Race Day and Training Nutrition


January 4, 2013 by IowaTriBob

Over the last 6 months I’ve experimented with various nutritional diets and tried to measure the results both in terms of how I feel each day and my RPE (rate of perceived effort) in my workouts.  These diets have included carb restricted, Paleo, carb loading, and a race day high fat meal.

My first nutritional experiment started with the Dr. Phil Maffetone Two-Week Test.  The test is built as a measure of identifying a carbohydrate intolerance but is also promoted to improve your diet, reduce body fat, kick start your aerobic system, and provide better overall endurance.

The two week test consisted of eliminating all foods that contain refined carbohydrates and sugars.  This included breads, rolls, pasta, pancakes, cereal, chips, fruits and fruit juices, processed meats containing sugars, milk, half-and-half, yogurt, energy bars and rinks, soda (including diet) and sweets.  The ideal behind the test is to help your body transition to a state of fat burning vs. relying upon glycogen (sugar) stores to deliver energy.

My results and experience with the Maffetone Two-Week Test were as advertised.  I lost a total of 6 pounds on the test and my body fat went from over 20% down to 18.5%.  Now the first 5-6 days where awful but after I got through this initial period I felt better each day and found that I no longer had the afternoon crash or need for sweets or caffeine to keep me going.  The test itself is very restrictive in what’s on the allowed list and definitely not meant for a long term nutritional strategy.  In addition, the lack of carbs seemed to negatively impact any workout that required an effort above a zone 2 aerobic heart rate for any sustained period of time.

Coming off the Maffetone test I got introduced to the Paleo diet.  Paleo, also referred to as the caveman diet, Stone Age diet and hunter-gatherer diet, is a nutritional plan based on the presumed ancient diet of wild plants and animals that people consumed during the Paleolithic era.  Paleo nutrition is based on the premise that modern humans are genetically adapted to the diet of their Paleolithic ancestors and that human genetics have scarcely changed since the dawn of agriculture, and therefore an ideal diet for human health and well-being is one that resembles this Paleo diet plan.  The Paleo diet is promoted to help reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, weight loss, improved athletic performance, eliminate acne, increase libido, and much more.

My results and experience with Paleo have been just as impressive as with the Maffetone test.  As I’ve moved away from most all processed foods to more natural foods, my energy levels have continued to improve, my overall heath continues to be the best it’s ever been, and the introduction of healthy carbs such as sweet potatoes and more vegetables has helped me sustain my workouts with noticeable gains month over month.  Since moving to a Paleo diet I’ve lost another 10 lbs and my body fat is down to 15.2%.  What I’ve noticed even more is that my recovery between workouts has improved even though the workouts themselves have increased in endurance and intensity.

For the last month I’ve been experimenting with a carbohydrate-loading diet before some key workouts and time trials that I’ve treated as race day events.  I’ve read countless horror stories about athletes changing their diet or trying something new just before a big race only to see terrible results and have horrible race experiences.  My goal has been to get this experimentation out during my training so I have a solid strategy and plan come actual race day.

In further researching how nutrition impacts performance I’ve found numerous studies that have shown carb loading can help maximize your performance for your key workouts or race day.  What I’ve learned is that carb loading isn’t something you start the night before a big race with a huge pasta dinner that so many athletes stuff themselves with.  Instead proper carb loading needs to start anywhere from 2-3 days prior to the big event.

When carb loading, research shows you want to consume about 3 to 5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight.  This works itself out to 60-70% of your calories from carbs.  For example, if you weigh 150 lbs. you’d need to consume 450 to 750 gram of carbs or 150 to 250 grams every five hours in this period leading up to race day.

Being on a Paleo diet has created a few challenges when it comes to carb loading.  Since both bread and pasta are highly processed (not to mention both contain gluten) the normal carb staples so many other athletes choose are not an option I want to consider.  What I’ve learned to heavily rely upon is natural nutrient carb-dense foods such as sweet potatoes or yams.  I’ve also added some questionable Paleo foods, but in my opinion still very natural, including white potatoes, quinoa, and brown rice.  All are very carb-dense and can be found in the organic and health sections of most stores.

My results of carb loading have varied with the type of workout performed.   For example, I notice carb loading helps my endurance, RPE, and performance more when running and biking then during swimming.  This may be a direct result of swimming being a lower intensity and heart rate activity than the other two legs for me.  However in running and biking I can definitely tell a positive difference after a 2 day period of carb loading.

Finally I’ve just started to experiment with my actual race day meal.  I ran across a study published at http://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/4/7/625/htm that shows proper carb loading can be enhanced further with a race day meal high in fat (55% or more) consumed 2 to 4 hours ahead of racing followed by a shot of sports drink or gel just before the race itself.  The study indicates that following 3 days of carb loading, a high fat meal and subsequent ingestion of a small portion of carbohydrate jelly or drink prior to exercise enhances the performance of athletes.  I don’t have any personal results to validate this last study just yet but adding a few pieces of bacon to the morning breakfast sure isn’t a bad way to start the day.

