Comrades marathon is just around the corner and with the final days approaching the training is basically done, the fitness levels are banked and now all you can do is get to race day healthy, in good shape and ensure your nutrition and sleep is spot on over the next week because that is now going to be the biggest difference you can make on race day.
I am going to give you a number of tips on how to approach race day properly to guide you to your best day out.
Lets take a look at the important aspects of the final few days.
- The Do’s & Don’t’s
- Race Week Eating and the Carbo-loading debate
- The Hours Before Race Day
- Race Day Fuelling – Carbohydrates, Hydration, Cramping and Caffeine
In this first part we talk about the basics and the Do’s and Don’t’s as we get closer to race day.
Sleep is without a doubt crucial. Its the time when the body needs to recover. Very often athletes underestimate the importance of sleep and the critical role it plays in sports performance. Sleep is the time where the body repairs and restores. Its a well know fact that “sleep deprivation leads to depression, high blood pressure, weight gain, heart disease, and probably mortality,” says Dr. Steven Feinsilver, the director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. Additionally, a 2012 study detailed how sleep deprivation increases a person’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Earlier studies have shown that reaction time nearly triples when a person pulls an all-nighter. Normally about a quarter of a second, it increases to 800 to 900 milliseconds. It’s about the same as the difference between being sober and being legally drunk. For elite athletes, emergency room doctors, and cab drivers, among others, losing that half of a second is costly never mind minutes over many hours due to the inability to focus due to poor cognitive function and physical fatigue.
If night sleep is still limited then try adding some power naps during the day. It’s been shown that taking in a large amount of caffeine before power nap is best as consuming caffeine will eventually pass into the small intestine and get absorbed into the blood stream. It then begins a chemical reaction in the brain which blocks the receptors which are filled with Adenosine (energy transferring molecules) which actually cause drowsiness. Adenosine will make you feel very sleepy and by consuming caffeine the opposite happens when it binds to the receptors. This will trigger an effect of alertness and focus. Many people that have a power nap feel lethargic afterwards but the 20 minute coffee nap as we call it will allow you to rest for a nominal time with a feeling of energy after.
Over the next days you should ensure you give yourself complete focus on getting the most sleep you can each night to ensure your body and mind are ready for the big day ahead.
The training now will be behind you but the nutrition is far from over. Training your gut, in other words eating correctly is paramount to arriving at your race healthy, in good shape and ready to tackle it.
Lets start with what you must avoid first in leading up to race day.
Lay off the Alcohol in Race Week
Make sure you hydrate properly. The recommendation is 30-40ml of fluid per kg of body weight and that is not by any means alcohol. Do not consume anything that would dehydrate you. If you do drink alcohol, keep it out of race week. It will impact you on race day, there’s absolutely no doubt. Alcohol pulls the fluid out of the system and dehydrates you and this is something you definitely want to avoid.
Avoid too much Caffeine
Coffee and tea can also have a diuretic effect and it would be advisable to keep this to a minimum. Stimulants also caused sleep disturbances and it would be best to keep these to mornings as opposed to afternoons to ensure you get a good nights sleep without any impact. If you plan on using caffeine on race day then it would be best to minimize your intake prior to race day to ensure you get the best benefit possible. Being overly tolerant to caffeine will minimize the effect it has during the race.
Avoid Eating Out
As much as possible try to ensure you are in complete control of your own nutrition. Eating out can put you at risk of digestive issues or potential illness. The more prepared you are and in control of your own eating the far lower the potential for any food triggering discomfort. Many athletes travel to foreign cities to race and in this case you should plan ahead and make sure you take with foods which you would generally consume and are used to. Trying foods because they are available and you don’t have a choice will only place you at risk. I’ve often seen people get stomach bugs close to an event due to eating out or consuming foods they are not used to.
If you could not find a hotel or accommodation where you have got the ability to self-cater it makes it a lot easier to take with your own food and not be stuck without decent options. If you are in a hotel and they’re not cooking foods to your liking, ask for foods that do agree with you or take a page out of my book where I go into the kitchen and do it myself or use powdered based foods where a hotel kettle is all that is needed to prep.
Tapering for an event means lowered training volumes which equates to a lower calorie burn rate which means lowering your calorie intake and not over eating. This is one of the biggest mistakes athletes make in that they land up eating in excess of their calorie burn rate and actually land up gaining weight for race day. This is a problem as it means placing more stress on the body due to doing the event at a heavier than training weight which will only lead to issues and possibly more pain and suffering than you bargained for.
No to Sugar
Keep the sugar out of the nutrition equation please. Pastries, chocolates, sweets and other forms of sugars should be avoided as much as possible. It just creates havoc with the energy system and can trigger cravings leading to roller coaster riding, energy level dips and physical and mental fatigue patterns.
Avoid Processed Foods
Processed foods should be avoided at all costs. They mostly contain an abundance of unhealthy hydrogenated fats, sugars and additives which play havoc with the body. Opt for natural foods which provide benefit to the body and not foods that are detrimental to your over all health and well being.
Now lets take a look at what we should do leading up to the big day
Eating nutrient dense meals which provide benefit are always the way to go. Incorporate a nice mixture of foods which are high in antioxidants, healthy carbohydrates such as nutrient rich vegetables and fruits, lean proteins and healthy fats to keep the immune system strong and the body energized.
Try to eat consistent regular meals as opposed to overly large gaps between the meals through the day. The body requires nutrients to keep it fortified as you head towards race day and its not a good time to place it into any form of starvation mode prior to a race.
Hydration is one of the most critical factors around any sporting event. To arrive at race day completely hydrated is important. You don’t want to be in a dehydrated state. You need to eliminate anything that would possibly dehydrate you as mentioned above anything such as diuretics excessive intake of stimulants such as caffeine and or alcohol certainly will.
Proper hydration requires regular fluid consumption preferably in the form of water or a hypotonic solution
( hydration solution such as 32Gi Hydrate) want more info on hypotonic drinks then click here
In part 2 of my Comrades Marathon prep we will discuss carbo-loading the pro’s and con’s as well as race week nutrition.
all the best
Mark Wolff is a certified sports nutritionist and an endurance nutrition and physiology expert with over 20 years experience. An endurance multi-sport athlete with a triathlon, mountain biking and weight lifting background, he works extensively with professional and amateur athletes in a variety of sports disciplines as well as those just wanting to change their lifestyles. He firmly believes that a person can only reach their full potential when their health and nutrition is down packed. Mark’s focus on nutrition and physiology is not just on training and racing, but he places major emphasis on recovery, immune system health, emotional stability, stress management and performance. Mark is co-founder of 32Gi, a sports nutrition company, focused mainly on health and endurance nutrition.