Why Carbohydrate is the King for Endurance Performance

By Ted Munson / Source: TrainingPeaks Training Blog

Proper nutrition is often the missing link between training and performance gains. There are a lot of nutrition philosophies out there on the topic, but in this article we’ll highlight the different types of carbohydrates and how they work to fuel your body during different activity intensities.

The Science

Carbohydrates travel quite the journey before they finally absorb into the bloodstream via the small intestines. Energy (glucose) can be stored in the liver and muscle (as glycogen) to be used as energy during exercise. Taking on carbohydrate during exercise delivers rapid energy to the working muscles and prolongs your endurance capacity. However, the effects of the energy you receive can differ drastically depending on the type of carbohydrate you use.

Different Sources

Carbohydrates come in a variety of forms. Sugars, including glucose, sucrose and fructose are all carbohydrates that you may have heard of. While they contain similar calories, they are all metabolized differently, affecting performance output. Maltodextrin, an alternative form of carbohydrate, is broken down into glucose, which is the base of SiS GO Energy products.

So what is the difference between sources of carbohydrate?


  • Must be converted into glucose in the liver before they can be metabolized
  • Is oxidized at a much lower rate during exercise
  • Can cause stomach issues


  • Fast, readily available source of energy
  • Has a higher concentration compared to maltodextrin and may require water to aid digestion in high concentrations
  • Increased risk of GI distress


  • Also known as table sugar
  • A chemical combination of glucose and fructose
  • Has been shown to digest quickly


  • Made up of chains of glucose molecules and has a high GI, meaning that energy is available quickly
  • Oxidized quickly during exercise
  • Reduce the risk of developing stomach complaints during prolonged exercise

The carbohydrate source in many energy gels, including SiS GO Isotonic Energy gels, is specifically selected maltodextrin. The particular size of molecule balances the amount of energy delivered versus how quickly it empties from the stomach. This means that you will feel the performance benefits of taking on a isotonic energy gel far more quickly than when a non-isotonic gel is consumed and the risk of upsetting your stomach is much less.

Can We Combine Carbohydrate Sources?

The digestion rate of drinks containing multiple types of carbohydrate is higher than that of drinks with a single carbohydrate source. This means that, for example, drinks containing maltodextrin and fructose are less likely to cause stomach issues and can potentially deliver more energy to the muscles.

The Fat Vs. Carbohydrate Debate

There is a major split as to what should best fuel athletes. Here is a comparison:

Fat Carbohydrate
At low exercise intensities, you will mainly use fat as your energy source Carbohydrate is the main fuel for high intensity exercise
Fat store 9kcal per gram, versus the 4 kcal that can be stored as carbohydrate Muscle and liver glycogen stores can only last for around 90 minutes of aerobic exercise
Fat is oxidized much slower than glycogen, meaning that it does not supply energy rapidly Carbohydrate, especially that of a high GI provides fast energy to be used by the working muscles
Fat is less available for fueling high intensity exercise We can only absorb around 60-90g of carbohydrate per hour during exercise

Fuel For The Work Required

By “fueling for the work required” an athlete can potentially enhance the way they use carbohydrate and fat as a fuel source during prolonged exercise. Some sessions could be performed without carbohydrate (this may even take the form of having breakfast after and not before morning training) whereas for harder effort sessions and very long endurance sessions, carbohydrate intake is essential for performance.  Additionally, athletes should include “train as you race” sessions where a race day nutrition strategy is practiced. This can teach the muscles how to use both fat and carbohydrate as fuels. However, always ensure that harder training sessions are fueled to also train your gut to be able to tolerate the high carbohydrate intakes on race day.



Ted Munson is the Performance Nutritionist at Science in Sport. He comes from a sports science background having worked in elite sport for the past four years. Ted has worked with athletes in football, rugby and tennis, most recently with Hull City FC as a sports scientist. Ted continues to provide sports science support for teams, alongside his MSc in nutrition and physiology, focusing on hydration markers in elite athletes.For more on training and nutrition by SiS Performance Nutritionist Ted Munson, visit us at scienceinsport.com.

