race day preparation
Daily Fuelling Needs
For general health and well-being it’s paramount that we eat good quality food. It’s even more important if you’re active and looking to perform at your best.
There are lots of diets out there from the Paleo to Mediterranean, to the alkaline and gluten-free, all of which have scientific claims to improve your health, decrease cardiovascular disease and increase in energy. With this in mind, there is one common factor that unites them in terms of their dietary makeup, and that is they all consist of limiting processed foods and alcohol. They also include a variety of raw ingredients such as vegetables from mother earth and include natural sources of fats and proteins.
Carbohydrates have been demonised in recent years, but it’s not the carbs that should be to blame for the rise in obesity, but the type of carbs. To stay healthy and meet your energy demands, pick carbohydrates from a variety of sources and are nutrient dense. It’s also comforting to know that it’s harder to over eat your vegetables due to the fibre content, feeling fuller for longer, opposite to eating processed carbs.
A guide for a healthy active person is to eat 45-65% of your daily calories from carbohydrates. The range is varied as some people’s energy requirements might be higher due to doing two workouts a day (a run in the morning and strength in the evening).
Aim for 5-10g of carbohydrates / per kg of bodyweight / per day (10g would be more for someone doing 3-4hrs of training per day – 24hr Enduro training).
For protein eat 1.2-1.7g / per kg of BW / per day, which is enough to support the muscle recovery processed.
And lastly for fat, eat 20-35% of your daily calories from healthy sources such as olive oil, coconut oil, avocado and nuts, to maintain healthy cognitive brain function. The more active you are, the lower than percentage will be.
Days prior to event
The common idea is to carb load the night prior to the event, loading up on pizza, pasta and any carbohydrate you can get your hands on. Eating an excessive volume of carbohydrates can lead you feeling bloating and cause GI distress, which is the last thing you want to be dealing with on a day when you’re looking to perform.
The old approach would be to use a carb depletion approach; depleting your stores with a long run or workout 7 days out, followed by a low carb diet, minimal exercise, then gradually building your daily carbohydrate levels back up to 70% of your total calorie intake the day prior to your event. This was shown to double the amount of glycogen stored in the muscles. The downside it leaves you lacking energy which has a negative effect on your motivation and confidence leading up to the event.
Current research tells us there is no need to do glycogen depletion. By consuming 70% of your daily calorie intake of carbohydrates the day prior, you’ll double your glycogen storage for the next day’s activities. However eating that amount the night before could leave you running for the bathroom halfway through your event, so it’s best to allow 24hrs for glycogen resynthesis, so aim to have your carb rich meal for breakfast the day before (such as a bowl of oats or muesli), if your racing the following morning.
Day of the event
Carb loading the morning of is less important with most of the carb loading being done the day prior if done properly. However if you were travelling the day prior and were unable to eat sufficiently, the morning of is important. This meal should be eaten 3-4hrs prior to race, even if that means getting up early then going back to bed. The meal should be easily digestible, not a lot of protein or fat as it takes longer to digest (so will still be in your stomach during the race). It should consist mostly of carbohydrates. Trial your race day meal prior to your big race, to avoid any unexpected surprises. A good recommendation is between 3-5 grams carbs / per kg of bodyweight. Then 1 hour before the event, consume a little bit of carbohydrate, some sports drink with carbs for example, to ensure we’ve topped up the fuel tank.
Fuelling during the event depends on the length and intensity of your race. For anything shorter than an hour, there should be enough fuel on board to get you through successfully. However it’s always good to tread on the side of caution so having an energy gel in your pocket (usually 30gm of carbs and comes in sweet and savoury depending on the pallet) is always a good idea.
For events lasting over 60min, it’s wise to carry additional fuel on board to slow down carb depletion and avoid bonking. A good guide is 50-60gm of carbohydrates/hr. This can be broken up into 30gm every 30min or 60gm every hour. Be mindful though not to go over that as you can overloading the system, saturating the receptors in your small intestine, causing bloating, gas and an upset stomach, so best to keep it to 60gm/hr.
Like your race day meal, experience prior to race day on a long run/workout and work out what works best for you. It should be easily digestible whilst performing exercise e.g. smooth gels, carb drinks or small solids. As long as it doesn’t upset your stomach whilst competing, you’re on the right track.
And lastly, there is no need to worry about eating fat or protein. The body has plenty of fat on board for fuel and fat takes longer to digest and can cause GI distress. However if your competing in a 5hour+ or overnight event you might consider it. After competing for a while, your taste buds get fatigued from all the sweet stuff, so you might switch to a little bit more protein and fat.
Post event recovery
Replenishing straight after a race isn’t as important as once thought but maybe so if you are doing back to back days of competing or 24hr race relays, then sooner the better to replenish glycogen stores. It does take 24hrs for glycogen stores to be resynthesise so the sooner the better. To ensure we are resynthesising our glycogen stores adequately we need to consume 1-1.5gms carbs/kg BW within the first hour after a race. Then an hour later, repeat that same meal. The first carb intake might be a carb drink, then next might be a meal. If you’re not racing after, then this is not as important due to the lack of activity.
The recommended ratio of carbohydrate to protein is 3:1. So that’s 3grams of carbs to 1gram of protein (80gm of carbs:25gm of protein) e.g. chocolate milk (which has lots of protein from whey and casein (slow steady feed of protein) and sugar from the chocolate).