I’d enjoy hearing what works for you and what you’re before and after experiences are.

12 thoughts on “Race Day and Training Nutrition

  1. Chatter says:

    Did you do the Friel Paleo diet or the off the shelf normal one? Supposedly the Friel diet allows more foods specific for endurance athletes. Just curious. I have not done a tri yet, but for 5k races, I try to do what I usually do when I run. If its morning oatmeal and greek yogurt, if its afternoon or evening oatmeal, greek yogurt and a bagel. Lately I think the metabolism has gone a little wonky as the oatmeal and yogurt are not cutting it, even on swim mornings. Of course my swims are now usually around or beyond an hour. Good post and allot of things to think about.

    • IowaTriBob says:

      Interestingly enough I did buy and read the Paleo for Athletes by Friel and have to admit that I don’t agree with much of what’s in it. For example one of his strategies was to just have a few gels on the morning of race day – which made my energy levels run out in the first 45 minutes of my workout when I tried it. In addition there are a lot of processed foods that he allows and even recommends which seem very strange.

  2. Carrie says:

    So much good information! I really like the idea behind the Paleo diet and how it stresses eating whole, unprocessed foods. For me, though, I know I couldn’t give up things like beans and Greek yogurt for the long-term. (Not to mention the questionable foods you mentioned, plus coffee and chocolate. :)) During the summer months, however, I really cleaned up my diet about two weeks before a race, and I actually cut out Greek yogurt (and all dairy) and felt much better. On race day, I eat a bowl of Kashi oatmeal, plus two cups of coffee and lots of water; about 30 minutes before the triathlon starts, I slam an energy gel. This race-day eating approach has worked well for sprint tris, but I may have to modify it for Olympic events. PS – Congrats on the weight loss!

    • IowaTriBob says:

      Thank you and I’ve really enjoyed Paleo, especially with a few cheats here and there. I’m definitely not the type that could do it 100% (cupcakes and icecream are my heavens) but I figure my diet is completely different (for the better) today than it was just 6-9 months ago.

  3. elisariva says:

    Wow, you have really submitted yourself to a lot of trials. Over the years I have found 40/30/30 carbs/protein/fat works best for me. I am consistent, avoid processed food, but I do eat past once a week. I don’t change much for pre-race meals. Most of my experimenting has been with actual race nutrition. I have found drinking Nuun for electrolytes works best for me. Calories come from gels and Honey Stinger waffles. I am intrigued with a vegan diet, but my performance has been much better since I went back to animal based proteins. Each body is different and requires the trial and error method to figure out what is best. I also go for portability – can I eat the same way when I travel.

    • IowaTriBob says:

      I couldn’t agree more that everyone’s body is different and just because it works for me doesn’t mean much for others. I’m really going to have to look into the Honey Stinger waffles as I’ve seen those come up several times in recent posts. You should give “Finding Ultra” by Rolls a read. After I read this I considered vegan as a test but just enjoy a good steak and seafood too much. With Paleo I have switched over to at least paying attention to cage free, grass fed, and wild caught labels.

  4. Great post, Bob! Did you notice if any of the diets affected your attitude?

    • IowaTriBob says:

      Thank you and great question. The 2 week test was a serious attitude adjustment meaning the first week you wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere near me, it was pretty rough. But after that first week and continuing through the entire Paleo change my attitude has been great, less irratable, and more focused.

  5. ichoosetotri says:

    Bob, you are the man but I’m kind of mad at you right now. I’ve always said that I work out and race so that I can eat what I want…now you’ve motivated me to watch what I eat…geez. The Paleo diet sounds intriguing though, I’m going to have to adopt some of that. I think you’ve inspired a blog post for me.

    • IowaTriBob says:

      LOL… Glad I could be of some help – I think! I’ve never given much thought to what I eat but I figured if I’m going to give the 2013 season a serious effort I might as well commit to it 100%, nutrition included. I do still really enjoy the occasional sweet, but even those have been leaning more towards honey and natural sugars vs. processed.

  6. Yeah dude, bacon it up.

    I have adopted Paleo since May of 2012 and seen huge gains, not only in fitness, but lifestyle as well. I train fasted for each morning session (5 days a week), recover with sweet potato within 30 minutes, and a full breakfast within 1.5 hours. As for race day, I utilized GU last year, not so great for an IM 70.3. I am going to test a 4:1 ratio of CarboPro and Protein next season, hopefully it will help with the grumbling stomach.

    That being said, what works for me may not work for you. So keep up the testing, human guinea pig I like to think.

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