Eating the right meals, the day before and the morning of a race is crucial. Testing certain foods and meal timing before a long run should be part of your training plan. Physical and endurance training is very important, but making sure that your body is properly fueled before a race is just as important. For runners who haven’t eaten enough healthy foods and nutrients, your body will have to work harder, you will feel weaker and your run will be not only less efficient, but also less enjoyable. Every runner is different, it is important to know your own body type and limits. You’re running distance and intensity will affect your meal type and timing. The body’s digestion and nutrients absorption takes about 6-8 hours, so your last meal on the evening of a morning race will be the main fueling that will support your stamina through the race. Our muscles use mostly glycogen to power every contraction, and the glycogen is stored in our muscle and liver tissue. Running fast short distance, our body has enough stored glycogen, but for run over 2:30-3:00 hours our body will get depleted of glycogen, and once it is depleted while running it is very challenging to be able to refuel. Our body can only store about 2,000 calories. For runners doing long-distance runs at a fast pace, the body mostly relies on glycogen, for runners at a normal pace, the body will use both glycogen and fat for energy, which allows more solid food consumption.
What to eat the day before a race, especially the night before is very important, it plays a major role in how your stomach will react the next day, and how strong your energy levels will be. After you have figured out what type of foods your body is happy with, then you can prepare your pre-race dinner with the right foods. Before a race, the old trend of 3 days of carb loading hasn’t been as popular due to some side effects. Eating high levels of refined carbohydrates which contain high glycemic index within a few days, will result in a spike and then crash in your blood sugar level. Our body can only process a certain amount of carbohydrates at a time. The ideal pre-race meals should include less processed sources of carbohydrates from whole foods with lower glycemic index. These types of healthy carbohydrates will provide a steady stream of glucose, which will stabilize your blood sugar level. More steady blood sugar will decrease the chances of waking up feeling famished and then bonking during the race.
What to eat a few days before a race:
Carbohydrates- Eat some simple, easy to digest natural carbs from whole foods like sweet potatoes, white potatoes, rice, squash, pumpkin, oats, healthy bread, natural fruits, healthy pasta. Try to avoid eating high fiber foods the day before the race.Protein- Include some lean protein, the day before a race, avoid eating beef as it is harder to digest. Include some fish, tuna, chicken, pork. Make sure that you don’t eat deep fried foods, again these are more difficult for the body to process and digest. The day of the race you want to feel lighter, more energetic, not heavy and bloated.
Vegetables and Fruits- Two days before a race avoid eating cruciferous vegetables (Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, bok choy, kale, cabbage), these can cause bloating and gas, but they should be part of your regular healthy diet. Include some green vegetables, lettuce, avocado, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, zucchini, carrots, mushrooms. Eating fresh fruits will provide lots of vitamins, minerals, hydration and healthy carbohydrates.
Healthy Fat- A few days before a race you should lower your fat intake. You should focus on easier to digest foods the day before a race. Avocados are one of the healthy fat you can eat before the day before a race. If you eat a healthy daily diet, your body will not be depleted of nutrients, you don’t have to change your diet before a race, just adding a small amount of healthy easy to process carbohydrates, lean protein and lower fat will avoid any digestive issues. Eat a lighter dinner to make sure you are hungry in the morning for some breakfast.
You want to make sure that your body is trained with the pre-race breakfast fueling, so that you know what your body can handle and what to eat so you feel good and have enough energy. Again, make sure your find easy to digest foods so you don’t have any stomach issue at the start of the race. Focus on easy to digest carbohydrates, popular pre-run breakfast foods are bananas, bread or bagel with nut butter, honey, oatmeal with berries or banana, pancakes with fruits, rice, or noodles.
Pre-race dinner- If your race starts at 8:00am or earlier, make sure you have an early dinner no later than 6-6:30pm to make sure that when you wake up you feel a bit hungry.
Pre-race breakfast- Try to eat your breakfast 1 ½- 2 hours before the race. If your race starts at night, have a light dinner 3 hours before the race.
Eat Well, Feel Well, Great Race!