What do I need to eat the night prior the race?
Do I have to follow a special meal, or a strict diet the day before the actual race?
Am I allowed to have a beer or a glass of wine?
The performance level of any athlete depends on different factors such as genetics, training, fitness, nutrition and, of course, mental state. Each is important on its own, but they also influence and interact with each other.
For instance, an athlete knowing the he or she has had ideal nutrition during training and the race itself, can boost his or her mental confidence. However, the state of mind of a person can also be influenced more by the ability to relax and socialize.
Willpower and Dedication
Good nutrition also plays an important role in ensuring the ability of an athlete to achieve optimal training and recovery and yet, nutrition in itself does nothing on the performance of an athlete without willpower and dedication to work hard.
Still, these things will amount to nothing without at least natural ability, and genetic disposition. The reverse of this concept is also true — the world is actually full of athletes who are talented but never got off the couch.
This leads us to the conclusion that the key to good performance is to get as many of the elements in sync, while at the same time recognizing the unique qualities of an individual or situation. Good nutrition is really important, especially when racing. But is not the be all and end all of performance, and must always be put into perspective.
The belief of being nutritionally ready prior the race can be backed up by scientific fact. If the race is to be two hours or longer, it will be beneficial if you have loaded muscle glycogen (carb-loading), being well hydrated and making sure that you consume foods that you body can digest easily without causing any gastrointestinal upsets or surprises.
The good thing is, there is a wide range of foods that can meet these needs, and this list goes well beyond pasta. Factors that should be considered are: gender, size, environmental conditions, fitness, nutritional status leading into the event, and nerves. Nerves play an important role in what, and how much, you need to eat the day before the race.
The Days Before
In addition, while you can store up as much glycogen as you can in before the actual event, the pre-race breakfast is essential in ensuring that your muscles are fully stocked and ready to go. What you plan on eating the day before the race, and during the race, is really important.
If you are dedicated enough to get up early to eat a good, nutritional breakfast, the second and third bowls of pasta that you had last night at dinner become less of a good thing, and actually more of a burden during the race. In fact, with a reduced training load a day or two before the race, it will be more likely that you will become carbo-loaded without even needing to think about it.
Flexibility is Key
A rigid nutrition plan is not good, and you must be prepared enough to be flexible. Encountering problems such as limited availability of food whilst travelling cannot be helped. There is no need to panic because you can always move on to Plan B, knowing that you can still get the nutrition that you need from other food sources.
Always remember that there are meals that are more nutritionally balanced than others, and remember the times that you have had a great training session even if you ate something different for dinner the night before.
Aside from taking note of the food and nutrition the night before the race, it is also very important to relax and socialize. No matter the level of athlete that you are, or how important the race is for you, relaxation is still the key for optimal performance. I recommend not drinking alcohol.
Whatever you are planning to eat, always aim to consume carbohydrates, lean protein, less fat, and avoid other things that you know will only fill you with regrets.
Do not try anything new, and please indulge your food superstitions and compulsions. If you are convinced that it really makes you race faster, relax you or just put you in the mood for a race, go for it.
But always remember to also be flexible enough for Plan B.