Race day nutrition: What do PH athletes eat?

By Chris Knight | 7 Minute Read

Your nutrition strategy can make or break your race day. You want to fuel properly without leaving yourself short of energy or ending up with nasty GI issues, which is why we've asked some of the elite athletes with PH in their bottles for some advice on how best to fuel your efforts.

They reveal what they eat, whether they carb-load, their worst nutrition experiences and their top 'food tips'...

Are you a fan of carb-loading the night before a race?

Sam Pictor - Winner of the 2018 Nottingham Outlaw Half: I aim to start 'carb-loading' around three days before my race, making sure I eat decent meals and to ensure all of my energy stores are topped up. The night before I then eat a normal size meal of easily digestible white rice and chicken so that I'm not sleeping on a heavy stomach.

Dimity-Lee Duke - Professional Ironman and 1st female at the 2019 Davao 5150 Philippines: Not really - my last big meal is usually at lunchtime the day before. 

Kenny Rice - Elite paddler and world champion: I've never really thought about it!

I know for sure that I'll stay away from red meats the night before though, as they make me feel heavy. I'll be sure to dabble in a good pasta or pizza if it's on the menu during the evening before a race.

Scott DeFilippis - Professional Ironman athlete, coach and winner of Ventouxman: Yes, I typically prefer to have pizza or pasta.

Finn Arentz - Age-Group triathlete and winner of the 2019 Sozpan Sizzler Half-Ironman: Yes, without over-doing it though.

 

What does your breakfast look like on the morning of the race?

Sam Pictor: This has changed a lot over the past couple of years as I've been experimenting. My current winning formula is a tin of rice pudding and some rice cakes with peanut butter on top. 


Sam Pictor

Image by Sam Pictor via Instagram (©)

 

Dimity-Lee Duke: Coffee, snickers bar, banana and PH 1500.​


Kenny Rice: 
The location or familiarity of the place I'm racing usually dictates breakfast. If there's a kitchen available, I might have a big fry up with a decent coffee and I'll obviously get my sachet of PH 1000 in my drink bottle ready for during the race.

If not, I'll stroll to a cafe and have a coffee and something that is easy to consume! 

Scott DeFilippis: I struggle to eat most mornings so I try to force in an Ensure shake or something similar. I then sip on PH and have a gel before the start.

Finn Arentz: I’m always paranoid about eating too much fibre pre-race, especially before a long distance one, so breakfast is usually just some white bread or English muffins with jam and honey. 

Do you eat to specific timings on the morning and during the race, or is it a case of eating as and when you're hungry?

Scott: Exactly, eat if you can. If I have enough the day before and eat something like a bagel or toast before bed, then I don't stress about having food on race morning.

Sam: I have a general plan of timings for fuelling. I always wake up three hours before the race start and all of my breakfast is consumed about two-and-a-half hours before I start racing.

I make sure I have a gel after 20 minutes of the bike leg and I then just spread the rest of my fuelling evenly across the race. If I ever get hungry then it's too late!


Dimity-Lee: 
My morning food before the race is really just a top-up a few hours before I have to be at the start line. During the race I eat and drink small and often, but not time-specific. It comes down to course profile and dynamics for me.

Kenny: Our races have varied start times and these can be awkward. Sometimes a fixed start time or a 9am-to-2pm window means you need to do your research on weather and stick to your plan from there.

I'll try to have a breakfast early to make sure I can have something light 90-120 minutes before race start. My only fixture is my PH 1500 sachet in a glass of water as soon as I'm up.


Finn: 
I eat breakfast three hours before the start and then usually try to eat at regular 20-minute intervals on the bike and run. 

What's your favourite race day food and why?

Sam: I've recently started using carb drinks for the first time and have found my stomach can deal with them pretty well. I'm starting to move away from solids and I'm mainly using a diet of gels and carb drinks. 


Dimity-Lee Duke: 
Bananas and coke - simple yet satisfying.

Kenny: My main focus is on getting a decent coffee as bad coffee can make a race morning considerably less pleasant!

Scott: Chocolate croissants. And I prefer to get in real food in most races.