Thoughts on Nutrition When Preparing for a Marathon or Long-Distance Race Event or “Carbo Loading Strategy”

Q: My question is really about what/how to eat the week before, night before, and morning of a marathon to ensure my body is as energized as possible. I know carbs are important and also know that a certain ratio of carbs, protein, and fat are required to help your body optimize the benefits of each component. So, I’d be interested in hearing what you have to say about how to eat for race prep, and maybe some examples.

A: When preparing for a marathon or long-distance race event, nutrition can certainly be a limiting factor. Muscle glycogen is the primary fuel athletes use in training and racing. Carbohydrate loading (the infamous, “carbo-load”) strategy has been shown to enhance marathon and long-distance performance by preventing premature fatigue.

For a well-trained endurance athlete, tapering exercise in the final days (36-48 hours’ pre-marathon) while maintaining adequate carbohydrate intake (10-12 g/kg/day) is a simplistic method for using nutrition to your advantage.

Sports nutritionists recommend that endurance athletes consume adequate carbohydrates to promote restoration of muscle glycogen between training sessions, for ideal recovery. Basically-make sure you are eating carbohydrates between workouts for recovery as well as to fuel your next workout. In general, endurance athletes should be sure that 60-65% of their daily calories come from high-quality carbohydrate sources, 12-15% from protein, and 25-30% from fat.

For a marathon (or longer) event, the last meal should be completed at least 3 hours before the start of the race to ensure that timing of energy release is ideal, and to avoid any gastro-intestinal problems. Foods that are rich in carbohydrates (bread, oatmeal, cereals, pasta, rice, potatoes) However, some easily digestible fat and protein sources are also needed to help the carbohydrates supply a steady release of energy to the blood. A good example would be a bagel with nutbutter or oatmeal with nuts or butter, or nutbutter, giving you the carbohydrates and fat source.

Keep in mind, however, it is important to be able to supply adequate amounts of high quality foods without causing disturbances to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. A pre-competition meal should not stray from foods that you normally eat in your everyday habitual diet.

Carbohydrate drinks have been loved and hated throughout the years. One camp claims that sports drinks before a race cause insulin to spike, and then drop during the race causing a “crash”. Studies more recently show these shifts in blood glucose are to minimal to cause a problem.

Hydration is of special concern for athletes who are exercising for extended periods of time. It’s not uncommon to forget to hydrate when training and racing, however, it is very important to have a hydration strategy in place prior to a race event and to practice regular and consistent hydration while training.

Be careful not to exceed ~700-800 ml per hour during a marathon, as high volumes have been shown to present intolerance problems.  It is key to have a hydration strategy to consume ~150-200 ml periodically throughout the race. If you know the course beforehand, look at the sections of the race profile where you can take a drink effortlessly.

Karmen M. Whitham
CXC Development Coach



Sergey Ustyugov About Training


Sergey Ustyugov gave an extended interview to the “Ski Sport” magazine. Openski.ru is publishing the most interesting answers of Sergey about strength training, abnormal racing heartbeat levels, distance tactics, proper nutrition and selection of correct length of poles.

Is it necessary to control the heartbeat rate during training?

— Before I joined our regional team, I was training with my personal coach and we didn’t pay too much attention to the heartbeat rate, but we were still measuring it occasionally. When I finally joined the regional team, they gave us personal heart rate monitors and we were training, strictly controlling our heartbeat rate. We were severely criticized for any violation of heartbeat zones… Today main principles are pretty same, i.e. we pass an examination, which allow us to identify heartbeat zones, which we have to observe during training sessions in future. So, I think that it’s necessary to observe your heartbeat rate and use it as a reference point.

What is your opinion about training at high altitude?

— Each person has one great altitude value, which allows him or her to show amazing results and feel the pump after reaching it, but there is also altitude, which simply kills all your feelings when you reach it and you literally feel nothing. To tell the truth, I like to run after high altitude training camps and competitions, and all my best results were shown exactly after such high altitude mountain training camps. For example, before I won four out of four races during the World Junior Championship in Turkey, we were training in Bulgarian Belmeken. I was feeling great, even though Turkey had a pretty high altitude too. Another example, before winning the sprint race for the first time during the World Cup in the city of Nove Mesto, we were training at “Khmelevsky Lakes”, which is a mountain range located next to the “Laura” mountain ski complex in Sochi. It also has high altitude, which gives me great pump effect. I was also going down to Sochi from there and I felt great difference, even though the altitude change was somewhere around one hundred meters.

