don’t want to find this out in the middle of the desert!
TOP TIPS WHILST TRAINING
- Keep generally well-balanced diet.
- Never run on an empty stomach! You will have no energy to fuel you. If you find it hard to eat much before you train try just a handful of nuts and seeds, some dried fruit or a small banana an hour or so before.
- Always take water with you on a run to stay hydrated.
- If you are running for over an hour then it’s advisable to also take a sports drink or an energy/gel bar with you to replenish your glycogen stores.
- Don’t waste time with ‘empty’ calories from processed or fast food – eat nutrient dense foods.
- Keep hydration levels topped up at all times – if you wait until you are thirsty you will be dehydrated already. Get into the habit of drinking water throughout the day, every day.
- Eat and drink within 15-30 minutes after a training session to speed recovery – the faster you can replace the glycogen stores the quicker you will recover.
- Test electrolyte drinks/gel bars during and after training to check you like them – and they like you!
- Experiment whilst training to see which foods give you the most energy – everyone is different.
TOP TIPS FOR THE RACE
- Eating carbohydrates will ensure the availability of sufficient energy for the later stages – think carefully about the food you pack.
- Make sure you eat regularly throughout the race – you may not feel hungry due to your body being distressed but you must eat for energy to keep going.
- Drink your water allocation little and often, rather than large amounts at one time.
- Whilst there are various dehydrated meals you can buy, competitors highly recommend The Expedition Foods range which is ideal for this purpose. There is a good variety, they are full of great nutrients, have a high calorie to weight ratio, are simple to rehydrate and are very tasty too! Check out www.expeditionfoods.com
- Obviously during the race the weight of the food is important as you carry it with you – so go for the lightest options that are highest in calories and nutritional value.
- Popular snacks with endurance athletes are crushed crisps / Pringles, salted nuts, pretzels, roasted soya beans, wasabi beans, trail mix, dried fruit and unsalted nuts, jelly beans, beef jerky and parmesan cheese to name a few. Take sweet and savoury as you may crave either.
- Variety of food is essential to stop boredom and loss of appetite – do not rely on eating the same food every day.
- Consider taking sachets of coffee or chocolate as hot water is available at the camp sites
- Have a meal you enjoy the night before the race - it will be your last taste of fresh food, but try to include a high proportion of protein and carbohydrate.
- No alcohol is recommended for the few days before a race as it dehydrates your body.
- Remember you can dispose of anything you don’t want to carry during the race in the camp site bins before you set off, so the first night and first breakfast you can have whatever food you like – it has been known for competitors to buy pizzas locally and take them to the first camp! You are only limited by your imagination here!
- Enjoy a fantastic meal at the awards ceremony dinner and even a beer or glass of wine, you’ve earned it!