Wednesday July 5th 2017
Appropriate hydration and fueling is critical for race performance especially as the length of race increases. Nothing can derail your race quicker than dehydration, cramps or the dreaded 'bonking' when your body runs out of fuel. Proper race day nutrition starts well before race day. In the days leading up to a race it's important to make sure that you're well hydrated and that you are eating lots of healthy foods with a focus on making sure you are getting lots of complex carbohydrates.
On race day make sure to start your day with a healthy breakfast. Don't try new foods on race day; it is always best to try to eat food that your body is used to and that you have trained on. A lot of paddlers experience nervousness on race day which can lead to digestive issues so best to stick with simpler/blander foods if that applies to you.
During the race you will need to make sure that you take in enough fluids, electrolytes, and fuel. Your required water intake will depend significantly on the weather conditions as you'll use more on a hot day. For a warm summer day a good rule of thumb is that you'll use around one litre of water per hour. It's unlikely you're body will be able to process more water than that so there is no need to take in more. Generally you can trust your body to tell you if you need fluid. If you feel thirsty, you are likely getting dehydrated so take in more fluid. In addition to fluid you need to consider your electrolyte needs. The most common side effect of electrolyte deficiency is muscle cramping. There are many commercially available electrolyte products. In general, look for one that contains a number of electrolytes, not just sodium. The choice to include electrolytes in your fluid or to take them separately as capsules is something to consider, but most paddlers will have some in their drink and carry some backup capsules in case of cramping.
Fueling is a very complex topic, but the most important point is that you should practice taking in calories during training to find out what does and does not work for you. Trying out a new fuel on race day is never a good idea. There are lots of products available including gels, bars, blocks, powders to mix in your drink, etc. that you can try out to see what works. It's worth noting that you will almost certainly burn more calories during the race than you can intake. In most cases your body will not be able to process more than 250-300 calories per hour so there is no benefit to intake more than that. Some paddlers prefer to eat more solid food while others like to get their calories as part of their drink. There are pros and cons of each approach. There are really no right or wrong answers as long as you find a method that works for your body.