Which length of skis and poles do you use for classic races? Are these values different for long distance runs or sprints (or the same)?

— If we take just a classic ski race, without taking city sprint into account, poles have to be 157,5 cm in length and skis – 207 cm. And if we consider such things as sprints in Drammen or Stockholm, I can say that I use a little bit longer poles. This year during the Stockholm sprint race, Nikita Kryukov discovered that I was going to use longer poles, thus he asked me to give him my old ones, which were slightly longer than his own. I gave him my poles; he used them in race and even won that competition.

What is your normal heartbeat rate at standstill state (in the morning) and in the peak condition (before competitions)?

— I can’t measure my heartbeat rate every morning, but usually it’s around 38-40 beats per minute. Sometimes, my heart rate monitor is showing 42-43 beats per minute right before I start my training.

What is your average and maximum heartbeat rate during 10-15 km races?

— It always depends on my current state of health. Values during one race can reach 195-196 for the average heartbeat rate and 207-208 for maximum, like it was this year. But usually my average heartbeat rate is 185 and maximum one is 203-204 beats per minute.

Do you train on the bile during the off-season?

— I was using it last year, but this year my knee started to disturb me during such workouts, thus I switched to cross running.

One more question, what do you eat right before races start?

— We eat a lot of macaroni and pasta. We were eating it all summer and autumn. Probably, I will remember that forever. We were eating, eating and eating… Of course, there were different products, but the main part of our diet was taken with pasta (he’s smiling). If we are talking about special sport drinks, then I can say that during multiday races we use special carbloaders. We have no restrictions in our nutrition program. Isabel and Reto explained us that it’s much better to eat properly during our breakfast, lunch and dinner than come back to our rooms and eat something sweet or go to a café in the evening to have a cup of coffee with donuts. We have to be full before starting our training.

Isabel prepares a special drink for us during races. I can’t tell its name for sure, but I think it’s Vitargo Electrolyte. I was always telling her that I didn’t want to drink it, because it was making my mouth extremely dry, but she was telling that it was a normal reaction. During long distance races you have to drink a lot in order to avoid “drying” of your body and maintain maximum performance. And in 10 kilometers before the finish line we drink Coca-Cola. Many athletes are drinking Coca-Cola with activators during marathon races.

What do you mean “with activators”?

— Those are special substances, which we add to our drinks, e.g. guarana.

Sergey, what do you think is the secret of an overwhelming superiority of Norwegian skiers these days?

— Skiing is in their blood.

Source: OpenSki.ru


Alexander Legkov: Nutrition Advise for Marathon Skiers

Olympic Champion 50 Km free style, Sochi-2014, Alexander Legkov gives his nutrition recommendations for long distance marathon skiing.

Aleksandr Legkov

Marathon nutrition is very important. It is important to constantly eat during a race, practically from the start. After first 5 km, even if you don’t want to drink, it is still important to do so. I would recommend sport drinks with high percentage of carbohydrates. You can get additional energy from them right from the get go.

– How often do you drink during a race?

Nowadays loops  are shorter, maximum two different fives, and usually between them you still cross the stadium. So it is important to try to drink every five km. Often a racer has a misleading feeling that he/she still has a lot of energy, but as a rule, the energy runs out quickly and unexpectedly. To avoid that, it is important to fill yourself up with carbohydrates.

– What exactly do you drink during a race? Do you use anything else besides drinks?

I drink a standard carbs drink, almost every sport nutrition company has it. Every racer can pick his/her favorite. Also energy drinks that contain necessary salts and minerals are very useful.  They replace what is lost during sweating. I would like to point out that you need to figure out the right consistency of your drink beforehand, so it is not too runny, and not too thick, so you would not feel the need to flush it down with something else after. Before 40 km I drink a carbohydrate beverage, and closer to the end of a race I drink fizz free coco-cola mixed with a pretty strong coffee. That mixture opens my eyes, gives me an energy boost and this is exactly what I need before the finish. Sometimes during races I also use energy gels. Gels need to be eaten right before the food station, so you can follow with something liquid.

– What are the servings of drinks and what temperature should they be?

