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How to select fuel for training & race day

How and why we choose certain foods and fluids for race day

Choosing food for your body (fuel) can be a complex process, both in training and again on race day, particularly in hot and humid environments.  So I have put together some tips to help you out.

It is important to remember that there are many different factors to take into account such as gender, size, muscle mass, fitness level, training conditions and of course sport of choice. So what works for one person may not be best suited to you.  This is intended as a general guide.


Choosing your fuel

There are many reasons why we choose certain foods and fluids for sporting events. Different foods and fluids are chosen based on factors such as the nature and duration of the event, climatic conditions (hot, cold, sunny, windy etc), pre-event nutritional status, or our own physiological, biochemical makeup (what we individually need).


Hot/humid temperature

One of the worst conditions an athlete can face is a hot, humid and windless one, in which exercise occurs at a high rate of intensity. This can put the body under extreme pressure, which can, in turn, affect performance.

Our bodies deal with extreme heat through thermoregulation. This helps us to stay at a consistent core temperature (36 to 37.5ºC). However hot/humid conditions can disrupt thermoregulation. We can help to prevent this stress on our bodies by correctly hydrating and refueling.

The way our bodies deal with increased temperatures or humidity is by sweating. Sweat is evaporated on the skin surface and heat is lost, therefore our core temperature remains regulated. However in hot and humid climates heat exchange between the body and environment is substantially impaired, which can lead to serious performance reductions and increase the risk of heat illness. If we don’t prepare ourselves for this sweat loss then our core temperature usually increases and this can lead to negative side effects such as dizziness, nausea, and disorientation.

Carbohydrates (CHO) and electrolytes (sodium, potassium etc) during long events can help to prevent these nasty side effects and maintain a safe core temperature so our bodies can work more effectively.


Challenges meeting high energy demands

For events or training that last longer than one hour, you need to keep well hydrated and refueled. This is important to help provide energy to working muscles, meet daily energy and nutrient requirements and keep hunger at bay.

Additionally, supplements such as electrolyte drinks and liquid meal supplements should be considered if you are competing or training for over one hour. Sports drinks are a fantastic choice because they are easy to drink and they provide you with quick carbohydrates and key electrolytes to your muscles. Other great options if tolerable are white bread sandwiches, muesli bars, bananas, sweet biscuits, dried fruit and sports gels.

A general rule of thumb is that we require between 30 – 60g of carbohydrate per hour during endurance training. There are a number of easy food and fluid options that will provide you with around 50g of carbohydrates. Some examples include;


-2 x jam or honey white sandwiches

– 2 x pieces of fruit bread

– 1 x bagel

– 2 x pikelets

– 2 x muesli bars

– 2 x bananas

– 700ml quality sports drink


Where your events are of a longer duration (ie. three hours plus) you may also want to include small amounts of protein or fat into your race fuel to help prevent hunger. Examples of great food choices with added protein and fat include:


– Pizza

– Baked potatoes (bacon, ham or cheese fillings)
…yes, people really do eat baked potatoes and pizza while out biking or running!!

– Sandwiches with Nutella or Peanut butter (better still, both!)



As well as having effective carbohydrates during training and competition, attention should also be placed on fluid intake. This is especially important in hot and humid environments.


Tips for maintaining hydration in competition:

– Start your exercise well hydrated (such as having a minimum of 750ml of water).

– Drink plenty of fluids from the time you wake up and keep drinking to a plan all day. Steady drinking throughout the day/night will have you better prepared than drinking large amounts of fluid irregularly.

– Include carbohydrate-rich beverages such as sports drinks to continually top up carbohydrate stores and maintain fluid balance.

– “Still” beverages (e.g. sports drinks, cordial, water) may be better tolerated than fizzy drinks, especially if you find you are nervous before the event.

– Keep fluids cool with ice (alternatively, freeze drinks the night before allowing them to defrost slowly over the day of competition). Cooled drinks will help regulate your core temperature.

These are just suggestions and are not a limited to other potential race day foods. The idea is to give you guidance and suggestions to help you navigate around the supermarket, pharmacy or sports store as you prepare for your big day. Good luck!



Get a personalised nutrition plan

Abby Shaw is a degree qualified Sports & Exercise Nutritionist (Otago) and a former New Zealand representative Swimmer. Abby regularly consults with clients on personalised sports & exercise nutrition requirements.  Book in for an initial consult and receive a written, personalised plan to suit your training, race day or lifestyle nutrition needs and goals.



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