During your race do you find yourself hitting the port-a-potty? Athletes often think it’s something they’ve done during the race that results in these issues, however, many times triathletes will unknowingly sabotage their race before it even starts by making these common pre-race fueling mistakes. 

Here is a breakdown of the three big fueling “don’ts” leading up to race day: 

Carbohydrate Loading: This has long been a pre-race ritual for athletes i.e. the carbo dinner on race eve. When you take in excessive amounts of carbohydrates, your body retains more water. Did you know for every gram of carbohydrate you take in, you retain about 4 grams of water? Additionally, the pre-race warm up is not always an adequate amount of time to release the stored water in your system. So, when the gun goes off, many athletes find themselves racing with a puffy, bloated feeling that can lead to gastrointestinal stress later in the race. One rule of thumb is to monitor your race weight and do not gain more then 1.5% of your weight during the final week.

Water Loading: Athletes feel like they will need more water, particularly in hot climates, like in Kona. This thought pattern is due to the fear of losing an excessive amount of water weight during the race. Loading up on water is not the answer.  In fact, drinking too much water prior to your race can cause a host of issues including hyponatremia. This can cause light headedness, rapid muscle fatigue and in extreme cases brain swelling and even death. An excessive amount of water is not what you need to perform well on race day. The two days prior to the race drink water as needed not in excess.

Electrolyte Loading. On hot, humid days athletes feel like they’ll need more electrolytes, particularly the last two or three days leading up to the race. This is a really bad idea because it throws off your body’s equilibrium of the two key electrolytes, sodium and potassium. When electrolytes are in harmony the body maintains homeostasis. An excessive amount can cause GI distress and muscle dysfunction. 

For heavy sweaters, you may need to increase sodium the morning of the race. Make sure that you practice taking in equal volumes under like environmental conditions.  This is the only time that you may need to take in more, but don’t get caught into this trap where more is better.  

It is important that your stomach is in harmony so you can maintain optimal output. A poor pre-race practice is to load up on carbs, water and electrolytes.  Eat your normal dietary intake. However there are a few rules to follow. 

How do you nail your pre-race nutrition? It’s actually pretty simple. 

  • Maintain your normal intake leading up to the race.
  • On the two days prior to the race finish dinner so you will have a 10 hour transit time before your early morning breakfast
  • Don’t do anything fancy. You do not want to experiment or change your diet right before your race.  Less volume or calories is advisable. Pre-race nerves can trigger GI distress. You have a lot of stored calories to access without over eating.
  • With the exception of increasing the sodium avoid the fluid replacement or recovery drinks for a pre-race meal
  • Finish your breakfast at least 2 ½ hours before the gun goes off.