By Pip Taylor | Triathlete Competitor
What do I eat the night before a race? Do I have to have a special meal or follow a strict diet the day before? Do I ever have a beer or a glass of wine?
I get asked these questions a lot. Mostly the people asking are not as interested in what I eat or drink but secretly hope that their pre-race pizza and lager will be justified or that their lucky steak and chips the night before is the secret to a good race.
So do you really need to join the queue at the pasta party or pester the waiter at the local Italian restaurant as to why they don’t include sports drinks on the wine list? The short answer is no. And the slightly longer answer is a provisional no.
The elements of performance include genetics, training and fitness, nutrition and mental state. Each of these is important on its own, and each influences and interacts with the others.
For instance, for one athlete, knowing she has had ideal nutrition going into her race can boost her mental confidence, but for another, state of mind may be influenced more by his ability to relax and socialize. Similarly, good nutrition plays a role in ensuring one’s ability to achieve optimal training and recovery, yet perfect nutrition will do nothing for performance without dedication and a willingness to work hard.
Still, all of these amount to nothing without at least some natural ability and genetic disposition. The reverse is also true—the world is full of talented athletes who have never gotten off the couch. So the key to performance is to get as many of these elements in sync at one time while recognizing the unique qualities of the individual athlete or situation. So yes, good nutrition is important, especially for racing. But it is not the be-all and end-all of performance and must be put into perspective.
There’s a large scientific basis for preparing well nutritionally for a race. If the race is two hours or longer, there is a benefit to having loaded muscle glycogen (“carbo-loading”), being well-hydrated and making sure to consume foods that your body can easily digest without causing any gastrointestinal upsets or surprises. However, a wide range of foods can meet these needs—the list extends well beyond pasta—and will also depend on your individual needs. Gender, size, fitness, environmental conditions, nutritional status leading into the event and nerves play a role in what and how much you need to eat the day before a race.
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