Nutrition: Race Nutrition Strategy

You've put a lot of work in preparing for your race; long hours on the bike in the winter weather, tough turbo sessions and a good attempt to iron out your weaknesses in the build up to your first race of the season. There is one ingredient that should never be forgotten though... nutrition.

In this post I look at nutrition strategy for the few days leading up to a race and for the race day itself; there is a lot to be gained by getting your nutrition right, and an even greater amount to be lost by not getting it right.

The Lead-up to the Event
In the week leading up to the race you have likely started to pare back your training a bit as you taper down to the event, and ensure that your body is in its best possible condition; fresh and ready for race day.
You should also pay particular attention to your diet in this period; try to avoid foods that might upset your system, and focus on a good balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit to keep your immune system going strong.

The night before the event have a large carbohydrate rich meal; I usually aim for 180 grams of dried pasta for example, with chicken or tuna. Try to avoid spicy food that might upset your stomach or degrade your sleep, and try to avoid too many dairy products for the same reason. If you want to have a pudding with your meal the night before, then avoid the stodgy puddings; instead think about one of the puddings suggested in my blog: Cycling Puddings.

Hydration is also very important, and should start the day before the event; keep drinking plenty of water, steer clear of alcohol and observe your urine colour to check it is clear. You should be getting up at least once during the night to visit the bathroom if you are properly hydrated.

The Morning of the Big Day
On the morning of the race have a big breakfast, ideally three hours before your race start. I am a huge fan of porridge; but if you're not, try to stick to an oat based cereal, with reduced fat milk, certainly no cooked breakfasts - you will probably only see it later if you do! 

I always have a big coffee with breakfast, and there is no reason that race day should be any different; get your caffeine kick in early and wake yourself up. Then keep sipping on water throughout the morning.

The Final Countdown
As you make your way to the event keep eating gradual amounts to keep your blood sugar levels high; I munch down a banana or Maxifuel energy bars every hour. Now is not the time to be trying out new energy bars; test some in training to see what you like and what agrees with your stomach. The MaxiFuel bars are easy to digest and tasty, a good option if you are new to the energy bar market and looking for something to try. My favourite flavour is the 'Cereal and Dark Chocolate' variety, as it's not too sweet; there will be plenty of sugars going through your system later...

An hour before the event have one last energy bar, and then convert to sugary foods such as Jelly Babies and start sipping energy drink. Some other instant energy hit foods can be found on the blog post Alternative Energy Foods. These will help to get your blood sugar up, and will avoid heavy foods sitting in your stomach just before the race.

Fifteen minutes before the race have an energy gel. Again, try these in training long before the race to make sure your body accepts them. 

During the race aim to keep having gels at least every 30 minutes if you can. 

Some races will be short enough that you can make do with energy drink; but anything longer than 45 minutes, and you need to be thinking about eating something as well.

Some people will have difficulty in finding the time to have a gel every 30 minutes. I certainly did, and have overcome it by using larger gels; The ViperActive and ViperBoost gels from Maxifuel are big at 70 grams per gel; slightly larger than the SIS gels (60ml) and substantially larger than High 5's offering (38 grams). Their size means you can get away with having one every 45 minutes in my experience. Admittedly when you do have that gel it is a fair 'gulp' to get it down, but I found doing that once every 45 minutes is a lot easier than trying to find a suitable time to have three gels an hour. The blackcurrant flavour is pretty tasty, and not too sweet.   

Longer races require more nutritional preparation; think about eating an energy bar every 20km, up to the last 40km; and then switch to the routine of gels every 30/45 minutes. Race nutrition is very personal though, some will find it very hard to eat, others easy. Find what works for you.

If you want an extra hit towards the end of a long race, take a caffeine gel at the 20km mark, this should give you an extra boost for that final sprint. 

Staying hydrated is also fundamental. Aim for one 500ml bottle of isotonic energy drink every 45 minutes throughout the race, and increase this to 750ml if it is very hot. I use ViperActive and ViperBoost energy drinks, and dilute them down according to the temperature; if it is really hot, then trying to drink a sugary drink at full concentration will feel like trying to drink syrup. Water down your drinks and add electrolyte tabs to keep the salt intake up.

After the Finish-line
After you've finished, make sure that you recover well; have a protein shake or milkshake waiting for you at the end, and then follow a good recovery routine. Further tips on recovery can be found here


  1. Interested in this Tim, wondered if you had any suggestions for alternatives to gels for race food, or is the convenience of a gel hard to beat?

  2. Hey Matt, if you can stomach it, a banana is a good alternative to gels. Personally I tend to struggle to eat solid food in a lot of the races that I do, or if I do get something down, it doesn't stay down for long :-/
    Other alternatives could be things like Jelly Babies loose in your back pocket, they are high in energy and fairly easy to eat.

  3. Thanks Tim, I know what you mean, to be honest the biggest issue I have is the handling of solid foods during a race. I guess some more experimenting is required.


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