Finn: I like to mix it up a bit, and not eat or drink the same thing all day. So, I usually stick to bars and chews on the bike and gels on the run as this combo seems to create the least GI problems without causing 'flavour fatigue'!

What was your worst experience of getting your race day nutrition wrong?

Sam: My worst experience of messing up race nutrition was in one of my first 70.3's where I didn't eat anything on the bike (I had also done nowhere near enough training). I remember sitting in T2 weighing up if it was worth even starting the run... I did get out there and finish, but it was not pretty.


Kenny: 
When I was really young I didn't have the best diet which meant I didn't practice good eating habits on race morning, especially when stopping at service stations en route to the race.

Some mornings I'd end up buying a sausage roll and then be racing 30 minutes later. Often those sausage rolls were serious stomach churners, particularly during high intensity sections of the race! (Side note - my race morning diet has improved since!).


Scott: 
Two years ago at Alpe d' Huez - I can't have eaten enough as I completely bonked a quarter of the way up the Alpe. I had to stop at the famous Dutch corner on bend #7 for cheese and crackers. I lost 20 minutes on my normal ascent of the Alpe but by the time I started to run, I came good and was flying by the end...


Finn: 
At Ironman Wales 2016 - I had porridge made with milk on the morning for breakfast (which is what I usually have for breakfast every day, but clearly all that milk and fibre wasn’t a good idea going into my first ever IM) and I must have stopped at every single portaloo on the run course at least once. Hence the paranoia about fibre going into race day!! 

What's your best piece of advice for race day nutrition?

Sam: It's a classic, but make sure you've tested it in training before your race. Don't just eat the gels on a long ride to see if you like the taste, but take on fuel when your body is stressed to teach it how to process it effectively. 


Kenny:
 
Each person has their own special ritual on race morning so my advice would be to keep note (ideally when reflecting on your race performance) of what you might have eaten in the morning.

Pre-race nerves are tough at first but just remember to eat something as anything is better than nothing!

I try to make sure I don't stray too far off my own race morning ritual but I also remind myself that it isn't the be-all and end-all. You'll likely find as you get more races under your belt and nerves are easier to deal with, you start to really enjoy race day breakfast and you can listen to what your body wants.


Dimity-Lee:
 
Separate your hydration and calorie intake. 


Scott: 
Don't try anything new on race day. I would recommend practising beforehand with whatever is likely to be offered on course as even if you have your own nutritional bottles, you must be prepared to take stuff from the aid stations if something happens to your bottles.


Finn: 
Try it out beforehand, nothing new on race day.

Any secret tips for carrying food during a race?

Sam: I've got a top tube bag that holds my gels. For a long time, I taped them to the top tube which I think works remarkably well and makes it easy to pull them off one-by-one. On the run I just hold my gels in one hand. 

Dimity-Lee: I always put some Sweat Salt Capsules in my tool kit on the bike in case my nutrition falls out of my pocket.

Kenny: Make whatever it is that you carry easy to access and easy to eat. It's all fine and well having something delicious and good for you, but if you can't unwrap it easily without losing the group or having to stop it's probably not worth it!

The stress and effort of stopping and losing the group will probably be worse and longer lasting than the benefit of the snack. 

Scott: Use your pockets, most race kits have them in the shorts and jersey. 

What's your favourite post-race reward?

Scott: McDonalds!

Sam: This can really vary - but if it's a hot race then I usually don't feel that hungry afterwards. A mocha Frappuccino or similar blended ice coffee is amazing at lowering the body temperature and bringing me back to normal.

Of course, a PH 1500 is also a must for me - not just after a race, but after pretty much any intense/long training session as it sets me up for the next activity.

Kenny: For all the longer races I carry a 'man-sized' Bar One chocolate in my life jacket as incentive for the finish of the race. It's not even a chocolate I'd normally purchase on a bad day but it's just something I always did as a kid and has come up with me as a weird habit!

It's not much, but the memories of snacking on that chocolate on the beach or river bank has pushed me through some dark places!

Dimity-Lee: Ice cream.

Finn: Something savoury and salty!

Some top advice from our PH athletes there and the big takeaway for us is to make sure you test whatever you're eating in training before taking it with you on race day! 

Was this article useful?

Share this article

Get your free personalized hydration plan

Take the sweat test