No matter how hard you train for your race, without a proper Fuel and Hydration Plan, you’re still missing a crucial piece. Our goal is to help you create a personalised strategy so that you can perform at your best on race day.
If you’ve taken a look at our Knowledge Hub, you know the wealth of information we have on performance-related topics, including (but definitely not limited to) fueling and hydration.
It’s a deep sea to wade through, so we’ve created the following flow to help you make the most of the articles on offer…
The Three Levers
When it comes to your race nutrition strategy, there are three key elements that underpin an effective plan for endurance performance: carbohydrate, sodium and fluid.
Understanding these Three Key Levers allows you to identify target numbers and adjust each lever accordingly. Sure, there are other nutritional elements to consider, but these three are the acute costs of taking part in endurance exercise and should be the focal point of your plan.
Consuming carb as an athlete might not be new to you, but do you know how much you need per hour?
Carbs are the main source of fuel used during exercise and help you perform at high intensities, over long durations. Without enough (or without proper digestive preparation), you’ll be leaving energy on the table.
How much carb?
- Should you use carbs or fat to fuel endurance exercise? Sports Scientist Andy Blow looks at what the current evidence suggests is best practice for athletes.
- How much carbohydrate do athletes need per hour? Does the amount of carb you need to perform your best depend on exercise duration, intensity, body size? What does 30, 60, 90g of carb actually look like?
- Can athletes consume MORE than 90g of carb per hour? There’s a trend for athletes to report consuming more than 90g of carb per hour during events, but is this possible? More importantly, is it beneficial?
How to hit your carb numbers
- How to train your gut (and consume more carb). 10 practical guidelines to help you train your gut and comfortably consume more carbohydrate during training and competitions.
- Case Study: Leon Chevalier’s carb heavy IRONMAN World Championships. Leon Chevalier came in 5th at the 2023 World Champs and averaged 116g carb per hour along the way. How did he do it?!
- Which energy products are right for you? Carb drinks, gels, chews and bars can all be right (and wrong). Learn the pros and cons of each one for different race situations to figure out which suits you best.
- Does the type of carb in your energy products really matter? Is glucose or fructose better? And in what ratio? Get the low down on carb sources.
- What happens when you 'bonk'? Bonking, otherwise known as 'hitting the wall' or 'hunger flats', involve a major drop in energy. Avoid it with these practical tips from Andy.
How to start properly fueled
- How to carb-load before your next race. Even if you know what carb-loading is, do you know how to do it effectively? Check out these menu tips and evidence-based examples of athletes nailing it.
- What should you eat during the hours before training and races? What, how much and when should you eat in the hours leading up to a session? Andy shares his own experiences and the scientific research.
- Should I eat a gel immediately before exercise? If you’ve already carb-loaded ahead of your race, do you need to eat another gel before you start? Is 15 minutes too close to the start?
- How much carb do you need to optimise recovery after exercise? Here’s a protocol for post-exercise recovery using carbohydrates, along with sources, timing and supplement combinations.
You lose electrolytes in your sweat, and most of this is sodium. Subsequently, sodium plays a crucial role in hydration, and using the strength of sodium-based electrolyte that suits how you sweat is a key piece of your race strategy. Some people lose more sodium in their sweat than others, but the ratio (sodium:fluid) for an individual stays fairly stable.
How much sodium do you lose in your sweat?
- Why sodium is crucial to athletes performing at their best. Learn about sodium's role in the body and what happens if you don’t adequately replaces your losses when sweating for long periods.
- How to START hydrated and why that's so important. Drinking a strong electrolyte drink to optimise your hydration status before long/hot training sessions and events can significantly improve your performance.
- The different types of Sweat Test and why you should have one. Understanding what you’re losing in your sweat can help you unlock potentially massive performance gains. Learn about the different ways to measure and analyse your sweat.
- Book a Sweat Test. We use an at-rest method to find out how much sodium you lose in your sweat. No blood test, no treadmill and no waiting while a sample goes off to a lab.
- How to estimate how much sodium you lose in your sweat. If you haven’t gotten a test yet, here’s a quick guide to estimating how salty a sweater you are. It’s not always easy to tell, but here are some signs to look out for.
- How to rehydrate quickly and improve your recovery. Whether you’ve lost a lot or a little sweat, rehydration is important. Here’s some practical advice on how to make sure it doesn’t stand in the way of your recovery.
- Case Study: salty Simen Holvik scores second at Spartathlon. Simen accounted for his high sweat sodium losses across a 22-hour event in Athens where he earned a podium finish.
Overcoming hydration-related issues
- Why do athletes suffer from cramp? Learn the reasons why you might suffer from cramp and identify solutions that might help to alleviate your symptoms.
- Does consuming more salt mean you'll have saltier sweat? It’s easy to think that increasing or decreasing your salt intake would change your output. But does the research back that up? And what does it mean for practical applications?
- How are sodium and water balanced in the body? The body strives for equilibrium and will work to ensure our sodium and fluid levels remain balanced. Here’s what it does when there’s too much or little of each.
- What is hyponatremia and how can you avoid it? Not replacing enough of your sodium losses can lead to a nasty condition known as hyponatremia, which means low blood sodium levels.
- Can you overdose on sports drink? Is it possible to overdo the electrolytes? Here’s some context to make sure your strategy suits your needs.
- Salt and the high blood pressure hypothesis. Sodium has quite the reputation with hypertension, but is it wholly to blame? Learn about the nuances of sodium’s role and what the research has to say on the topic.
