Sports / Events

Performance Fuel: Race Day Nutrition

*Honesty Disclosure! I’m not a qualified nutritionist or dietitian. My suggestions and ideas come from personal experience and observation of other athletes. Nutrition is absurdly complex, there are two sides to every idea / study / claim, so I suggest that you seek professional guidance or experiment with your own diet to find something that works for you.

Pouring your heart and soul in to the preparation for an event is one of the most satisfying, terrifying and emotionally turbulent things you can do.

When you decide to go after a physical BHAG, whether it’s to finish an Iron-man Event, win an Olympic Gold Medal or qualify for a National Team, the ensuing weeks, months, even years will require significant investment.

An investment of time, of commitment and sacrifice in all areas- physical, mental and emotional.

Having a crisp and personal WHY will help make the journey more sustainable. Not easier, but more purposeful, motivating and inspiring, especially in the unavoidable pits that lace every journey.

When event day finally arrives, ensuring you’re well prepared and organised will help you relax and focus on what’s important- the processes that you’ve practiced time and time again.

Nutrition is an area many people will change on the day. Either as a result of nerves, of advice or a last-ditch attempt at gaining an edge.

I’ve been to a few rodeos in my time, at a guess I’ve competed at over 200 events including domestic and international meets for swimming surf lifesaving. I’ve learned a great deal since my first competition. Here’s what I’ve learned about fueling for race day…

I always feel a massive buzz start to build as race day gets closer.

When I wind up for an event, I try to ensure that I fuel my body with the right foods to get the most out of the day.

With swimming events, my preparation usually begins three days before competition.

“Carbo loading” is a term I adore! It means a little more pasta, a big slice of lasagne and a few extra slices of toast in my diet.


While my intake of carbohydrate rich foods does increase as I head in to competition, the most important thing I have learned from years of competition is that:

Experimentation is for training.

While it may be enticing to fill the trolley with an array of different sports related products and gels, race day is not the time to experiment with new foods.

As a younger competitor, I would often start to emulate the habits of successful seniors around me; bad idea. Foods react differently for everyone, so understanding what your body likes and doesn’t like is essential.

As an impressionable child with a tenancy to idolize others, I even tried eating KFC for lunch after a teammate told me she had eaten the same thing before setting a NZ Record…

-It wasn’t quite as successful for me. I raced like a stone.

Even the ‘innovative’ foods, gels, protein shakes and other sports-related products, should be consumed with care.

sports gels and other fun things.jpg

While they could potentially help when it comes to racing, they should only be used if you’ve trialed them in training.

It’s kind of like giving a presentation and choosing to deviate from the script you’ve been preparing for months. It could be a huge success…. or an awkward failure.

The more competitions I finished, the more confident I became sticking to my own plan.

By only tweaking small aspects of my regular nutrition on race day, I had confidence in the knowledge that my stomach would respond well to what I was eating and calm with my final food shop. The last thing you want to do before a big event is stress over which protein bar or energy gel will give you that extra 1%…

If there are three tips I could suggest for race day, they’d be:

  1. Don’t try a range of different foods / products on the day
  2. Be prepared. Have a snack in your bag and eat breakfast at least a couple of hours before the event
  3. Stay hydrated. Keep a water bottle handy for the week leading in and on race day. 

Regardless of whether you’re out for the win or just excited to take part, being mindful of nutrition and sticking to your own plan can have a significant impact on your experience.


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