Fuel Your Way to Your Best Iceman Ever with these 5 Simple Sports Nutrition Tips

sports nutrition race day breakfast

You’ve signed up for the Iceman. You’re training hard. Maybe you’ve even bought yourself some new gear just for the race. But have you thought about your nutrition and hydration?

If you haven’t, it’s time. Read on to learn expert strategies about how to fuel your body so you can feel and perform your best on race day from local Registered Dietitian and Iceman veteran Lindsay Van der Meer.

Expect More

When you are active, you’re expecting more from your body. And like a vehicle, if you put good fuel in, it will run more efficiently.

Too often I see people spend hours upon hours training for an event, then on race day they have no plan for how they intend to fuel themselves for the event. Winging it with nutrition is leaving your performance to chance.

Simple changes can often make a huge difference. Follow my five sports nutrition tips to feel your best on race day:

1. Eat Breakfast and Eat it Early

Food is only helping to fuel your muscles if it's digested and absorbed. If food is still in your stomach when you start exercising, it is not helping you. In fact, a full stomach will draw water away from your working muscles to help with digestion, leaving you feeling bloated and lethargic (or worse, heading for the toilet!).

What does this mean for race day? Eat breakfast no later than 3 hours before you start your portion of the race (around 7am on Iceman day for most people). A smaller snack shortly before race start can also help ensure you get some extra energy without filling up. Great choices are a few sips of juice or ½ a banana.

2. Start Hydrated and Stay that Way

Exercising in cold weather puts an added stress on your body that can make it harder to stay hydrated (for more on this see my blog post on cold weather hydration). The good news is that fluids can come from a variety of sources and it doesn’t just have to be water. Milk, juice and even tea and coffee can all contribute to your fluid intake (though caffeinated drinks shouldn’t be your only source of fluids).

What does this mean for race day? Drink enough fluids that your urine is the colour of lemonade before the race. Don’t want to look at your pee? Aim to drink 2-4 cups of fluids during the morning before the race, ensuring you save a bit for the hour before you start.

3. Have a Plan for Your Event(s) During the Race

For participants doing one leg of the event (eg. the ski, or one of the runs) taking in the fluids offered at the hydration stations is likely all that is needed. Sports drinks can be helpful if you anticipate taking more than 1 hour to complete your portion, but otherwise water alone is all that most moving bodies need.

What does this mean for race day? Carry fluids with you if you regularly use them and take advantage of the hydration stations along the 10 km route.

What if I’m doing the whole Iceman myself or multiple events? Soloist and participants doing multiple legs of the event (eg. the ski then 10km run, or both runs) have to do a bit more planning to stay hydrated and meet their body’s energy needs. Working muscles run out of glycogen, or stored energy, starting at around the 45 minute mark (depending on your pace and intensity). When your glycogen is gone, you can feel as though you are completely out of energy (also called bonking). And no one wants to walk or stumble to the finish line, or worse – not finish at all! Fluids and a source of carbohydrate are needed to keep muscles working optimally. Sports drinks, energy gels or bite-sized candies can all be great choices.

4. Try it Out in Practice

Whether it be your pre-event breakfast, your borrowed hand-held water bottle, or a new sports gel or drink, try it out first. Why? You want to be 100% certain that your body tolerates it and that it helps you feel better (not worse!) when you are out there pushing yourself.

What does this mean for race day? Nothing should be new, from what you eat for dinner the night before to what you wear or use for hydration or with you during your portion of the race.

5. Remember to Recover

Help kick start your post race recovery with a snack. Not only will this help replenish your working muscles, but you’ll be more likely to arrive at the banquet ready to enjoy the meal with your teammates and friends, and not so hungry that you’re likely to overeat. Good choices include a combination of carbohydrates (for muscle energy) and protein (for muscle repair).

What does this mean for race day? Pack a snack. Great ideas include fruit and a muffin, a granola bar, or cheese and crackers.

So there you have it. 5 Simple things you can do to feel and perform your best on race day. Is there a strategy that is simplest for you to adopt? Which one will you try first? I’d love to hear your comments.

Lindsay Van der Meer, Registered Dietitian

References:

1. American College of Sports Medicine, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada (2015). Joint Position Statement on Nutrition and Athletic Performance, Medicine & Science in Sport and Exercise.

2. Ryan, M. (2005). Performance Nutrition for Winter Sports. Boulder, Colorado: Peak Sports Press.