Back in January, I wrote Part One about the changes I made to my fueling and hydration for long runs, including carrying my own water with Enduropacks electrolytes, switching my choice of running fuel from GU to Hammer gels, and training my stomach to handle fuel. Today, I want to discuss particularly how I improved my fueling and hydration for racing as part two on this topic.
And as I mentioned in yesterday’s recap of the Lake Sammamish Half Marathon, the changes I made in fueling and hydration definitely contributed to my nearly 5 minute PR.
Fueling and hydration before and after a long race like a half marathon and marathon have always proved significantly more difficult to figure out for me than fueling and hydration for day to day running. The mental stress of a race, the physical stress of running hard for a long period of time, and the logistics of it all pose an additional challenge beyond fueling for a normal weekly 12-14 miles at an easy pace.
Fueling and hydration for racing is obviously trickier to test out, so I did the best I could to prepare during training, developed a thorough plan for race day, and just hoped that it all would come together in my favor on race day.
How I Improved My Fueling and Hydration for Racing
Leading up to the Race:
Throughout training, I minimized consumption of the foods that cause GI distress: milk/cream/high lactose cheese, broccoli, cauliflower, and beans. These foods, which were staples during Portland Marathon training, now only enter my diet on a rare occurrence (I can and do eat hummus from time to time, but just not whole beans). I was even more strict possibly irritating foods during race week: no cheese of any sort, no beef or fatty cuts of meat, and no lentils.
To stay well hydrated, I drank coconut water throughout the week (8 oz a day) and cut back on my alcohol consumption. I have a glass of red wine or a pint of beer most nights, but since alcohol can be dehydrating I went several nights without.
I made a conscientious effort to eat more carbs, especially from fruits, vegetables (including potatoes), and whole grains. After harder workouts and longer runs, I made it a priority to eat a decent amount of complex carbohydrates along with protein and fat to keep my glycogen stores topped off.
The Day Before:
I ate bland and carb-rich meals the day before the race: oats (made with water and an egg whisked in) with chia seeds and a banana for breakfast, a plain Greek yogurt and whole grain cereal for a snack, and natural peanut butter and banana on whole wheat toast for lunch. There’s obviously some fiber throughout this day, but no as much as I normally consume with all of the vegetables I eat.
Before my previous races I would cut out most vegetables in the 2-3 days before the race, but this time I only skipped out on vegetables the day before the race. I used to opt for simple carbs day before and the morning before a race, but I find now that more complex carbohydrates definitely help. As long as I don’t eat a ton of vegetables the day before, fiber isn’t an issue.
I think my stomach is actually more sensitive to the simple sugars in refined flours and grains than the fiber in whole wheat flour or wild rice. Maybe I’m just imagining this, but it does make sense since I always purchase or make whole wheat bread and opt for brown or wild rice over white.
For dinner I had a filet of golden trout with the skin, a baked russet potato cooked in coconut oil, and a half serving of wild rice, all with a generous amount of salt. Nothing too heavy and I opted for a balance of easily digestible carbs (potato) and slow-burning carbs (wild rice). Plus, I personally find a little fat always helps out, especially healthy fats like those from fish and coconut oil.
I also enjoyed a ginger beer (which has a lower alcohol content than normal beer, especially my beloved IPAs) and drank coconut water before bed for electrolytes. Throughout the night, as I woke up periodically, I’d sip on water to stay well hydrated.
Just over two hours before start time, I ate my usual pre-long run meal: a piece of whole wheat toast with wild honey and a banana, plus a cup of coffee and 12-oz of water with Enduropacks spray. I sipped on water from waking up (nearly 3 hours before the race) and then stopped drinking water 75 minutes before the start time.
Race Nutrition and Hydration:
Seattle’s own Nuun sponsored the race, so each aid station offered Nuun and water. I don’t drink Nuun on a daily basis anymore, but I know my stomach can tolerate it in small amounts. Additionally, they recently reformulated to do away with sorbitol (which can upset my stomach) in favor of stevia, so I wasn’t worried as much about using a different product than I trained with.
I carried my Enduropacks spray just in case, but never used it (you can see it stashed in the pocket of my Saucony bullet shorts – I never even noticed it was there!).
I alternated between water and Nuun at each of the five water stations. At the first couple stations I took just a sip, but by the final two stations I was drinking the whole cup. This was the first race where I didn’t have to walk through water stations, nor did I ever feel like I could not wait for the next water station or was struggling to stay sufficiently hydrated.
I took an apple cinnamon Hammer gel at mile 4.5 and another at mile 9.5, which closely coincided with water stations. The train low, race high philosophy of fueling truly works. Part of me initially questioned taking in this much fuel, but I decided to racing “high” on carbs to see how it worked for me. My body loves carbs, after all.
I’m a firm believer in eating whatever sounds good to you after a race. Proper recovery nutrition should be a concern throughout training, but after a race just eat immediately what you can get down and then indulge later to celebrate.
Want to improve your fueling and hydration for racing and training? I’m offering a 6 Week e-Course to help you accomplish the same thing I did! You’ll receive six weekly lessons, worksheets to help you develop a cohesive and effective fueling and hydration plan, and guidance from a certified running coach!
What’s the hardest part about fueling and hydration during a race for you?
What do you eat for your pre-race meal before a marathon or half marathon?
Do you eat vegetables/high-fiber foods in the days before a race?