Hell & Back – Nutrition tips for Race Day

I started this post on Thursday when I was snowed in at the office, looking out the window and cursing my decision to sign up for Hell & Back this Sunday…….However cold and miserable the day may be, it will be for a very good cause. I’m taking part in the 10km adventure race Hell & Back with a team from work for Irish Autism Ireland and so far we have raised a whopping 1200euro!!


These races are SO popular so I thought it might be a good idea to post on what your diet should look like leading up to an endurance adventure race, like Hell & Back. As you can imagine, running an adventure race like Hell & Back will increase your calorie needs and to ensure that you have optimal energy stores for the race and to beat early fatigue on the day, you should pay attention to your diet the day before the event, the day of the event and the day after the event.


carb loadingCarbohydrate (CHO) is the most important fuel for endurance exercise. Carbohydrates are stored in your muscles as glycogen but the stores are short lived and need to be replenished daily. It is important that you have high carbohydrate (low fibre) meals with the addition of protein the day before the event, the day of the event and the day after the event. In terms of recovery, the sooner you can get carbohydrates into your system after the event, the better because the faster the muscle glycogen stores are replenished after exercise, the faster the recovery process and theoretically the greater the return of performance capacity. The first 30minutes – 24 hours after finishing the event is when your muscles are most permeable to (ready to absorb) carbohydrates and nutrients so that they can begin to rebuild from the stress they have just endured. If you plan your recovery meal/snack right it can help to prevent further muscle breakdown and can help to ensure that your muscles and liver absorb the optimum amount of carbohydrate and store it high CHOas glycogen. If you do not include a recovery meal your body can stay in the catabolic state that it was in during exercise i.e. continue to further breakdown muscles resulting in increased muscle soreness in the hours and days following the event.

If you look at the chart to the left you can see that a high CHO diet results in higher muscle glycogen stores. So your meals leading up to the event (and after the event) should be primarily based on carbohydrates. Aim for 1-4g CHO/kg body weight. So if you are a 65kg female, you should have at least 65g of carbohydrate in your main meal before the event. Be sure to consume carbohydrate in the 30mins – hour following the event. Below is a table of commonly eaten foods and their carbohydrate content.



Most people would think that protein is the most important macronutrient for exercise but it is carbohydrate that is your main

proteinfuel source. The addition of protein to your recovery meal/snack after the event will help your cells absorb more carbohydrate. Research has found that adding a small amount of protein—approximately 15 to 25 grams—to the pre and post event meal will speed your muscle recovery. Consuming protein in addition to carbohydrate will help repair muscles and will help to increase the amount of protein in your muscles. Eating too little protein or none at all would mean that you are not allowing your muscles to rebuild or repair after the event. Examples of good sources of protein:

Egg whites: ~4g whole egg white

Portion of lean beef: 22g per 85g serving

Portion of lean chicken: 25g per 100g serving

Tin of tuna in brine: 24g protein

Small tin of beans: 10g protein

A note on hydration:

It has been shown that as little as 2% dehydration (≥ 2% loss of bodyweight due to exercise-induced dehydration) can reduce your endurance capacity and potentially impair performance! Dehydration does this by increasing cardiovascular stress, HYDRATEincreasing your body’s consumption of carbohydrates (your precious fuel stores) and also impairs your temperature regulation. For these reasons, it is important to be adequately hydrated leading up to the event and especially on the day of the event. Fluid intake of 1L/hr is realistic to offset fluid loss (as long as climate is not too hot) and try to consume the recommended daily fluid intake of 1.5-2L a day the week of the event.

On the day of the event hydration should be as follows:

  • 2 hours to go: Sip on 8ml/Kg body weight – usually = 500-600mls of an isotonic sports drink from 2 hours to go and continue until go time
  • one hour to go: A cup of unsweetened black coffee can help to delay the early onset of fatigue/ glucose jellies
  • During exercise >60mins: Water and sports drink, sip constantly throughout


CAFFINWIt has been suggested in the past that caffeine may contribute to dehydration through exerting a diuretic effect (increased water loss through urine) however there is a body of more recent evidence to suggest that this is not the case. Evidence suggests that caffeine improves endurance. 6mg/kg caffeine taken 60mins prior to the event ( 300mg for a 65kg woman – equivalent to an unsweetened large cup of brewed coffee or a venti Starbucks Americano) or 1.5mg/kg taken in divided doses throughout an intense workout has been shown to benefit performance (e.g. 4 caffeine containing sports gels over two hours). Caffeine’s side effects include laxative effects, trembling and anxiety. If you are sensitive to caffeine it would probably be best to avoid it to ensure that you do not have any negative side effects during the event.

Day before the race:

It is probably best to have your main meal at lunch time and your smaller meal for dinner so you have plenty of time to digest.

  • keep calmBreakfast can be any of the high CHO foods mentioned above with low fat and moderate protein combination.


  •  A large bowl of low fibre cereal, 1 banana and 1 glass of orange juice
  • Lunch and Dinner should be low in fat and fibre to prevent abdominal cramping during your event.


  • Beans on toast with orange juice
  • 2 rounds of sandwiches, a large piece of fruit with jaffa cakes
  • Spaghetti with pasta sauce and lean chicken with a glass of orange juice.

 On the day:

You should have a high carbohydrate, low fat, low fibre meal 2-3 hours before the event, for example:

pre race1 Large bowl of cereal (muesli/porridge/cornflakes) with low fat milk, 1 large banana and fruit yoghurt


4 slices toast and jam, glass fruit juice and a fruit yoghurt


4 stack of pancakes with syrup plus 1 pint of milk


2 rounds of Sandwiches, ham/chicken/tuna filling, 2 satsuma /1 banana plus 5 jaffa cakes


New foods; high fibre foods (bran); large quantities of meat >100g;large quantities of caffeine;

 Pre race:

  • Extra snacks can be taken before the race to boost your carbohydrate stores (cereal bars, isotonic drinks/yogurts).
  • Ensure you start the event fully hydrated. A general guide is slowly sip on 400-600ml in the 2 hours leading up to the event.

During the race:

STARTBecause Hell&Back is not really about winning, I don’t think this is entirely relevant. There are hydration stations throughout the Hell&Back racecourse but I don’t think there is many opportunities to eat while wading through a smelly swamp or river. This advice would be better for a more competitive adventure race like Gaelforce:

  • Take 30-60g of carbohydrate every hour e.g. 600 – 1000ml isotonic drink, 1.5-2 packets gels or 40-75g dried fruit (or a combination of these).
  • Fluids – a general guideline is to drink 150-200ml every 15 minutes. The aim is to lose no more than 2% of your body weight during exercise (e.g. 1.5kg for a 70kg person).

After the race – Recovery

  • Ensure a snack or meal high in carbohydrate and protein is taken within 30 minutes of finishing the race. Examples include:


  • Flavoured milk, apple and muesli bar
  • 600ml sports drink and cereal barBanana and low fat fruit yoghurt
  • Breakfast cereal, low fat milk and dried fruit
  • Sandwich/roll/wrap filled with chicken/ham/egg/tuna
  • Jacket potato with tuna/baked beans/low fat cheese
  • Baked beans/spaghetti on toast

Make sure to take high carbohydrate meals and snacks for the next 24 hours after the race.

Good luck!!!!!