How to stack all the odds in your favour in terms of nutrition and hydration so that you go the distance and keep up the pace on a fast walk? One thing is for sure, you won't get close to 15km/h if you walk after eating a rich liver pâté or you are under the uninhibited influence of alcohol. If you want to perform well in a race walking event, you will need to follow another path, which may not to be as enjoyable, although this is arguable… Walking fast is exhilarating, don't you agree?

The importance of a regular daily diet

A healthy and well-balanced diet is the best way of starting a race with confidence. Like physical preparation, training and sleep, race walkers have everything to gain from properly preparing their diet and fluid intake. Is every pleasure a guilty one? Not at all.

When asked about his diet, Keny Guinaudeau, the two-time French champion over 5,000m is far from living the austere life of a monk:

"I work with a nutritionist and pleasure is by no means excluded from the diet. The food intake must not been obstacle. If, on a particular day, I want to eat sugar, deviate from my diet and enjoy myself, that's not a problem. However, as I get closer to a major competition, I will be quite strict regarding my diet in the 3 to 4 months preceding the event. During the rest of the year, I will indulge myself. "

It's always true that if you want to be in shape, you need to eat a balanced diet. A diet that is rich in carbs, vitamins and minerals will have physiological benefits for race walkers.

For your information, the recommendations of the World Health Organisation regarding nutrition recommend that 55 to 75% of one's energy needs should be provided by carbohydrates or starchy foods (rice, pasta, wholemeal bread, leguminous plants, vegetables, fruit). As for the protein and fat intake (meat, eggs, fish, dairy products, dried fruit), they should provide 10 to 15% and 15 to 30% of your energy needs respectively.

A magic bullet?

"It doesn't exist," confirms Corentin Thibaud, the coach of Keny Guinaudeau, "the most important point is to find something that suits you and that meets the needs of your body. This is also what the training sessions are for. To try out new products on the day of the race is very dangerous! "

before the physical effort

Before the physical effort

During the few days preceding the physical effort, drink a lot of water, i.e. about 2L/day, and eat a carb-rich diet in order to build up your glycogen reserves that will deliver the energy to the muscles when it is needed.

On the day of the race, don't forget to eat a rich and balanced breakfast. This will avoid any feeling of heaviness during the event!

Before the physical effort, "avoid consuming too much sugar that would immediately eat into your insulin reserves. Choose carbohydrates instead," warns Frédéric Fauquenoi, the physiotherapist of the French race walking team. The best option is a full, easily digestible meal. Don't depart from your usual eating habits as this could give a shock to your stomach, which might prevent you from finishing.

Finally, insofar as possible, eat about three hours before the physical effort. There is no better way to feel sharp and ready to go.

During the physical effort

In order to manage your nutrition and fluid intake properly, you need to know the duration of the physical effort. Bear in mind that if the physical effort is expected to last less than 40 minutes and you have filled up your reserves of carbs and fluids, any further intake may not be necessary.

However, when you are walking for longer periods, you must take the following three essential items on the road with you:

- water to hydrate the body;

- sodium to compensate for salt losses (perspiration);

- carbs to compensate for energy losses.

"On a speed walk," points out Frédéric, "you can stick to a liquid diet composed of sugary and salty drinks, energy drinks that are rich in carbs and vitamins, and still water."

The right dose will produce the best results.

"As you will be making a sustained effort," continues Frédéric, "the blood flow to the muscles will increase and that to the bowels will decrease making them a bit more irritable. This means that you need to be careful about what you eat and drink. The concentration of the energy and sugary products is liable to stop the stomach from working, which can lead to nausea. This is why it is so important to check the suitability of the products consumed during training."

It's up to you to find the right formula. There is no one-size-fits-all solution in this area. Your needs and capacities are specific to you!

during the physical effort
after the physical effort

After the physical effort

Don't pounce on the sweets just after crossing the finishing line. WHAAAT??!! I'm afraid that your stomach will not like it.

"After a long and intense physical activity, you have a window of about 1½ hours during which the body assimilates nutrients more efficiently," points out Corentin. "Properly hydrating with a fizzy bicarbonate drink and eating food that is rich in carbs, vitamins and minerals during this period will help to regenerate the muscles, rebuild reserves and recover more quickly."

Rice, white meat, vegetables, fruit and dried fruit can be part of the snack you take after the physical activity. Of course, there are more exciting things to eat, but your body needs something soothing, and consuming pizzas, cooked meats and a beer on arrival is likely to irritate the stomach, on the contrary. This is the price to be paid for winning your prize.

You now know the main elements of a good diet and fluid intake for achieving your race walking objectives. There is no magic bullet. Just listen to what your body is telling you during training to find out what is good for you.

Let's get walking.

You arrive at the track, your body feels light, you are targeting a frenetic pace with your legs and your arms are keen to set the tempo of a breakneck walking stride. No question, you're ready for take off!

Feel free to share your race walking questions and/or nutrition and hydration advice with us using the comments!

Emilie Menuet, French 20km race walking champion

So, what are your new personal best times? Share your advice and experiences with us on your race walking speed training and feel free to tell us if you liked this article!