In honor of National Nutrition Month I thought I'd give my own personal pre-race and race nutritional plan. I will preface this by stating that I have never sat down with a sports nutritionist and developed this plan, it has just been one of those things that I've developed over time and I stick to it because it seems to work. There are a ton of nutritional plans, ideas, do's and don'ts and I really feel that as long as its a balanced approach and it makes somewhat sense then you should be fine. Additionally, this plan is really how I approach an Olympic Distance race.
Two or more days out: I prefer to have a heavier carbohydrate meal two nights prior to the race. This is also the day where I really start hydrating. Ideally you should be hydrating throughout the day/night (I always have a bottle of water by the bedside and if I get up I take a few sips), but really start focusing on hydrating the days prior to the race. The day before is too late to start...especially if you're racing in the hot days of summer! I don't drink a lot of sports drinks, but focus on water. Beyond this I stick to my normal balanced diet.
Day Prior: The day before the race I continue to eat balanced throughout the day trying to get some lighter/healthier carbs and maintaining my focus on water. For dinner I always eat some sort of fish, preferably salmon, and usually choose a starch (rice or potato) to go along with it. This meal is a tradition (maybe more of a superstition) following a PR race in which I had salmon the night prior. Again, it worked so I'm sticking to it. I have also found through this that people will go to great lengths to stick to a meal they know!
Morning of: In the morning I will eat oatmeal and some fruit, typically a banana. I don't want to eat too much, but want to make sure that I have something in my stomach to burn throughout the morning and throughout the race. The amount that I eat is determined by my wake up time, the distance of the race, and the status of my nerves. Over the last couple of years I've been eating the Quaker Oats Chocolate Chip...no rhyme or reason just another example of a superstition. Additionally, I will drink a hefty amount of coffee. This is largely to stave off the caffeine headache, but its a regular throughout my training so I figure there's no reason to change it come race morning.
At the race site/just prior to the race: I will always have one bottle of water and one bottle of an electrolyte to sip on throughout the morning while I'm at transition or getting ready to start the race. If its going to be a long time between transition close and start time I will take a disposable bottle of water. This way I'm not discarding one of my personal water bottles (I don't know about anyone else, but race water bottles are a personal trophy and I don't like to lose them)! I will also ingest one gel packet 15 minutes prior to my wave start. These are fast burning and will provide some energy during the swim.
On the bike (see photo): I have one method of setting up the nutrition on my bike and then will adjust this method depending on the bike course and weather. In the front of my bike I have the aero bottle where I will fill with my electrolyte drink (last year it was Accelerade and I will continue to use this brand this year). Then I will tape down two gel packets to the stem of my bike (the gel I use is AccelGel...I have used Hammer and Gu before, but have found AccelGel to jive well with my stomach). The method of taping is really a personal preference. You can see in the picture that I have the tops taped down. If they are secured enough then when you pull from the side it should rip open the packet. This may cause a little bit of a mess on your bike, but thats what bike wash is for and its a race so those things don't matter! You can tape them by the bottom and use your teeth to open the packet as well. The important part is to find a setup that works for you and still allows you to get your in race nutrition. Once I am settled into the bike, typically within a mile or two, I will eat my first gel (please make sure you hold onto your gel packet...thats why you have pockets..and its a penalty). For fluids I will have the aero bottle filled and then usually one other bottle in my bottle holders for an olympic distance. If I know its going to be hot I will throw on an additional bottle. I have found out the hard way that its better to have more than to not consume enough. If the race has a bottle station I will use a disposable water bottle (I like the Deer Park bottles with the squirt top...they fit pretty well in the water bottle holder). The bottle station is a nice to have on hot days or courses with a more challenging bike route. By using a disposable water bottle I can exchange, if needed, and not have to get rid of my precious water bottles. Finally, I consume another gel within 15 minutes or so of the bike finish. I think its very important to stress the need to hydrate throughout the bike ride. Its always more difficult to determine the amount of sweat loss throughout a bike ride, but if you will pay on the run if you don't hydrate throughout the bike. Personally, this is why I like the aero bottle. Its right there in my face and is a constant reminder to drink.
Bike to Run Transition and on the run: I usually have a water bottle or an electrolyte bottle sitting next to my shoes to grab a quick sip before I head out of run transition. If there is a water table then I won't worry about this at my transition zone because its a waste of time. Next to my shoes I will have another gel packet that I can throw in the pocket of my tri top. I usually like to consume this around 10-15 minutes into the run to give that additional energy needed to sustain the remainder of the run. Throughout the run I like to grab water and an electrolyte at just about every station. This is just a preference and if you don't need to then stick to what works for you. If anything I like to throw the water on my head or down the back of my neck to relieve some of heat.
Post race: Eat what you may, but remember to eat foods that will replenish and restore. Also make sure you continue to hydrate throughout the day. The odds are that even though you had solid hydration plan throughout the day, its likely you lost more than you consumed.
-Experiment with gels and drinks that suit your body and needs. There are a ton of companies that produce great products, most of which provide around the same nutritional benefit. Its really what works for your body that makes the difference.
-If you're competing in a longer race i.e. Half Ironman or Ironman, email the race director or look at the race website to see what brands of gels/drinks will be provided at aid stations and train to this product. Its likely you won't carry enough nutrition, especially in an Ironman, to be self-sufficient and you will need to borrow from the aid station. You don't want to experience an unsuitable gel halfway into your Ironman.
-Gel flasks: I've used these in the past and still do on longer training rides. I find them a little tricky because you have to add water in order to get the gel out quickly and this may/may not affect the allotted amount of gel you use. Its also easier to throw in two-three packets of gels as compared to two-three gel flasks. Again, personal preference is they are better for longer bike training rides where you don't have access to an aid station.
-Practice your nutrition plan in your training sessions and figure out what works and what doesn't. Note throughout your races if something isn't working properly and figure out an alternative method. There are plenty of resources available to see how other people are doing things. Look around transition and see what how others are setting up their bikes or if there is a pro section walk over and look at their setup and pull tips from them.
Again, I am not a nutritionist nor have I received any special training in nutritional planning. Above is what I have tweaked throughout the last four years and its what works for me. I'd love to hear your own comments on your setup or your own nutrition traditions.