If you're like most athletes, pre-race anxiety is a fact of life. Despite feeling like you couldn't possibly eat anything, having a good meal before your bike race can mean the difference between riding the best race of your life or running out of steam halfway through. Ignore that knot in your stomach and eat something close to a normal meal that has the right mix of carbohydrates and nutrients to keep you going, at least until the climbing sections are over.
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How Food Helps You
The body produces the main energy source for cells, called ATP, or adenosine triphosphate, in the mitochondria of your cells using glucose, glycogen, amino acids and fat from food. Your muscle cells break down the ATP for the energy that gets released as the phosphate bonds are broken. The synthesis of ATP is a complex process, but your body produces most of its ATP using the glucose it gets from the starches and sugars in your diet. Sugar is a form of glucose that is already broken down, so it can be used by the body for immediate energy. Starches must be processed into usable glucose, which results in prolonged, steady energy at a slower rate.
Eating a giant plate of pasta before race day might store up lots of glucose and glycogen for your muscles, but it can also leave you feeling bloated when you go into a tuck, your most aerodynamic position. Pasta or rice is good for you, but balance it with foods that you're comfortable with. Choose a healthy vegetable like green beans or spinach and a small serving of meat. Eating normally will combat the tension and nervousness that you might feel before the race, so it won't make you feel sick. A good night's sleep is important for processing the meal.
For breakfast, you should avoid proteins such as meat or eggs, which digest slower than carbohydrates. Toast, oatmeal and waffles are superior sources of carbohydrate-based energy, and a bit of jam or syrup can provide the sugar you need to start at your maximum. Avoid too much coffee, which can make you feel sick before the race. The energy from dinner and breakfast should be enough to get you through the race, but keeping an energy bar in your cycling jersey for a snack can curb your hunger during the race.
Increasing your water intake a few days before a cycling race is crucial for helping your body stay hydrated throughout the competition. A cyclist can go through several liters of water over the course of a race. You want to have a good starting level of hydration when you pin on your race number. If your urine is light yellow to clear, your body is sufficiently hydrated. During the race, you can replace water with a sports drink to replenish the electrolytes lost through sweat.