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Pre- and During-Race Nutrition


An article by dietitians, Shelly Meltzer & Associates

With race day now approaching it is time to get your race day nutrition plan into gear;

To determine your race nutrition strategies consider what your race goals are. Are you there to podium or are you just aiming to participate and finish the race? This will influence the intensity that you ride, the time on your saddle,  and therefore the type and  quantity of food that you need as well as how you pace your intake.

Day before the race:

During the 24 hours before the race, eat foods that are high in carbohydrate, moderate in protein, low in fat and fibre so that they don’t sit heavily in your stomach. There are many options besides pasta that you can choose such as rice with a tomato-based chicken stew, chicken or ostrich burger on a sourdough roll, couscous with chicken, fish or lean meat in a soy and honey sauce with rice noodles.

Keep up with your fluids over the course of the day so that you start the race well-hydrated. If you are struggling with a lack of appetite due to nerves, fluids can be a valuable source of carbohydrate at this time.

Pre-race meal:

Carbohydrate is the most important component of your pre-race meal so should form the basis for this meal. It doesn’t necessarily matter in what form you eat it, but it should preferably be easily-digestible. Stick to a pre-exercise breakfast that you have used during training (refer to the 1st article), choosing a carbohydrate-rich smoothie or a pancake with a applesauce or banana and honey, if you lack appetite. Some of these will also be available in the dining marquee for days 2 and 3 of your race.

Make sure to plan enough time to allow your body to digest the food before the race starts. If you have eaten your meal 2-3 hours before the race starts, top up with a banana or gel on the start line and sip your carbohydrate drink.

Caffeine timing:

If during training you found that caffeine helps your performance, , having a coffee roughly one hour before you start racing and topping up after about 3 hours with a gel/bar containing caffeine can be a strategy. Coke will also be available on route so later in the day can be a great pick-me-up. If you don’t usually drink coffee in the morning, you can add caffeine (from a gel/ bar/ drink) 2-3 hours into the race to help you get to the finish. Note that if you are extremely sensitive to caffeine it can make you more nervous and agitated and can negatively affect your performance so don’t try anything new on race day.

On the bike

Nibbling on snacks and drinking sports drinks throughout the day will help you maintain your energy levels. Here are some additional pointers:

  • Consider your taste preferences. You may want to start the day with sweeter options, changing to salty or sour tastes for later on in the race.
  • Biltong (also a source of protein), bananas (potassium), baby potatoes with salt , trail mix (dried fruit, coconut, nuts) marmite sandwiches and commercial electrolyte solutions, are great sources of electrolytes.
  • Consider what is coming ahead in the race. For example before a flat section a sandwich can be just the snack you need whereas before a tough climb, a gel or sip of your carbohydrate drink will sit more comfortably.
  • Stay hydrated. When planning your fluid intake, keep in mind that there are three water stops each day which provide water, coke and sachets of rehydrate  to help reduce your load.
  • Make sure everything you take with you is suitable to be stored for 3 days. There is a risk of an upset stomach with food that is not properly refrigerated. There are options available along the route which you can use to supplement what you are carrying:
Ripe bananas

Orange slices


Marmite sandwiches

Boiled baby potatoes

Recovery and preparation for Day 2 and 3

In a multistage event such as this it is vitally important to repair, refuel, rehydrate so that you can get on the bike and race again the following day. Within 30 minutes of getting off the bike, top up with either a flavoured milk drink, a smoothie, a sandwich/ crackers with tuna, chicken, or peanut butter, or biltong plus fruit and fluid, and then choose a meal from the dining marquee that is high in carbohydrate, moderate in protein and low in fat.

Dine ….and Wine?

If your participation is more on a social  level, make sure that you first eat properly and rehydrate with non-alcoholic drinks before having that glass of wine (or beer). This is because alcohol interferes with your recovery and may negatively  affect some vital skills (e.g., balance, coordination, strength, power, local muscular endurance, speed and cardiovascular endurance) needed when navigating a challenging race like this.

Good luck and enjoy your ride!

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