- What to do when you lose 2.5x more sodium than the average athlete. We bet you don’t have triathlete Jake Richards beat when it comes to his high sweat sodium concentration. Here’s how PF&H helped him tackle his hydration strategy all the way to an IRONMAN finish.
The contents of your sports drinks
- A short history of sports drinks (and the science behind them). Lucozade, Gatorade and… personalisation? The past, present and future of sports drinks and the ingredients they have in common.
- Do you need potassium, magnesium and calcium in your sports drink? Sodium is the main electrolyte lost in sweat, but there are others involved, too. How much attention do you need to pay to these?
- What's the difference between the PF&H packets, bulk bags, tubes and capsules? Our multi-strength electrolyte supplements come in different formats. Take a look at this guide to figure out which one to use when.
- Why we put the 'relative sodium concentration' of our drinks on the front of the packet. Long story short, it enables you to easily match the fluid you’re putting back in (i.e. your electrolyte drink) with the concentration of the fluid you’re losing through sweating. Read the blog for the long(er) story.
The amount of fluid you need to consume during exercise is tied to the amount you’re losing (via sweating). During endurance exercise, your sweat losses are bound to mount up and require a strategic approach to fluid consumption in order to adequately replace a decent proportion of those losses.
How to refine your fluid intake
- Should you really just 'drink water to thirst'? When is plain water enough to avoid dehydration or should you always use electrolyte supplements and sports drinks? Can you trust your thirst signals?
- How much should you be drinking during exercise? A hydration plan should be based on a few pieces of information. This framework combines scientific evidence with experience from working with athletes in real world scenarios.
- How to measure your sweat rate to improve your hydration strategy. Everything you need to calculate your sweat losses including a free downloadable spreadsheet, plus a guide on how to use the data to optimise your hydration plan.
- Can you train your gut to tolerate more fluid? You (hopefully) read earlier about training your gut for consuming carb, but does the same concept apply to fluid? Look at how much fluid elite athletes take in and see if you need a progressive approach to increase your own intake.
- How much dehydration can you tolerate before your performance suffers? The consensus is that some level of dehydration is acceptable, rather than having to replace 100% of your sweat during exercise. But why?
- How to tell if you’re dehydrated. Here’s a quick guide to checking your hydration status with the WUT system… and ‘WUT’ the heck that means.
- Does having clear pee really mean you're well hydrated?! Using urine markers to monitor your hydration isn’t a slam dunk. Here’s why and how you can (and should) provide more context to assess your hydration.
Other hydration considerations
- What to drink when you're not sweating. Our friends at PHP share the third blog in their ‘7 Habits of Good Nutrition’ series, focusing on drinking mainly non-calorie drinks when you’re not exercising.
- Do you sweat when you swim? Sports Scientist Inez Griffin highlights the importance of having effective hydration strategies for pool and open water swimming, even when you might not feel sweaty.
- Does sunscreen affect how much you sweat? Using sunscreen is key to protecting your skin, but does it mean your hydration strategy needs to change?
- How humidity affects hydration, endurance and performance. The same temperature at two different humidity levels can feel drastically different (and not in a good way). Andy explains why and gives practical advice on preparing your body for both.
- Case Study: how Jason West tackled fluid intake at the PTO Asian Open. Racing in the heat isn’t easy, and the more sweat you lose, the harder it becomes to keep up with your hydration. Read about Jason’s strategy all the way to the podium.
In addition to the three levers of carb, sodium and fluid, caffeine is one of only a handful of other supplements that’s proven to enhance performance. Whilst carb, sodium and fluid are an essential part of your race nutrition strategy, it's worth working out whether caffeine is right for you...
- Should you use caffeine as part of your fueling strategy? Caffeine affects individuals in different ways. Use this blog to help you figure out if it’s right for you.
- How to use caffeine BEFORE exercise. Using caffeine in the days and hours leading into big training sessions and races might mean increasing or decreasing the amount.
- How much caffeine should you use DURING training and races? There are optimal timings and dosages of caffeine for athletes depending on the duration of an event, so plan accordingly.
- Can you overdose on caffeine? In short, yes. Whilst caffeine can be a performance-enhancer for most people, there can be negative side-effects of consuming too much.
- Case Study: Tara Grosvenor’s strategic caffeine timing at CCC by UTMB. Tara worked with the PF&H Sports Science team to find the best time to incorporate caffeine for her ultra-endurance race.
- Should you be using sodium bicarb for training and races? It’s a popular buzzword phrase these days, with alleged performance benefits. But does it live up to the hype? If so, how should you incorporate it?
- Do vitamin D supplements boost performance? Vitamin D is an important nutrient and definitely plays a role in the body. But using it purely for performance gains is a new-ish trend and requires a deep dive into your own status.
- Do endurance athletes need to supplement with creatine? Creatine has a popstar presence in strength sports, but is it of any use for endurance athletes? Here’s what the compound actually is, what it does and how it might help.
- Do endurance athletes need to use iron supplements? Micronutrients like iron may not be one of the big three levers, but ensuring you have enough isn’t something to sneeze at either. How do you know if you need more?
- Could 'managing' your gut microbiome improve your performance? The gut microbiome has been linked with a number of health conditions. Spokes Fit’s Will Newman gives us a crash course in the subject and how it may affect athletic performance.
4 steps to refine your strategy
And here are four steps to help you put what you've learned into practice...
- Use our free Fuel & Hydration Planner to get a personalised strategy for your next race.
- Book a free 20-minute video call with one of our Athlete Support Team. They can walk you through your numbers and help you hit them practically.
- Check out our Athlete Case Studies database to see how elite athletes and your peers executed their race nutrition strategy.
- Sign up for our performance-enhancing emails 😝