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The Best Nutrition Strategies for Race Day

You’ve worked your tail off at practice. You’ve trained and trained some more. Now it’s the big day—what will you do to make it great? Sifting through all the tips for success and executing them on race day can be a little overwhelming, but from a nutrition and performance standpoint, there are 10 things to keep in mind as you prepare:

What you can do before race day:

1. Focus on carbohydrates: These are the body’s first food resources for energy. Go for slow digesting carbs like oats, whole grain bread, bagels, or starchy vegetables like corn and potato. When opting for pasta, hold the fatty sauces like Alfredo or too much cheese. Instead, go for marinara or a low fat option.

2. Ditch the fatty foods: These are best eaten later, not during or in preparation for competition weekends, as they will just leave you sluggish.

3. Be prepared for hunger: Unexpected hunger can get the best of any athlete. Pack more food than you need. Having extra will be better than running to the concession stand for something less than ideal. Remember the adage: If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail.

What you can do on race day:

4. Eat breakfast: Start races on the right foot by eating something first thing in the morning. Muscles and metabolism will get the carbohydrate and energy boost they need.

5. Eat at the meet: I’m not hungry, or I’m too nervous to eat. These are just two excuses for not eating before or at competition. Going for long time periods without food (namely carbohydrate) is a bad idea and will chip away at your performance.

6. Be structured with eating: No skipping, delaying or erratic times for eating (ahem, midnight munchies). Space eating around your events, and make sure to pre-load with carbohydrate foods and recover with protein and carbohydrate combinations. Your body will perform at its best when it is fueled and re-fueled.

7. Don’t experiment on race day with food: Stay with tried and true foods your body can digest and tolerate while rowing.

8. Keep it clean: Important races are not the time for fast food, junky snacks, sugary desserts or candy. Stick with wholesome, real food like fruit, whole grain breads, crackers, and nut butter.

9. Quench the muscles: Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration and muscle cramping. Rowers may need sports drinks during a longer race, but be selective with your usage, as water in most cases will work.

And always:

10. Sleep: Although not a nutrition recommendation, sleep is tightly tied to allowing nutrition to do its thing. Sleep is energizing and restorative, and the time when muscles are in major renovation mode, healing, building, strengthening and using all that good nutrition it received during the day. Don’t sacrifice your sleep!

When you’re laying everything on the line, don’t let a misstep in nutrition or poor planning sabotage your goals.

Written by Jill Castle, MS, RDN | Jul 01, 2014

Jill Castle, MS, RDN is a childhood nutrition expert and co-author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School ( She is the creator of Just The Right Byte (, and is working on her next book for young athletes, called Eat, Compete & Grow. She lives with her husband and four children in New Canaan, CT. Questions? Contact her at

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