Tanked up and ready to go: Pre-race fuelling

Author: Stephan Hugenschmidt


What should you eat BEFORE a race?

If you’re about to run an ultra or a multi-day stage race like the Transalpine Run, don’t underestimate your energy needs. Running a mountain marathon every day for a whole week will take its toll on you, so it’s vital to make sure you eat enough from the outset.


The days before 

On the last few days before the race, I try to eat as many carbs as I can to top up my reserve. That means rice, pasta, potatoes and bread all feature heavily on my meal plan. Topping up your vitamin and mineral levels is just as important, although I don’t think powders and tables are necessary. Plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables will do the job just as well.





Corinne Mäder-Reinhard, PowerBar Nutrition Expert:

"If your vitamin levels are balanced already, you won’t need any vitamin supplements, as there is no scientific evidence for any additional health benefit. In fact, supplements like vitamin C can have a negative effect on desired training adaptations, even when taken in moderately high doses. However, if you have been medically diagnosed as having a vitamin deficiency, take the right nutrition steps to maximise your performance and compensate with supplements if you need to."


The night before
If at all possible, I tend to eat pasta with an easily digestible sauce on the evening before the race. There’s no need to gorge because your reserves will already be up to a good level. Also, I find it difficult to sleep when my stomach is too full.


Corinne Mäder-Reinhard, PowerBar Nutrition Expert:

"For effective load up and maximising your energy tanks your energy reserves (muscle glycogen stores) you need to start carb loading several days before the race. Pasta, rice, mashed potato, dried fruits, smoothies, low-fat muffins and bread with honey are all high in carbohydrates and easily digestible, so they should be the focus of your efforts at this stage. Go easy on high-fibre foods such as large salads though, because fibre fills you up. It also has plenty of volume, so it takes up the space you need for sufficient carb-loading."


Race-day breakfast

On race day I tend to make sure I have finished breakfast at least two hours before the race begins so as not to feel full up as I set off. Depending on what time it starts, I’ll either eat bread with jam or honey, or an energy bar or two. I like vanilla-flavoured Energize bars best, because they give me the energy I need without having to eat too much. They’re ideal for an early start or when I’m not feeling all that hungry yet. Personally, I find coffee really important as well. I need it to wake up – not just on race days!

Coffee before a workout isn’t everybody’s thing though, and I know a lot of people who get stomach issues from it. Find out whether or not your stomach can handle it during your practice sessions.



Corinne Mäder-Reinhard, PowerBar Nutrition Expert:

"Coffee is just one of many foods and beverages that contain caffeine. Caffeine is considered a performance enhancer, so if taken before and/or during endurance exercise it can increase the endurance capacity, and reduce the rating of perceived exertion. For best results, check out during training how much caffeine is good for you – and when. In addition, not every athlete can handle caffeine before or during a race, so testing out the various scenarios during training is essential."

During the race

During the race itself, I tend to prefer solid foods. So far, Energize bars have been the best bet for me because they give me plenty of energy. I can also handle them well, which is a key point for me. Not everybody can handle every product equally well. So use your training to try things out and find out what works best for you. But don’t experiment during the race. Test your nutrition plan beforehand, during practice.

Whether its solids, gels or carb-drinks you go for is ultimately not all that important. What matters is that your energy intake is regular. Often, people forget that they lose salt as they sweat, so I tend to take some salt tablets with me for the race. I also like to add a bit of extra salt to my food the day before the race.


Stephan Hugenschmidt

Born in southern Germany, trail runner Stephan Hugenschmidt first explored the mountains on skis. As he gradually turned his attention to running, he began to miss the mountains and nature. At some point he discovered the joys of trail running, which combines running with enjoying the great outdoors. In 2011 he clocked up the first of many first major successes: besides taking victory in the Ultratrail Lago di Orta, the GORETEX Transalpine Run, the Zugspitz Ultratrail and the Scenictrail, he has been among the top finishers countless times in more than 34 international races – and even delivered record-breaking performances.


(c) Philipp Reiter/Salomon Running