Ideally all the drinks need to be warm: not too hot, and not too cold, so they would go in pleasantly and easy. There are many things to consider when we talk about quantity. It all depends on how you feel, how the race is going. As a rule, I ask to pour a little too much then needed, I take one-two sips, and if anything is left, I just throw a bottle away. It is also important to have the right containers – no cups. The most comfortable ones are the small plastic bottles from a drinkable yogurt for example. Optimal neck width – the same as on Swix belt containers.

– It is not a secret, that marathon nutrition is not only food during a race, but a diet before the start…

In professional sport, as far as I know, no one follows any special diet. I am not an exception, and before the marathon start I eat the same as before other races. The matter of fact,  50-km distance became so fast nowadays, that it is not much different from other shorter distances. Two-three days before the marathon I would recommend to eat food containing lots of carbs, for example pasta.

– This spring you are planning to ski super marathons, like 90-km Vasaloppet.This distance is quite a bit longer, then those two hours that you usually spend on 50-km. How are you going to eat there?

My advice would have been more valuable if I had done the race and had the experience. Right now I can not imagine what it even is and what is waiting for me there. As for now, I have the same idea in my head: drink carbohydrate drinks as much and as often as possible, not to allow the body to become depleted.

– What do you usually eat for breakfast before the race?

First of all, it is cereal! It is possible to have it anywhere. I try to get a very large serving, and finish it too, because it digests very quickly and it is not in the way during a race. Ideally, cereal is best made with water, not milk. Also, if possible, it is very good to eat some bread with red caviar. Even now, it is not a huge luxury, but it is very nutritional. Muesli, cottage cheese, honey are also good, anything that gives you energy.

– What would you NOT recommend doing before or during a race?

I would not recommend eating lots of spicy or fatty foods before the race, so the liver does not get stressed out. The rest does not need to be limited in my opinion.

Source: www.skisport.ru


What to Eat Before an Endurance Race

by Beth Skwarecki

So you’ve decided to tackle an endurance race—maybe a marathon or half marathon, maybe a triathlon, century ride, all-day hike, or some other multi-hour effort. Of the many tough decisions you’ll make that day, one of the first is: What should you eat for breakfast?

There’s only one right answer, in a sense, and that is: Whatever you practiced during your training. Race day is not the time to try anything new, because you’ll be living with the consequences for several (possibly agonizing) hours. Still, you have to start somewhere, so here are some of the things you’ll want to keep in mind to prepare the best breakfasts.


Keep Your Guts Happy

Exercise, and especially running, can make your guts unhappy. Digestion can result in uncomfortable bubbling, and meals that digest slowly—which means especially large or fatty ones—can feel heavy in your stomach.

Small meals give your body less to digest at a time, increasing the chance that food will be out of your stomach and into your small intestine by race time. Food in your stomach tends to be the least comfortable. Once it’s in your small intestine, you can efficiently absorb the sugars and other nutrients in the meal.

Carbohydrates (like sugars and starches) tend to make it through the stomach the fastest, so they make for a “light” meal. Liquid foods move through even more quickly.

Carbohydrates may increase your chances of GI distress (nausea, flatulence, diarrhea); some athletes swear they get symptoms from eating too much sugar (like combining Gatorade and gels), but the situation may be more complicated.

Ultimately, what upsets someone else’s stomach may not upset yours. Responses to different foods are personal, so experimentation is key. Try a new breakfast on a short run day, then on a long run day, before deciding it’s safe for your race. In other words, trust your gut.

Manage Your Time

Most races and endurance events start in the morning, so you’re already getting up early and dealing with a million tiny things. (Where are my safety pins? Which roads will be closed? Did I remember to put BodyGlide everywhere?)

Race morning breakfasts are, for almost every athlete I know, something that’s quick and easy to prepare. Make sure to shop the night before so you have those bagels and bananas handy, or consider a make-ahead recipe like overnight oats that you can grab on your way out the door.

You’ll want to consider the amount of time it takes to begin digesting the meal. Most runners I know will eat their breakfast about 2 hours before the race’s start time, to be sure they won’t be running with a heavy stomach. If you’re pinched for time, liquid calories like a smoothie or a cup of gatorade will digest quickly, and could make a good last-minute breakfast or a post-breakfast snack to carry with you to the start line.

