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Pre-Race Fueling

Updated: Jul 8, 2022

Dana Eshelman, MS, RDN

Whether you are a new runner or a seasoned runner hitting your next PR, following proper nutrition the night before and the morning of race day is important to cross the finish line. For many athletes, the question is how to fuel properly without having that undesirable gastric distress. So, let’s dive into what to eat before racing!

A Little About Fueling

Nutrition is important not only the night before and the day of racing, but in those training days leading up to racing. Carbohydrates are the main source of fuel for those miles. Runners, and endurance athletes at large, benefit from a higher carbohydrate intake before, during, and after training and racing. However, fat and protein are still important! As an everyday nutrition plan, a balance of carbohydrate, protein, and fat should be consumed to recover, reap muscle training adaptation benefits, and fuel for both longer and shorter runs. Fat is a source of fuel at lower intensities and at rest while protein provides the building blocks to build muscle, restore, and recover.

Nutrition To-Dos Before A Race

  1. Stick with what you know. Race day is not the time to experiment with new fuel or to drastically switch up your eating habits. You will want to “dress rehearsal” your nutrition plan so that you avoid gastric distress and are adequately fueled. Remember what works for one person does not necessarily work for the next. Think about foods that consistently made you feel good during your training days

  2. Eat at least one hour before you race. Some people will need at least 2-3 hours to eat before their race (especially for races lasting longer than 1 hour), but this is why you practice your fueling technique.

  3. Have lunch be your most carbohydrate-dense and largest meal the day before race day. This allows your body to time to digest nutrients and avoid a heavy stomach in the morning.

  4. Make sure to include carbohydrates in your pre-race meal. Having a combination of both slow and fast carbohydrates are important to have quick energy and to sustain that energy for your race. Slow-release carbs, for sustained energy, are your complex carbohydrates such as oatmeal and sweet potato. Fast-release carbs, for quick energy, are your simple carbohydrates such as juice.

  5. Include some carbohydrates at your dinner the evening before. No need to overdo it here, but including a combination of carbs, lean protein, and healthy fats will help fuel you for your morning race. This will be different for each person and the duration of the race. Again, it is important to rehearse what you would like to try the day before race day.

  6. Keep your pre-race meal simple. Usually you will be racing in the morning, so do not over complicate your meal. Some of my favorite pre-race meals:

    1. ½ c oatmeal + 1 T peanut butter + ½ banana + drizzle of honey

    2. 1 c greek yogurt + ½ c oatmeal + 1 tsp cinnamon + apple slices

    3. 2 slices whole grain toast + 2 T almond butter + 1 banana

  7. Hydrate! Hydration matters just as much as your nutrition. This should be an everyday focus for you. Ideally, you want to drink half of your body weight in pounds in ounces per day. For example, if you are 150 pounds, you will want to have 75 ounces of water per day. Additional fluids should be consumed to accommodate for sweat loss during exercise (16- 20 ounces/ 1 hour). The day before your race, consider having an electrolyte drink such as UCAN hydrate, Arbonne True Sport hydrate or nuun sports hydrate tabs, especially if you are racing in a warmer climate.

  8. Avoid high- fat and high fiber foods before a race. These take longer for you to digest and can sit heavy in your stomach, which may cause that unwanted gastric distress. Start to decrease fat and fiber after 2pm the day before your race.

  9. If caffeine is a normal part of your morning ritual, keep it the same. As mentioned previously, you do not want to change up your routine the morning of your race (or long training days).

  10. Plan ahead for your post- race meal. You’ll want to have 3- 4 grams carbs to 1 gram protein ratio post-race depending on the distance. This can be as simple as a chocolate milk or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Now that you have the nutrition component figured out, you are ready to enter your race energized and ready to CRUSH it!!

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