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What you eat or drink before and after a race or a hard training session has an important influence on your performance and recovery.

The requirements for normal training days and important races are slightly different. Before and after an important race the emphasis is on the consumption/replacement of carbohydrate and fluid. It is not a balanced diet as its aim is solely to provide/replace the energy needed or consumed during the race.

A balanced diet requires the appropriate mix of carbohydrates, protein, fat, fibre , minerals, and vitamins. You must eat the appropriate amounts of fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, eggs etc. Brown bread is preferable to white bread because of its superior nutritional and fibre content but white bread is best immediately before or after training because it enters the bloodstream faster. So, use the information below as an indication of what is required before and after racing or hard training and not the requirements of a normal diet.

The Evening Before a Race

On the evening before eat around 200g of carbohydrate, by basing your meal around pasta or rice. A typical meal could consist of the following:

  • 3 cups pasta;
  • tomato-based pasta sauce;
  • small topping parmesan cheese;
  • 1 scoop ice cream;
  • 1-2 pieces fresh fruit;
  • 500ml sports drink, or fruit juice.

Before going to bed, if you feel peckish, two slices of toast and jam or a cup of hot semi-skim milk with two low fat biscuits.

Breakfast Before Competition

What you eat on the day of competition depends on the time and length of the race as well as personal issues, such as what you can stomach, and what is convenient. If the race is scheduled for first thing in the morning, it is unlikely that you are going to feel like getting up at 3 or 4 am to eat a carbohydrate-rich meal.

On the morning of competition, the aims of your final feeding are to:

  • top up muscle glycogen stores;
  • replenish liver glycogen stores that will have dropped overnight;
  • keep hunger at bay without causing discomfort;
  • promote the use of CHO as a fuel during exercise.

Choose a small snack first thing in the morning that is densely packed with carbohydrates but contains little in the way of fat, protein or fibre. To reduce fibre content, choose ‘white’ carbohydrate sources over ‘brown’. Some ideal breakfast choices include:

  • 1 small bowl cereal with semi-skim milk, half a banana and 1 tsp honey;
  • 2 slices toast with honey or jam;
  • energy bar or drink.

For competitions later in the day, your pre-event meal will contribute to the fuel available during exercise. This meal will provide carbohydrates for oxidation during the later stages of the competition, helping you to maintain your pace for longer. An example of a suitable breakfast is:

  • 1 large bowl Fruit’n’Fibre with semi-skim milk and 2 tsp honey;
  • 1 medium banana;
  • 100ml natural yoghurt;
  • 2 slices white toast;
  • 2 tsp jam;
  • 250ml fruit juice.

Immediately Before a Race


You have eaten your high-carbohydrate, low-fat meal four hours before competition, and there is just one hour to go. Do you have a quick sugar fix now? Many athletes believe a high-carbohydrate snack just prior to exercise will lead to reduced exercise performance; this misconception arose from a single study carried out in the 1970s that showed a reduction in performance time following ingestion of glucose 30 minutes before exercise. But this study has not been backed up by any further research, and the theory that a sugary snack immediately prior to exercise will impair performance is not widely accepted today. The theory was based on the idea that the glucose would raise insulin levels, and therefore reliance on muscle glycogen, during the early stages of exercise. Many subsequent studies do back up this theory, but nevertheless fail to show any detrimental effect on exercise performance, since the effect is short lived. In other words, the pros of an extra supply of carbohydrate just before you begin exercise far outweigh any cons.

What should you eat ?

If you choose to eat do so 30 minutes to 1 hour beforehand. The should be a palatable and rapidly-absorbed snack containing around 50g carbohydrate, such as:

  • an energy bar
  • a handful of raisins
  • a small banana
  • a sports drink.

The best way to find out what suits you is to experiment during training. Don’t wait until race day to find out the hard way that you can’t cope with fluids 30 minutes beforehand!

After the Race or Training Session

After a hard training session or race, whether it was an interval session involving short intense bursts of exercise that rapidly depleted your glycogen stores, or a prolonged endurance session, your goal is to get those muscles re-synthesising glycogen again as soon as possible for fast recovery. There is an abundance of evidence showing that by rapidly replenishing muscle glycogen stores you can reduce the time needed to recover before the next hard training session and enhance subsequent performance. By ingesting carbohydrate-rich foods immediately after exercise, when muscles are most receptive, you will put yourself in a good position to recover as fast as possible. The first two hours post-exercise, muscle re-synthesis rates are maximal and you should take advantage of this by eating as soon as you can. Recovery from lower-intensity sessions does not require as high a carbohydrate intake as hard or prolonged sessions, but make it a habit to eat a high-carbohydrate snack or meal straight after training. Post-exercise is not the time to restrict your calorie intake. A high-carbohydrate feeding now will mean you are ready for the next session sooner.

Carbohydrate Replacement

You should aim to consume 50g of carbohydrate within the first two hours and approx 500 – 600 gms over the next 20 hours ( your normal meals should account for the latter). The food immediately after the race should have a high glycaemic index, examples are given in the table :


Carbohydrates and their glycaemic index
High glycaemic index CHO foods Serving size for 50g CHO
6% sports drink 825 ml
White or wholemeal bread 201g (about 4 slices)
Bagel 89g (1 bagel)
Baked potato 200g (1 medium)
Boiled sweets 50g
Raisins 78g
Banana 260g (3 small)
Moderate glycaemic index CHO foods
Pasta 198g (2 cups)
Porridge 69g (1 cup)
Muffins 90g (1 medium)
Grapes 300g
Low glycaemic index CHO foods
Apples 400g (4 small)
Dried dates) 70g (about 8
Baked beans 485g
Milk (skim) 1,000ml
Ice cream 202g


Fluid Replacement

Fluid replacement is also vital after hard exercise, and by taking in some of the carbohydrate in liquid form, you will achieve the dual benefit of replacing lost fluids. Appetite is often suppressed after hard exercise, so it is important to choose food or drinks that stimulate your taste buds. If liquids are preferred, there are many sports drinks that supply around 6g carbohydrate per 100ml, such as PowerAde and

Gatorade. Ordinary soft drinks such as Ribena and Oasis are also good sources of carbohydrates.

If you wish to perform at the highest level eat a healthy diet and follow the above guidelines. Avoid takeaways, other than as an occasional treat as they are high in fat and low in fibre.


Thursday July 17, 2003 06:43 PM -0400