How To: Nail Your Race Day Nutrition

We’re just days away from the big day – IRONMAN Asia-Pacific Championship Cairns, with athletes starting to descend on the tropical city. As athletes eagerly await race day, among the hustle and bustle, and the excitement that race week brings, it’s important to think about your race-day nutrition.

After all, you’ve come this far – you’ve done the training, made the sacrifices, spent the big bucks – so undoing all the good work with a poorly prepared nutrition plan isn’t a great idea.

For those who read my blog, in my last post, I covered my top nutrition tips for nailing race week nutrition.

In today’s post, we’re talking all things race day!

Here are my top tips for nailing your race-day nutrition!

Don’t try anything new…

As cliché as it may sound – don’t try anything new on race day! Race day is not the time to be experimenting with any new nutrition plan or gel, bar or electrolyte drink. By now you should have practised your nutrition and hydration plan in training, and it should be pretty dialled. For best results on race day, make sure you stick to your plan!


The key here – you should have your breakfast plan dialled in as you should your race day nutrition plan. Stick with what works, and you’ll have a great start to your race on Sunday.

Image: Shutterstock

What you eat and drink on the morning of the race will depend on a few factors, including:

  • What you had the night before – did you have a good carb-based dinner? Did you have a top-up snack before bed? Did you drink enough fluid?
  • Your start time – remember the longer you have before the race, the more you can eat because you will have more time to digest. If you’re pressed for time or you’re just not feeling hungry (or you’re feeling queasy due to nerves), you may want to consider a smaller breakfast, e.g. toast with vegemite/peanut butter or a small bowl of porridge with a banana, and then have a top-up snack as you set up your transition or as you walk towards to swim start.
  • Your digestion – are you someone who suffers from any gut issues? Are you someone who spends the better part of race morning on the toilet because of gut issues? Think about your food choices and how much your planning to eat. Lower fibre options (even looking at possibly low FODMAP options) could be the winner here, and perhaps a small-moderate breakfast with a top-up snack later in the morning.
  • Liquid meals – these are easier and quicker to digest and may be better tolerated than a solid breakfast for some athletes. Remember: breakfast is your fuel top-up. By the time race morning rolls around your stores should be reasonably well loaded.
  • Make sure your pre-race meal is low in fibre and low in fat – fibre and fat will slow down the rate of digestion, may leave you feeling over full, bloated and sluggish and may cause gut issues for some athletes. Including some protein with your breakfast, e.g. a yoghurt, will help with keeping hunger at bay.

Bike nutrition

Your nutrition clock starts the moment you get on the bike. Aim for roughly one gel every 30 minutes with water (give and take depending on your race day plan). The bike is where you can consider solids such as bars, as well, as it’s easier to digest food on the bike compared to the run. Some athletes will have a combination of gels, blocks and bars on the bike based on their individual plan.


Consider the logistics of your chosen race-day nutrition. How are you going to hold your nutrition? Do you have gel flasks? If not, have you considered the packaging? Can you open your gel or bar or block with ease, while you’re climbing, descending or turning? If you’re planning on eating a bar during the bike, have you considered cutting it up to bite-sized pieces for ease of consumption while you’re in motion?


Hydration – what are you going to drink? Water, electrolytes, sports drink or a combination of all three? How are you going to top up electrolytes or sports drinks during the race? How will you carry electrolyte tabs? What’s worked in the past for me is dedicating my front water bottle to electrolyte tabs and having spare tabs in a plastic pocket, in my bento box. Also, consider how many bottles you’re going to carry. Do you have enough bottle cages to carry the amount you want/need? Will you be completely self-sufficient here or will you rely on on-course hydration?

Remember: when it comes to hydration, you need to go into the race hydrated. The race is just a rolling top up.

Special Needs

This one is for the guys and gals racing the full. If race day is super-hot, consider freezing a couple of bottles of sports drink and leave them in your special needs. Then by the time you access your bottles during the bike, the bottles should have defrosted enough to give you a refreshing, icy cold drink. There’s nothing worse than lukewarm fluids after a while.  

On the Run

A trick I use on the run (it’s one I learnt from a good friend of mine) is to suck on a few Haribo Gummy Bears. Yes, I still have gels with water on the run. But I run with a cheek full of gummy bears. It’s like drip-feeding carbs as I go. So far, it has worked a treat! 🙂

If all else fails, think: Point One

Most of all refer to the first point – do not try anything new on race day! Race day nutrition plans are very individual, and hopefully, you will have yours sorted and dialled. Have a great race! Cairns is a great one!

Next up, how to nail recovery.

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