So you’ve created a training plan without parallel. You’re committed – up every day at sunrise to train. Your family and friends are inspired.
And yet, for some reason, people often spend less time thinking about what they put into their bodies. Some people who train hard conclude that this gives them the right to be less mindful of diet. Those are the people who struggle to cross the finish line on race day.
Fueling for an adventure race is more complicated than eating to maintain a good physique. Some foods that are a dieter’s worst nightmare are building blocks of good race prep. It’s important to understand that adventure racing often requires a combination of outdoor skills, mental toughness, physical endurance, and sheer strength of will. Being fast does not share quite the same importance as in other forms of racing.
1. Your Training Diet
This diet does not need to be too restrictive. What is important is that during your runs, bikes, swims, or workouts, you attempt to simulate the diet you would have during the race. Figure out which sports drinks and foods work well for you. During a race, the last thing you want is to gulp down a new gel drink and feel nauseous. Similarly, certain racers will have different tolerance levels for caffeine and amounts of liquids. You should play with all of this and track it to hone in on what works for you. There are a lot of moving pieces, so keeping an accurate log (such as an Excel spreadsheet) is integral.
Ahead of training days, experiment with carbohydrate loading. There are a bunch of protocols out there and what works well for you is incredibly individualized. There is a certain amount of experimentation that must take place.
Stage 2: Your Pre-Race Diet
In the week preceding the race, step up your carbohydrate intake. The goal is to increase your glycogen stores well above their training levels. Glycogen is the most readily-used source of energy in your body, and is integral to fending off exhaustion. A rough rule of thumb is 4 grams of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight each day.
While you’re in this carbohydrate loading process you will also be stepping up your sodium and potassium intake, while eliminating anything that can dehydrate you, such as alcohol. Throughout this period, take extra care to drink plenty of water and go into race day as hydrated as possible.
Stage 3: Your Race Diet
So it’s race day and you have prepped just right. You start the day with a small, high carbohydrate meal. A common mistake is to start taking in carbohydrates too late in the race; start sport drinks and gels before you feel any drop-off in energy.
The limit on how much food you consume during the race is based on how long the race is, and how much you can ingest without feeling uncomfortable. You’re likely burning over 600 calories an hour, which means you’re going to have your work cut out for you (upwards of 50 grams of carbohydrates per hour). If that sounds like a lot, it is – fortunately drinks and gels have managed to pack a huge amount of carbohydrates into small amounts of food.
For especially long adventure races (in excess of 6 hours), pay special attention to your electrolyte levels. Sports drinks like Gatorade, which have plenty of (all-important) sodium, can be a good solution here. In some cases, sodium tablets can be a good solution, though you’ll want to experiment with these during training to detect any adverse side effects.
There is, of course, nuance to these practices – there are plenty of books that are focused on fueling for races. We wholeheartedly advocate taking the time to read one before you engage on your trek through Patagonia.