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Taper nutrition advice from Challenge Wanaka nutritionist Mikki Willleden

Posted on: Sunday 9th June 2013

As the countdown to race day begins, attention turns to the last little things that need to be taken care of in order to line up on the start line in the best possible shape, physically and mentally. All the training has been done and by now you will have your race nutrition sorted for the day, and have a schedule laid out for what you will be eating and when. In addition to this, most of you will also have a tried and true breakfast that you know will sit easily in your stomach and provide enough energy to get you started.

The Challenge half or full iron-distance events require a CHO (Carbohydrate) loading strategy that enables you to replenish your glycogen stores (muscle storage form of CHO) for race day. That, and being fully hydrated, are your two important nutrition goals. Endurance events require the typical athlete to CHO load for three days out, but there are a couple of common mistakes that leave athletes lining up on race day feeling heavy and lethargic. While you want to ensure you get in a substantial amount of your energy from CHO, this does not mean you eat a substantially larger amount of food. Do not forget that you are tapering at this point too, and that in itself acts as a CHO loading tool given your glycogen stores are not being depleted to the same extent. As your appetite will obviously diminish at this time it is against your best interests to eat beyond your appetite in an effort to CHO load. The best thing to do is to eat proportionally more of your energy intake in the form of CHO as opposed to fat or protein. While it’s still important to include these two macronutrients in your diet (and, let’s face it, basically impossible not to!), ideally you will increase your serving sizes of CHO in relation to fat and protein, so the relative volume and energy of your meals are not substantially increased and possibly lower in response to your lower energy requirements.

The second mistake that people make is to choose food types that are high in CHO but are also highly processed and of poor nutrient quality. Foods such as potato chips, biscuits, chocolate, baked goods and many different types of crackers fall into this category. While there is nothing wrong with including small amounts of these in the week leading up to the race, to actively eat a significant amount more of these foods might not be so helpful as the overall goal is to increase energy from good sources of CHO. While these foods do contain a substantial proportion of energy coming from CHO the downside of this strategy is that it leaves less room in your diet to get in valuable sources of CHO which are also nutrient dense. Basing your meals around kumara, corn, potato, fruit, pasta, rice and vegetables is a better option.

Energy dense sources of CHO are important at this stage to help maximise your intake but not leave you feeling bloated after each meal or snack.  Juice, milk, smoothies and dried fruit all provide useful sources of CHO yet take up minimal stomach space.  Obviously the liquid CHO help you meet your fluid goals too, and the other sources can be utilised as spreads (such as jam or honey), snacks and included in meals (such as the addition of fruit to your cereal) so you barely notice you are eating more.  In the days leading up to an Iron-distance event it can be useful to follow a low residue diet, particularly for those who suffer from nerves and find it difficult to eat.  Focusing on low fibre options can prevent bloating that can occur with foods that are typically recommended in a healthy diet.  The days leading up to an event are not the time to focus on increasing your fibre intake!  Three or so days of going light on the vegetables will help move food through your digestive system and minimise stomach issues associated with a full stomach, but is certainly not enough time for you to develop a nutrient deficiency.

Being fully hydrated is another key nutritional goal particularly for races where the weather is typically hot! The best thing to do is to include a drink with a source of electrolytes to consume throughout the day. These include water with an electrolyte tablet, coconut water or a sports drink. Include a drink such as juice, milk or a fruit smoothie at meal times in the two days prior to the event to top up glycogen stores and hydrate at the same time. While caffeine-based drinks will not dehydrate those who typically consume them, minimising these to reduce water loss is a sensible idea provided this doesn’t lead to caffeine withdrawal symptoms! Another option is to have a glass of the aforementioned fluids for every cup of coffee that you consume.

While ideally you will not gain substantial amounts of weight in the week before Challenge, you can expect to be 1-2kg heavier on the day; do not be concerned by this – it is merely a sign that your glycogen stores are maximised and you are fully hydrated. For every 1g of glycogen your muscles store, you store a further 3g of water. This should be your goal and will help you achieve your best possible performance on the day. If you’re still grappling with pre-race nutrition book in a consultation with a sports nutritionist or dietitian to work out an individual strategy that meets your needs.

Good luck!

For more nutrition advice from Mikki visit or read Mikki’s blog

Posted in Athlete's Journey, Athlete's Journey » Nutrition


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