What to Eat Before Running a Race

What to Eat Before Running a RaceWhat to Eat Before Running a Race: One to Two Weeks Out

One to two weeks leading up to the race, don’t eat anything new and don’t check out a restaurant you haven’t been to before. This tip may sound obvious, but trust me, there are plenty of runners who tried a new dish and ended up regretting it. Even if you have a strong stomach and regularly eat a variety of foods, you don’t know for sure how a new delicacy will impact your body, especially your digestive system. The last thing any runner wants is to experience nausea or bowel problems the week before or the day of a race. And if you have allergies, being adventurous could lead to disaster, placing you in the emergency room instead of on the starting line. 

Also, you don’t want to risk getting food poisoning. Foods contaminated with bacterial, viral or fungal pathogens can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, fever and other flu-like symptoms. But, many people don’t realize that food poisoning can often be asymptomatic for several days. That is, the symptoms can start within hours after eating the contaminated food or they can take as long as days or even weeks to manifest. And, the typical duration of food poisoning is between one to 10 days. So, dining at a new restaurant or eating an exotic food item can wreak havoc for your pre-race training as well as on racing day.

Aside from the risk of food poisoning, food allergy attacks, and digestive woes, the week leading up to your race, you’ll want to be sure to avoid processed foods and greasy, fried foods. These type of foods take longer to digest and they, too, can cause stomach cramping and diarrhea. Not to mention, these foods contain little to no nutrients and, therefore, will not boost your athletic performance in any way. There is even some evidence that fried foods can alter you mood, and no one wants to be down and depressed before a race.

What to Eat Before Running a Race: Three Days Prior to Race Day

Beginning three days prior to your race, you’ll want to be sure you’re eating healthy dishes with lean proteins and vegetables (which, by the way, you should already be eating while training).  No matter the race distance– marathon, half marathon, 10k, 5k, etc. – fueling your body with healthy nutrients will help enhance your race execution. Try eating organic proteins such as chicken, salmon (wild), or turkey combined with a “rainbow” of vegetables: carrots, greens, squash, sweet potatoes, broccoli, etc. These foods contain vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients such as omega-3’s and amino acids that are excellent for your muscles and immune system. Also, for a sweet treat, drink fruit smoothies with organic whey protein powder instead of desserts. As far as your carbohydrate intake is concerned, you will be getting an adequate amount of carbs via your fruits and vegetables. But, if you’re looking to include more carbs in your meals, go with rice (particularly brown rice or Basmati rice) instead of breads.

What to Eat Before Running a Race: Two Days Prior to Race Day

Two days before your race, at dinnertime, is the best time to “carb-load”.  Personally, I eat either spaghetti or rice and try to include ground turkey or seafood (shrimp, crab, etc.). Your body will need the extra carbs for fuel during your race, especially if you are running a longer distance. Eating carbs two days before your race will allow your body enough time to digest and store them.

Don’t carb-load with whole wheat pasta or whole wheat bread. These contain extra fiber and can potentially cause digestive issues.  If you want to keep your weight under control, you shouldn’t be eating a lot of carbs or pasta regularly, but two days before a race is a time you can “cheat” on your normal, everyday nutrition plan.

Two days before running your race is also the time to start hydrating, especially if you plan to run in the heat or run a longer distance. Ideally, you should consume half your body weight in ounces of water per day. For example, a person weighing 140 pounds should consume 70 ounces of water per day. Try to limit fruit juices (which can cause diarrhea) or sugar-laden beverages (sodas, sports drinks or any juice with high fructose corn syrup).

What to Eat Before Running a Race: One Day Prior to Race Day

The night before a race is not the time to carb-load. Why? The night before a race you probably won’t sleep very well because of nervousness and anxiety. And, anxiety can compromise the digestion process. If digestion does not go well that night, you will wake up feeling very full and uncomfortable. Not a good way to start a race! Instead of carb-loading, again, you need to eat lean proteins and vegetables in moderate portion sizes. And, aim to eat your meal approximately 12 hours before your race. My favorite pre-race dinner is wild salmon or turkey with asparagus or spinach and a baked sweet potato.

What To Eat Before Running a Race: Race Day

Two to three hours before the race start, eat your pre-race breakfast. This probably means getting up extra early, but this will allow your body to adequately process your breakfast (in time to use the restroom before the race begins).  Preferably, you should eat a healthy protein such as organic eggs or drink an organic whey protein smoothie. But, whatever you eat, make sure it is your regular breakfast; that is, eat what you are used to eating so you don’t shock your digestive system. If you try something new, it may cause stomach problems while you are running your race and you don’t need that for sure.

So, there you have it – some quick and easy tips about what to eat before running a race. If you have any questions or comments, post a note to me below in the Comments section. I’d love to chat with you about your pre-race nutrition and training goals!

Good luck racing!

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UHN Staff

University Health News is produced by the award-winning editors and authors of Belvoir Media Group’s Health & Wellness Division. Headquartered in Norwalk, Conn., with editorial offices in Florida, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, … Read More

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