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.