Hydration should factor into your schedule, too. Rather than chugging water right before the race (which could leave you looking for a porta-potty when none are to be found), you’re better off drinking lots of water in the days leading up to the race. To schedule that other important bathroom duty, consider drinking hot tea or coffee (or even hot water) to make yourself poop. (Make sure to practice this on training days to be sure you have your timing down!)

Some Winning Breakfasts

Here are some classic runners’ breakfasts, along with what makes them so great:

  • Peanut butter on toast: Provides carbs, along with a little fat and protein to slow down digestion so you won’t feel hungry while you’re lining up at the start. Because of the digestion time, fans of peanut butter either have it in small doses, or recommend eating it at least two hours before the start.
  • Bananas: A good source of carbs (mainly sugar) with just a little fiber to slow it down, and some potassium for good measure. (Some runners swear potassium staves off cramps, although the science isn’t clear on that.)
  • Coffee: In addition to helping you poop, coffee is good for a caffeine boost that can help athletic performance. Keep the amount within the limits of what your body is able to handle—another key area to experiment.
  • Oatmeal, overnight or otherwise: Oats are both a good source of carbs and a great vehicle for your favorite type and amount of proteins, fats, and fruits. Have it hot, or try cold oats made the day before, which you can pack into a jar for a portable breakfast.
  • Bacon and eggs: These break the rules (unless you’re used to exercising on a ketogenic diet), but it’s possible to work these into your morning if you get up early enough to have time to digest it all, or if you keep the amounts small (for example, a little bacon with your toast and banana).

Any breakfast can be a great one for race day if it’s something that works for your body, but now you know some of the ground rules for building a great pre-race meal. Athletes out there, what’s your favorite breakfast?



What and how often should I be eating and drinking to maintain my energy levels during longer races?

In the category of general advice, we would tell you to eat early and eat often. Never skip a food/drink station and take the time to fully ingest the food/drinks.

The following articles written by our athletes and coaches address both warm-up and nutrition aspects on a race morning. Hope you’ll find it helpful.

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What makes a good post exercise food?

Screen Shot 2014-12-25 at 12.25.11 PM

Label Information Snack Bars Post Exercise Bars
Carbohydrate 15-30g 30-100g
Protein <6g 6-20g (0.1-0.2g/kg BW)

**10-20g will provide amino acids to help muscle recovery

  • Note – Watch the fat content 3-4g is OK
  • Post Exercise Food Choices
Quick & Easy Sport Bars Beverage/Drinks Other Foods
Powerbar Recovery Milk based fruit smoothie Low fat yogurt with granola
Cliff bar Low fat chocolate milk Lean meat sandwich
Luna Sunrise bar Carnation instant breakfast Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
Gatorade energy bar Boost Fruit with Nut butter
Kashi Go-Lean bar Ensure Cottage Cheese with fruit
First Endurance Bar Endurox R4 Single Serve tuna packets with crackers
EFS Sports Bar Mix 1 Fruit Salad with yogurt
Erin Baker’s Breakfast Cookie Powerbar Recovery drink Bowl of cereal with skim milk
GeniSoy bar Chocolate Soy Milk Trail mix with piece of fruit
Powerbar Performance bar Ultragen (by First Endurance) String cheese with a piece of fruit
Veggie burger on pita bread

Related Article: Fueling Pre, Post and During Training Sessions


Fueling Pre, Post and During Training Sessions

PRE-WORKOUT. For pre-workout, this is probably the least focused area for me. Biggest thing for me is I try to make sure my athletes are appropriately hydrated and have had eaten a well balanced meal about 1-2 hours before workout. The closer you get to race time or workout time with your meal your body will use that energy source you just ingested rather then a fuel source like fat which for longer distance workouts should be the primary source of energy. You are teaching your body to burn carbs during these workouts rather then fats. Your body will learn to do this for future exercises so in turn you will not learn to spare you carbohydrate sources for high intensity exercises (end of races). I also don’t focus on this pre-workout meal because everyone has different reactions to the food they eat while exercising. Biggest thing I preach is the balanced aspect. Carbs, Fats, and Protein from a variety of sources.

Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 4.39.59 PM

DURING WORKOUT. During workout I would split into two zones 45 min to 2 hours and 2 hours+. For the 45 mins to an hour water would be a sufficient intake for the workout. There is really no need for in taking any carbs or electrolytes from a sports drink for a workout of this duration. You’ll find that maintaining your homeostasis water level in your body will make the workout a lot easier, with your heart rate remaining more stable and your rating of perceived exertion not elevating. It’s recommend you take in about 8oz of water every 20-30 minutes during your workout. For workouts longer than 2 hours you begin to need to have a fuel source that will replace the glucose that you tend to burn a lot of during those longer workouts. We have used an Infinit Nutrition supplements as a refueling source for our team in the past. They offer the ability to personalize your own formula for your own sweat rate and work needs, which is a nice feature.

POST-WORKOUT. Post-workout is probably the biggest area I focus on and in research it has been shown to have the largest effect on recovery and improvement in performance. If you’re able to eat or drink something with a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio, you maximize your body’s ability to have an insulin response which helps aid in carbohydrate intake into your muscles. That magic period is shown to be within 30 minutes post workout, with diminishing returns the further you get from that end time. Chocolate Milk has been the big thing in recovery from workouts. Both liquids and solid foods are appropriator options for this effect. Most nutritional bars like Clif Bars and Powerbars have this ratio of carbs to protein. It should also be noted that this immediate post-workout supplement should be followed by a larger balanced meal.

I don’t think there is really real secret to workout nutrition but I do feel like choosing healthy and fresh food options do benefit an athlete. Like I said before, the biggest thing I preach is having a balanced diet. If you do this you should be getting the right stuff in your system.

by Andy Keller, CXC Team Head Coach

Race Preparation and Strategy

by Jennie Bender, 2014 US National Champion



Jennie Bender

“There, I signed up for _(name of race)_. I am sure I’ll be all set to go once I get on the start line.” Are you this person? From time to time, we all are, but this person is not the one who crosses the finish line first. Even if you have a habit of good preparation strategies, good can become better. Just like putting the time into your training, you need to train your body and mind to race.


Each person’s body responds to stimuli differently depending on genetics, physical tolerance, mental strength, and personal preference. What I do for a pre-race routine may not work for you. Garrot Kuzzy eats pancakes before every race. They work for him physically and mentally, and therefore he kicks butt when the gun goes off. I love pancakes, especially with real maple syrup, but before a big competition I think that would make me nauseous. However, if pancakes make me mentally happy (which they usually do), maybe it’s worth a try!

There is something to be said for sticking with what feels right for you, even if it is a bit quirky or superstitious. However, beware of getting stuck in a stagnant routine, and challenge yourself to try different warm-ups, foods, pre-race weekend workouts and strategies during competition.

Physical – Pre-event training options can be a personal preference, yet are usually based upon the competition intensity (distance). If you have a 30k on Saturday, you need to do very little distance the two days before. Heavy training should have happened way before this point, and getting in an extra two hour ski will only make you tired. Most athletes I know give their energy system a Level 3 warm-up workout two to three days prior with some speeds (10-20 sec) at the end. An example might be 4×6-8 minutes Level 3. The shorter the race, the harder I do this workout. If I have sprints on the weekend, I like to do an L4 sprint simulation, such as 2×4 minutes then 2×2 minutes hard. You only really need a total of 12-16 minutes, and it’s best to do those on the course you will be racing. Again, this is just what I have found works for me, it may not work for you. Two days before competition, there should also be an off or extremely short and easy ski. This gives your body a chance to rejuvenate and feel fresh.

Nutrition – Hydration should start long before race day. In the winter, we tend not to drink what our body needs because we are not sweating as much as in the summer. Look for other signs of thirst and dehydration. Some of these include dry skin, sticky mouth, constantly sore muscles (water helps flush waste) and feeling the need to eat when you are not hungry. When I have the “can’t find the food that will satisfy” craving, I have found it’s because my body is trying to get water from the foods I am eating, instead of sending the signal to drink because my body is not overheating. Once I drink a bottle of water, maybe with a little juice mixed in for flavor, that craving will be gone.

Carbohydrate loading becomes necessary the longer your race. As I studied this concept, I have realized our high school pasta parties where we overdosed on spaghetti for a 5k the next day wasn’t exactly necessary, other than great team bonding. If you eat a healthy well-balanced diet, you can get away with eating a healthy meal of your choice the night before 5k to 10k races. If you are a vegetarian or do not normally eat many carbs however, you should load the night before these events to increase your glucose stores.


