Truth is, those final 24 hours before the big race are always filled with nervous anticipation, especially if it’s your first time. Over time, that feeling slowly diminishes, but unfortunately never goes completely away even after years of racing (I can tell you from my experience that it never does!).
All the ‘what ifs’ fill your head. What if I get cramps? What if I feel sick? What if I run out of energy? These things are all part of the excitement of choosing to participate in a sport event versus hiding under the covers on a Sunday morning.
With all these thoughts flooding your head, there’s another critical component to your final countdown to the gun – what do I eat? This is a very easy question to answer, but I won’t be able to give you the answer, actually: you’re the one who has the answer!
Not one menu is a perfect fit for all athletes; but there are some general rules that everyone can use as a guide during the final 24 hours leading into your race.
Hydration: Possibly the single biggest issue which could negatively impact your race is dehydration. Losing as little as 1% of your body weight in fluid can decrease performance by up to 10%. Crucial is to start the race with your fluid reserves at full capacity and lucky for you this is very easy to accomplish.
Fluid replacement drinks such as EmergenC or Accelerade are better than using water alone because it helps you maintain proper electrolyte balance.
Sodium: many athletes will begin to heavily salt their foods in the days leading up to an event especially if conditions are expected to be overly warm. This helps the body retain water and reduces the likelihood of getting to the start line dehydrated.
Don’t overconsume: only consume enough fluid so that your urine is very light to clear in color. Continuing to drink past this point could affect your electrolyte balance and negatively impact your sleep pattern. There’s nothing worse than having to visit the bathroom every few hours the night before your big day!
Find your meal: there’s no “one-size-fits-all,” diet that works for every athlete, but one thing that does hold true is you want to stick with a diet that your body can easily digest. As a general rule, in the last 24 hours before your race, you want to avoid those foods that are slow to empty from your stomach. Some foods that fall into this category include those that are high in fat, high in fiber or other high processed meals: the more simple a meal, the better.
For instance I can't stand to eat lots of fat (such as cheese) the night before a race. I feel like my stomach won't digest it, and I wake up feeling heavy. However, I have a friend who always eats pizza the night before his big races.
Timing: your last large meal should be finished at least 12 hours before your scheduled start. This means that if you have a scheduled start of 7 a.m. on Sunday; you should finish your last meal by 7 p.m. on Saturday. This will ensure everything is fully digested before the race kicks off.
Breakfast: the debate here is liquid versus solid. Do you drink your breakfast risking hunger or eat a hearty one and risk heartburn?
Liquid: more and more athletes are leaning towards a liquid diet on race morning as the calories are more easily digested and you are also aiding in hydration. Timing is less critical with a liquid meal as it will empty from your stomach much quicker than a solid meal with a similar nutrient breakdown.
Solid: if you’ve determined through training that your system prefers and can tolerate solid foods before your event, be sure this meal is finished at least two hours before your start time. Using our 7 a.m. start time, this would mean your last bite should finish by 5 a.m. In those final two hours before your event, it’s important that you keep your hydration capped. Keep drinking watered down sports drinks right up until the gun goes off.
When your race day is over, make sure you keep a record of what you ate so you can refer to this in the future. If you had any digestive issues you will want to make note of this and conversely, if everything went as planned, you want to make sure you can repeat that same recipe for your next event.
Also, keep in mind that what has worked for you in your training should work for you on race morning. The same goes for dinner the night before. Don't try anything new right before a race. If you got nuts with the carbo-loading, it can lead to "carbo-unloading" on race morning.