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Event-day nutrition strategies to excel

Get nutrition guidance for a successful endurance event or competition. Learn how to fuel before, during, and after an event for optimal performance.

Whether you’re training for a ruck, doing mission-specific training, or competing in a marathon, you should be confident you have done everything you possibly could to prepare for this day. Hopefully, you have followed good basic guidelines for eating well-balanced meals, and you’ve consumed enough carbohydrates and protein during training, as discussed in “Daily nutrition strategies for endurance.” This second article looks at event-day nutritional strategies and event-specific preparation and follow-up to give you a performance edge.

Practice makes perfect

Before the day of an endurance event arrives, you need to experiment and practice your race-day nutrition on some of your harder or longer training days to see—in advance—how your body responds to different fuel sources. Also before competition day, you should practice to determine how long before your event you should eat to feel comfortable for the duration of the event.


The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American College of Sports Medicine both recommend consuming 1–4g/kg (grams per kilogram) body weight of carbohydrates at a single meal 1–4 hours before competition; the amount depends on the time you eat before you start to warm up. For endurance events lasting 60 minutes or longer, the recommendation is to consume 1g/kg if eating 1 hour prior, 2g/kg if eating 2 hours prior, etc. For example, if you weigh 170 lbs (77 kg), you will need 154 g (77 ´ 2 = 154) of carbohydrate as part of a meal or snack if you eat 2 hours before your pre-event warm-up. A common breakfast might be 1.0 cup cooked oatmeal (30g) + 1 oz raisins (25g) + 2 tsp brown sugar (15 g carbs), a banana (30 g), and 32 oz sports drink (56 g), for a total of 156 g of carbohydrates. The key is to eat mainly carbohydrates prior to competition.

During competition

During competition and strenuous events the 2 most important factors to keep you going are hydration and carbohydrate status. You need about 30–60 g of carbohydrate per hour. You can do this by consuming 2–4 cups of sports drink every hour or by taking 1–2 sports gels with water every hour. For more information, see HPRC’s Hydration infosheet.


Recovery nutrition requires both carbohydrates and protein. Recommendations for optimal recovery include consuming 20–25g protein and about 1–1.2 g/kg body weight carbohydrate within 30–60 minutes after competition. A recovery snack/meal for the 77-kg athlete in the example above could be 1 Tbsp. peanut butter on a whole-wheat bagel (37 g carbs/12 g protein) and 16 oz chocolate milk (46 g carbs/16 g protein) for a total of 83 g carbohydrate and 20 g protein.

In addition to the post-competition snack, aim to eat a balanced meal 2 hours later for optimal recovery. Visit HPRC’s Athlete’s Guide to Nutrient Timing to learn more.

Bottom line

Improve your performance on event day by staying fueled and hydrated before and during the event. Post-competition fueling can help speed the recovery process to allow you to train again sooner. The ability to train consistently will allow you to continually see gains.


Posted 8 May 2017