Nutrition – It is best to eat breakfast 3 to 4 hours before race time so that your body has time to digest. Avoid heavy or fatty foods, but get glucose and a little protein into your system. This is why oatmeal with maybe some hard boiled eggs on the side is fairly common race food. I am a big fan of oatmeal with peanut butter on top for my pre-race meal.

Sports drinks such as Gatorade, PowerAde, or even Emergen- C are beneficial because they absorb quickly into your blood stream, hydrating and replenishing you before and after your warm-up. Fifteen to twenty minutes before the race is a good time to ingest a quick sugar with electrolytes for one last boost. I prefer GU, but thick sports drink works as well.

Physical – Remember how I said in the beginning to mix up your routine? This is a great place to start. Race morning warm-up can be a make or break, especially for the shorter distance races. If you train right, your body will have different speeds, aka “gears” you can turn on during the race. Therefore, you should warm- up these different gears after at least 20 minutes of L1 and L2. Many athletes will do a set of 3 x 3 minutes of L3 as their warm-up, with ample rest in between. If the first one or two feel sluggish, that’s normal. Think of it as getting this “wake-up” process out of the way so that it isn’t happening during the race. Dynamic (movement) stretching before and after your warm-up is encouraged, save the passive (sit and hold) stretching for after. The more flexible you are, the more your body is able to give and flow with the proper and powerful technique movements skiing demands. Again, don’t save this goal for race day. Work on flexibility and balance all year- round.

Mental – The mental aspect of racing, as well as handling race anxiety, should be practiced throughout the year. This is one reason teams do time trials in the fall, to simulate race stress. Key points are to find your focus, be confident, and practice mental imaging of yourself succeeding. As hard as they are to break, a stream of constant negative thoughts will only drag you down. Notice I didn’t say to relax. For a while I fought this concept, worried that I would become apathetic if I let myself relax day of race. However, I have found it is the separation of a focused mind yet calm and prepared body that looks relaxed to the viewer. Prepared is not stressed, not wasting energy, yet ready for battle.


Whether you are in a mass start or racing against the clock, utilizing tactics will make you faster. With trial and error, you will be able to make quick decisions mid race that will take seconds off; adding up to minutes, and places. Here are some key points to learn.

– Complete focus occurs when your brain is in the moment. Sometimes you can only see the corridor in front of you because you subconsciously block out distractions other than what’s in your path. This is the most desired mental race state. Search for it, harness it, and let it take you away.

– Mass starts are your friend. Use the people around as an advantage by holding on to someone’s pace, or drafting on the hills. Once you pass someone, never look back, but instead mark your next target. If you get passed, tuck in behind them for a while and even analyze what they seem to be doing that’s making them faster. If someone is using these tactics on you, accelerate around corners and over hills to pull away. The saying “out of sight out of mind” holds true, even if you are right around the next bend.

– Skiing transitions of technique and terrain will make the race flow much smoother. Increasing arm and leg turnover before you get to a hill should accelerate you into it, and giving a few extra pole pushes as you crest will send you down the other side. Use your power to no-pole skate down hills, and if you are going to tuck; tuck low. This means your back is flat, and your elbows are touching the knees.

– No matter who’s around you or what team you are on, cross country skiing is an individual sport because it’s only you and your thoughts out on the course. Maybe this is one of those things I shouldn’t share, but I will tell you that I am constantly talking to myself during races. We each have a devil and angel bickering on our shoulder, and when your body starts rebelling, it’s time to dig deep and remember what motivates you in order for the angel to be victorious.


This is my time to lecture. It makes me cringe when I see people finish a race, and go straight inside without a cool-down at all. This is only acceptable if it is -0 degrees F or colder outside. You just put in a hard effort, and now you are letting the lactic acid sit and pool in your body, consequently making you extremely sore and tired the next 48 hours. Even a ten minute slow ski after will suffice. Replace nutrients to your muscles as soon as possible post race to aid recovery and to assist your ability to train more efficiently the following workout. As your body temperature returns to normal, sweat will become cold against the skin. This consequently compromises your immune system just as much as the hard effort you put it through. Changing workout clothes, especially those close to your core, will help prevent you from getting sick, making all that effort you just went through to race a positive notch in the training belt instead of a stagnant, sniffling, coughing week with tissue stuffed up your nose. Be smart, train hard, race fast!