The shorter and more intense the race, the less important it is to replenish your stores. The longer it is the more important it may be, especially if there are races the next day.
Dehydration is the loss of fluid through sweat and is typically measured based on the amount of weight lost during exercise. If there is more than a 2-3% drop in bodyweight then performance drops off pretty rapidly. After a 5% loss we might experience physical symptoms like nausea, dizziness or cramping. So when it comes to hydration the goal is to prevent no more than a 2-3% loss in bodyweight through exercise and maintain peak performance.
It is also important to add that if we’re not replenishing our water on a daily basis and we come into a race dehydrated, we’re compounding that dehydration. So making sure we’re hydrated on a daily basis is essential.
Optimal daily water intake
So a good way to ensure we’re hydrated is to take our bodyweight in pounds and divided it by 2, to work out how many ounces of water we should be drinking on a daily basis to ensure we’re hydrated (e.g. 80kg male: 175lbs / 2 = 88oz (2.5ltrs). Addition hydration is necessary when factoring in exercise.
Hydration prior to exercise
Hydrating prior to exercise is essential, ensuring we’re topping up our stores before competition. A good guide is consuming 5-7mmls / per kg of BW (so around 500mls). This doesn’t need to be water as well as you could use an electrolyte drink or orange.
Hydrating during exercise
The best way to work out how much sweat you lose and need to replace during exercise is by weighting yourself before and after exercise, ideally with no clothes on, to work out how much fluid is lost. Below is an easy equation you should use on a few different workouts/runs performed at similar intensities and environments to your race conditions. I’ve used an example of a 80kg male as an example:
Bodyweight prior to exercise 80kg
Bodyweight after exercise 78kg
Change in bodyweight 2,000ml
Drink volume consumed 500ml
Urine volume 0
Sweat loss (c + d – e) 2,500ml
Exercise time 120min
Sweat rate (f ÷ g) 20.83ml/min or 1.25litres/hr
As well as staying hydrated, it is a good idea to add some electrolytes to your water during exercise. Most of sweat is 99% pure water with other properties, the main key one being sodium (Na). For every litre of water that is lost, you need 800-1000mg of sodium. You can use sport drinks but they are typically low in sodium. Endurance fuel might be higher. Salt caps are good. Alternatively you could add quality salt (pink or celtic salts that are high in other minerals) or add salty food to your diet. The longer the event, the more important it is, particularly for anything lasting longer than 3hrs.
Another misconception is that a lack in salts causes cramping, but it is more the lack of hydration or more likely from unfamiliar training (muscle contraction). If you are well trained and stay on top of hydration, you should avoid muscle cramps.
3. PHYSICAL PREPARATION
Tapering is a reduction in the exercise volume/intensity, typically done at least a week out from the event. A general rule is to drop your training volume (running mileage/resistance loading) by 25% 2 weeks out and a further 25% the week of the event. For distances 2-3hrs+ you might have a 2 week tapering period, whereas for anything less than an hour, 1 week would be satisfactory. The goal is to come in feeling rested and recovered.
Day prior to event
One thing you want to avoid when dropping the training volume and tapering before a big event is stopping training completely. Sure you might have more rest days than normal but these days should be filled with more restorative practices such as stretching, yoga, soft tissue massage and other recovery techniques such as hot/cold contract therapy (plunge, sauna or cryotherapy) and perhaps even to the extent of hyperbaric chambers or float tanks. The idea is to keep moving and restore the body, leaving it feeling rejuvenated and ready to race.
In terms of exercise, you might stick more to shorter workouts with minimal load, sticking to bodyweight movements. Runs are kept short but intensity is still of a high standard. Nothing prolonged in duration. The day prior to the race should be spent doing soft tissue massage then a short run or cardio session considering of 15min comfortable movement or maybe 3 rounds of 3min race pace efforts with 1min recovery. Preferably we want to keep the body moving the day prior to a big race, rather than complete inactivity.
A typical race you will only need the basics; the right shoes, clothing and maybe a hydration pack for longer events.
You want a pair of trail shoes with good tread (lugs). Terrain is often slippery, muddy and rocky so you want footwear that will help you grip the ground. Outsole should be durable as well to assist with any rugged terrain, crawling or rope climbs. Look for shoes that drain well. Avoid gortex as it holds water. Shoe sizes can vary from your normal shoe so best go into the store, try what fits well, and feels comfortable straight out of the box.
Aim for tight fitting to avoid snagging. Longer tight lycra pants for protection if you’re that inclined. Practice with your gear first to make sure it fits well and doesn’t cause chaff. Long socks are handy for the rock climb to avoid rope burn. Avoid cotton socks. Find a woollen pair as they are cool when it’s hot, warm when it’s cold and they usual prevent blisters.
Hydration packs and gear bags
Ideally used for longer events. You want to find one that hugs the body and is comfortable. Useful to have a few pockets for gels/foods/jacket for cold events. Jackets are great for when it is cold, you get wet and can throw it on after water obstacles. Make sure the jacket is in a waterproof bag to keep it protected. Practice with it prior to the race to make sure it works.
Whatever your next adventure, make sure you practice the above preparation techniques well in advance. The more knowledge you know about yourself prior to your event, the positive the experience will be.
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