There are plenty of ideas and studies published on this topic. Below is what works for me and my athletes and is based on science and best practice guidance from National Institute’s of Sport and World Tour cycling team scientists.
Wake up and hydrate
When you first wake up hydrate with waterPreparation for race day starts as soon as you wake up. Drink a large glass of water and when you visit the bathroom, note the colour of your urine. These two very simple actions will give you fast feedback on your hydration status to start the process of optimising your fluid levels for the coming event.
Drinking a large glass of water (around 500 ml) is enough to top up lost fluid and overload the kidneys, forcing the next urination. If you are a lightweight rower, you may want to consider weighing yourself to check for dehydration and how much fluid to take on. Your urine should be a very light or pale yellow. Try and avoid having completely clear urine because that can lead to something called hyponatraemia (low sodium levels) which is a bad thing for an endurance athlete.
There is water inside (and outside) every cell in the body so drinking water on a regular basis fills up these spaces. The other place where water is stored is in blood. The water in blood is called plasma and this ‘plasma volume’ is a critical determinant of optimal performance. Plasma not only makes blood thinner and easier to pump (therefore lowering heart rate) but it is also the main transport mechanism for heat.
Racing on the water and especially the ergo generates a lot of heat which is then captured by plasma and transported away from exercising muscle to the surface of the skin where it evaporates as sweat. Dehydration leading to a loss in body weight of 2%-4% and can reduce VO2max by 10-22%.
Race Day Breakfast
3 – 4 hours before the raceThe race day breakfast is very important because this meal will load the energy stores in your liver. Liver glycogen is a very important energy store and is used as an auxiliary energy reservoir. During a race, the sugar stored in muscle (muscle glycogen) is what drives your performance. As muscle glycogen becomes depleted and it takes a large meal mainly based on carbohydrates to load the liver with glycogen (stored sugar).
Your pre-race meal (breakfast or lunch) should be scheduled 3.5 to 4 hours before start time and be mainly carbohydrate based in order to load the liver with glycogen.
My typical pre-race breakfast
Natural muesli or oats with mixed berries and a banana stirred through.
Small tub of natural yoghurt
Honey to drizzle over the yoghurt and muesli/oats mix
Couple of thick slices of brown or wholemeal bread, toasted with jam or honey
2 egg omelette
Glass of fresh apple or orange juice
Double espresso coffee
Glass of water
It may look like a lot of food, yet it is important to fill the tank and liver glycogen before the race or test. If the meal had been carbohydrate based, you may feel a little tiered after eating, this is a natural part of the digestion process, forcing us to reduce our energy expenditure post-meal. Sip on water only before the race.
One hour before the start
Breakfast has done the job of loading up the liver stores yet one hour before the race, blood sugar levels may be dropping. What I found worked best for me as a blood-sugar-top-up is a small banana or low-GI/low-fat muesli bars to provide you with 20 to 30g of slow-release carbohydrate.
It’s important to note that fast-burning carbohydrates like gels and sports drinks are the wrong thing to have one hour before a race or time trial. This is the reason that some athletes suffer from rebound hypoglycaemia, where blood sugar rises too fast and too high, triggering the body’s natural response to reduce it, making you feel tired and lethargic right before the warm up.
Fueling the Warm Up
From 0-20 minutes, sip on water whenever you feel you need to. As soon as you have finished the warm-up, switch to a sports drink before the start.
During the warm up you will have completed a couple of hard efforts, some threshold, VO2 and sprint work. These three efforts are sufficient to trigger the release of Catecholamines (catecholamines comprise the endogenous substances dopamine, noradrenaline and adrenaline) and one of these slows down the secretion of insulin. With insulin blocked it’s now safe to switch from water to a high GI fuel like a sports drink which should bring blood sugar back to pre-warm up levels.
The aim is to get you on the start line with fully loaded muscle glycogen, optimal liver glycogen stores and well hydrated, which includes ideal plasma volume and stable blood sugar.
Post Race Hydration & Nutrition
Consuming high-GI carbohydrate immediately after a race/ergo test/time trial will kick-start the replenishment of glycogen (stored sugar) in muscle. Best practice states there is a narrow window of opportunity where glucose has to pass through the stomach and make its way down to muscle where it meets an enzyme that converts this sugar to glycogen. This particular enzyme is most productive in the 30 to 40 minutes post-exercise so feeding it as fast as possible is a very good idea.
With the warm-down complete your next action is to consume protein around 30-minutes post-race. Post-exercise protein is very important for endurance athletes to repair muscle tissue, develop capillaries and also plays a role in the creation of various enzymes that are critical to exercise. Make sure the manufacturer is a reputable brand that has been batch tested.
Adapted from sourcesContemporary Nutrition Strategies to Optimize Performance in Distance Runners and Race Walkers. (2019)Bergström J, Hermansen L, Hultman E, Saltin B. Diet, muscle glycogen and physical performance. Acta Physiol Scand. 1967;71(2):140–150.Daniel Healey, former BMC & Tinkoff sport scientist. (2017)