Race Day Fuel!

Q: My question is about carbo loading for endurance races like a marathon, or the Birkie:  With the development of electrolyte-replenishing sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade, and concentrated carbohydrates in the form of gel-paks, like GU, is it still necessary or important to carbo-load in preparation for the event?  It seems like I might just be packing on extra pounds that I’ll have to get rid of later.
And, a related question:  I noticed that the GU packet I used for my race this weekend actually contained 20 mg of caffeine.  If I am ingesting 6 of them for a four hour marathon (or perhaps more for the Birkie), that’s like drinking four Mountain Dews during the race, which I would never think of doing, because of the diuretic effects of the caffeine.  I have heard of some positive benefits of a little caffeine on race day, but this seems like too much of a good thing.  Am I inadvertently dehydrating myself by using a carbohydrate gel chock full of caffeine?

Answered by Dr. Abby Larson:


Thanks for the questions. To answer your first question: Carbo-loading once or twice a year for an important ski marathon event almost certainly won’t cause you to gain weight. With that being said, if you plan on racing a marathon each weekend you may want to rethink your carbo-loading strategy. Generally in the days leading up to an important race we decrease training volume which essentially spares muscle glycogen and allows us to use what carbohydrates we are consuming as a means to further build up those muscle and liver glycogen stores.  Although it is commonly thought that it is necessary to stuff yourself with carbs on the days leading up to your big event, I wouldn’t recommend this as it can lead to bloating and GI upset. About three days prior to race day,

I would suggest decreasing the volume of usual training and eating the same number of calories as usual but about 70% of those calories should come in the form of carbohydrate (preferably from whole grains and not refined sugars). By tweaking the composition of your diet and maintaining caloric intake you will avoid bloating, weight gain, and possible GI upset but will have adequate carbohydrate to allow for full glycogen repletion. The problem with relying on exogenous sources of glucose (GU and sports drinks) DURING the event is that your muscles will still preferentially be using stored muscle glycogen for energy. This is because it is more efficient to use glycogen for energy production compared to circulating blood glucose. Once you use all of your glycogen stores in a given muscle you will begin to rely more heavily on glucose in the blood but since that process is less efficient it means you will be less efficient. Blood glucose can’t be used to resynthesize muscle and liver glycogen during exercise, this process can only happen at rest.

The real purpose of sport drinks and gels during exercise is to maintain blood glucose thereby postponing the ever-dreadful “bonk”. This is different than being glycogen depleted in a specific muscle group (such as the quadriceps).  When you “bonk” it usually affects your central nervous system and you become a bit “loopy”, gels and sports drinks will delay this, but when you deplete your glycogen stores in a muscle, gels and sport drinks will be of little help and that muscle will no longer contract and relax as quickly or powerfully. To summarize, fill the tank with high octane fuel before the race, don’t overflow the tank because it won’t do any good, and try to top off the tank while you are racing…..

The amount caffeine that you would ingest in 6 gels is about 120 mg (if each contained 20 mg) – that’s about what you would find in 8 oz of coffee. I know a lot of athletes, myself included, that can’t even get their race number on without at least 16 oz of coffee. The diuretic effect that this amount of caffeine has is negligible, even for the unhabituated caffeine consumer. I wouldn’t be concerned about the amount of caffeine in gels from a hydration standpoint, as most research indicates that caffeine isn’t a very potent diuretic, but I would be concerned about stomach upset. The combination of highly concentrated carbohydrate and caffeine can cause GI upset in some individuals. Caffeine is a proven ergogenic aid for short and long duration events. The ergogenic benefits stem from its stimulation of the central nervous system. Urban sport legend touts caffeine as being able to enhance fatty acid utilization and demonizes it for being a diuretic – both of which are unsupported by the vast majority of research. This being said, if the combination of carbohydrate and caffeine doesn’t cause stomach upset then I wouldn’t hesitate to use caffeinated gels liberally on race day.


– Dr. Abigail Larson  Central Washington University, 2006 Nordic Olympian


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