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The Secret to Perfect Race Fueling

best running fuel

There are a few four letter words we really shouldn’t use in polite conversation. Worst of them all is, “BONK.” That awful, drained feeling that occurs about 2 hours into any race occurs largely due to nutrition, predominately your nutrition immediately before and during the race. Here is what and when to eat to avoid bonking.

Before Your Race

best pre race meal

Three days before your race is your carbohydrate loading period. More archaic methods have suggested you go low-carb for three days before your loading period, but in this case, the drawbacks don’t outweigh the benefits. Therefore, our recommendation is that you skip it altogether. Your normal diet probably consists of about 6 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per day – about 435g for men or 340g for women. Or at least it should assuming you weigh in at 57-70 kilograms (how to determine ideal diets for runners, cyclists, and triathletes can be found HERE).

During your three-day carb loading phase, increase your carbohydrate intake by about 2g/kg to 8-10 grams per kilogram per day. To figure this out, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to get your weight in kilograms, then multiply that number by 8, or 10.

An example: I’m 154 pounds. 154 / 2.2 = 70 kg. I eat 490 grams of carbohydrate per day, so I currently eat 490g / 70kg or 7g/kg. For my carb load, I want to increase to 9g/kg, so that means 70 * 9 g = 630 grams of carbohydrate per day.
Some of you out there are ketogenic and thinking, “I don’t bonk, I’m keto!” True, you won’t exhaust your fat stores, but you still want to carb load. I know you don’t think you want to, and you don’t think you have to, but you do… if you want to perform your very best. You’re still going to be using carbs if you’re trying to run fast – just less than you would on a carb-based diet. The protocol is a little different, though. Only carb load the 24 hours prior at 6 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight.

On either diet, some of the best carb-loading foods are whole grain pasta, rice, potato, oats, granola, and whole grain bread. Drinking your carbs or eating some honey, jam, or chocolate are acceptable options as well if you just can’t stomach that 6th sweet potato. It’s important not to skimp out on your other nutrients just to get the carbs in. Protein and fat slow digestion and improve carbohydrate absorption.

Some of you are going to notice and care about weight gain. It’s just carbs and water (those things have weight!). Don’t worry about it. It will all be long gone by the end of the race.

Race Day

how to carb load

If you’re racing in the morning, it’s still a good idea to get in a small meal of more simple carbohydrate, like fruit or a sports drink 30-60 minutes prior with your PerformElite. If you can stomach a full meal, go for it, but most racers feel a little bit of an upset stomach if they eat too much right before racing. Figure out what works best for you. If your race starts in the late morning or afternoon, continue loading up to about 3-5 hours before start, then follow the first guideline!

Now for the fun part. Fueling during the race. For nearly all of you reading, 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour will be your sweet spot. It all depends on what type of athlete you are and how much you’re pushing the limit. If you’re running a marathon just for the sake of finishing and having a great accomplishment, 30g per hour is for you. However, if you’re trying to place in a marathon, you will need 60g per hour to get you over the finish line ahead of the competition.

For the competitive ultra-endurance and triathlete crowd, you may need even more. However, this will only be the case for races lasting longer than 5 hours. Moreover, it is only even possible if you train your gut and utilize glucose and fructose intestinal transporters. How do you train your gut? Periods of at least 1 month consuming a diet of at least 6.5g carbohydrate per kg bodyweight per day of which 1.5g per kg bodyweight is consumed during training sessions. For races lasting at least 5 hours, up your carb intake to 90g per hour after the first 2.5-3 hours. Also if you’re going to be competing for 7 or more hours, take another scoop of PerformElite at 5 hours.

Lastly, about 10% of your calories should come from protein and/or branched-chain or glucogenic amino acids. These will help prevent muscle damage and serve as intramuscular fuel substrates that have proven benefits for enhancing endurance performance.

Yes, we hear your ketogenic people! The research is currently non-existent on what is best for you. Our personal observations are that you should still be having some carbs before and during exercise. “Won’t that knock me out of ketosis?” Yeah, it will… For a few hours until the next time you eat fat or start exercising heavily. “Being in ketosis” is overrated. Do you want to be in ketosis or do you want to win? Fact of the matter is, you will still have all the benefits of being ketogenic, plus you will have enough carbs to race at a higher intensity. During exercise, our recommendation is to still have at least 30g per hour (and some MCTs if you can stomach it). You won’t regret the carbs when you’re standing on the podium.

Hydration

how to hydrate during races

The waters get a little murky around fluid recommendations. Pun intended. You may hear recommendations anywhere from 6 ounces per hour to 36 ounces per hour. This will vary depending on your sport (i.e. cycling vs. running), fluid pacing (i.e. 6 ounces in 15 minutes vs. 24 ounces in 15 minutes) and your individual capabilities.

Let’s start with some background. The stomach can handle about 50 mL of water per minute. Much more than that, and the fluid just sloshes around in there. Yuck. Thus, it is recommended to consume about 750 mL of fluid per hour spread out evenly over the entire hour. In other words, about 25 ounces. However, this is easier said than done, and most runners end up drink about half that amount.
A little bit of fluid loss, up to 3% of body weight, is not the end of the world, so some recommendations are to “drink to your thirst” for shorter events. This adds up to about 10 ounces per hour.

Putting it All Together

best race carbohydrate

Obviously, the most efficient way to fuel and hydrate is to do so simultaneously with a sports drink. Even gels need to be consumed with some amount of fluid. Any source of carbohydrate works in theory, but like any competitive soul, we want the best. Lucky for you, we’ve created the perfect sports drink for endurance athletes, SustainElite. We’re not just saying that – we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t honestly feel that this is the best sports drink available.

First, see above to figure out whether you need 30g, 60g, or even 90g of carbohydrate per hour for your race. Each scoop of SustainElite contains 30g of carbohydrate, so you will want 1, 2, or 3 scoops! Then during training sessions, try to figure out how much fluid you can comfortably tolerate each hour. Mix your SustainElite (1, 2, or 3 scoops) into that amount of fluid. Although we recommend 16 ounces for a 6% carbohydrate solution, SustainElite is highly soluble, and it can be mixed in as little as 8 ounces of water per scoop, but it will still taste great, just a little less sweet, in up to 24 ounces per scoop if you need a little more fluid replacement. Just remember to give it a shake before you drink!

Now get out there and set a new PR!

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