5 Lessons learned about a bad pre-race food choice.
Updated: Oct 25, 2019
In 2003, I was 16 years old. A friend invited me to go for a bike ride on old converted railroad bed, and I was hooked! My first real bike was a GT Avalanche 3.0. I rode it so much, that it was soon replaced with my first road bike, a Trek 1200. An aluminum frame with beautifully welded joints and Shimano 105 components. It was my stallion and I rode it all the time. I was playing soccer, basketball and baseball in high school and I used riding my bike in the summer as an excuse to get in shape for soccer.
There was a local race called the Tour de Loop in Oswego, NY. It was not a USA Cycling sanctioned race so there were no categories; just a 30 mile loop and a 50 mile loop. My parents came out to the race to cheer me on. I brought along my stationary trainer to warm up, like I had read in Bicycling Magazine. I wore a Polar heart rate monitor, also like I had read. I was young, impressionable and passionate and didn’t have an older cycling mentor or someone who had experience; conditions ripe for making mistakes. Like most athletes who enter races, I wanted to be a better cyclist and I absorbed information like a sponge.
I was young, impressionable and passionate and didn’t have an older cycling mentor or someone who had experience; conditions ripe for making mistakes.
This was also the time that I got into nutrition. Reading Bicycling Magazine cover to cover introduced me to a world where you could eat something and it could negatively or positively affect your athletic performance! I had never heard of such a thing! This was encouraging and exciting. One of the nutrition tips I read was that if you were to eat something before a race, it had to be around 30 minutes before the start to allow for it to empty your stomach. And I also knew I wanted to eat something because the race was longer than an hour, something else I read. So picture me, warming up on a stationary trainer 30 minutes before a 30 mile road race, eating a Power Bar.
I was nauseous the whole race.
Constant, stomach-in-knots, food-in-your-throat belly ache after the first 5 minutes. And of course, thanks to my inexperience, I was adding a sugary sports drink to satan’s cauldron that was my stomach. To add insult to the power bar and gatorade, when the gun went off, I blasted off the line and was in the red from a heart rate and aerobic perspective the whole race. In retrospect, I may have had a more enjoyable race if I had stuck my finger down my throat, intentionally spewed my cookies and carried on.
In the end, I coasted across the finish. Since then, I’ve entered dozens of other road races and triathlons and I’ve enjoyed myself, even if I didn’t win. But this race wasn’t enjoyable. I’m sure I would have done just fine if I hadn’t eaten anything. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t the national championships and I’m not angry at myself. I look back and laugh at my inexperience and can say I’ve learned a lot since then.
Don’t try a new food the day of an event, EVER!
If you feel the need to eat, choose something that’s easy to digest and relatively unrefined. A Power bar was a bad choice. Highly refined and hard to digest.
Eating 30 minutes before race time was too close. If you’re going to eat something solid, shoot for at least an hour before the start. If you feel the need to consume calories within that 1-hour window, stick to liquids. The goal is to keep glucose in your blood stream, not add glycogen to your liver or muscle stores.
Mistakes happen, don’t dwell on them. Think ahead, think critically and try to cover all of your bases before a race starts. And if something goes wrong, solve that problem for the next race and continue to improve.
Find a mentor or trusted resource. Find someone who has made the mistakes and who can point you in the right direction. This would have saved me.
Nutrition: Get it right, and you’ll have fresh legs at the finish line. Get it wrong, you might not see the finish line or you may see what you just ate all over your top tube.
Continue to eat more plants, remain responsible ambassadors for this movement, train hard and stay healthy!
Want to learn more about how a plant-based diet can help your athletic performance? Download my free eBook!