Smart food choices in the right quantities and at key times can make all the difference during races. Learn the essentials from a marathon winner to fuel your personal best!
1. Train Your Gut
Think about what you’ll eat on race day a couple of months before the event so that your nutrition is locked into your routine well before the starter’s gun goes off. About eight weeks before your race, figure out which sports nutrition products settle best in your stomach. The only way to do this is to experiment.
Simulate your race-day nutrition plan during your long runs, aiming for 30-60 grams of carbohydrates, 24-48 ounces of water, and 400-800 milligrams of sodium. Hit those benchmarks every hour to keep your legs moving at full pace.
However, start on the lower end of the range and see how you feel. Taking in too much could slow down digestion and absorption and actually give you an upset stomach, which is the last thing you want on race day.
2. Go All-Natural During Race Week
During taper week, where endurance athletes cut their training by 40-60 percent, the goal is to fully recover from all the hard miles you’ve put in.
Avoid any foods that fall short on nutrition, and opt for nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Shoot for 70 percent of your total calories from all-natural, high-carbohydrate foods like sweet potatoes, parsnips, and pumpkin.
3. Shun The Scale
Don’t be alarmed if you gain weight during a taper week. For every gram of stored glycogen (energy), the body stores 3 grams of water, which is used to help convert the stored carbs into energy once you race. So drink plenty of water and relax, because you’ll be back to your old number pos- run.
4. Plan Your Final Meal
Within a month of the race, you should have your race-day meal plan completely dialed in. Choose from one of these two macro options:
- Eat 1-2 grams of carbohydrates per 2 pounds of body weight 1-2 hours before the race.
- If you know you take longer to comfortably digest your food, eat 3-4 grams of carbohydrates per 2 pounds of body weight 3-4 hours before the race.
Most races take place in the morning, so practice eating a variety of breakfast foods before your long runs to see how they digest, and avoid high-fat foods; fat takes a long time to digest. Good options include bananas, toast, oatmeal, bagels, fruit, cereal, potatoes, and rice.
5. Get Hot And Cold With Hydration
If you normally sip a latte in the mornings, then go for it on race day. Hot tea or coffee often helps to keep you regular and clear out your bowels so you won’t have to lug around the excess weight. Be sure to hydrate with 1.5-2.5 liters of fluid 2-3 hours before the race so you can get rid of it before the gun but still be fully hydrated.
6. Load Up On Nitrates
Nitrates, found in plant foods like beets, arugula, and Swiss chard, are converted in the body into nitric oxide, a potent vasodilator that increases blood flow to the heart and working muscles. A good idea is to take or drink 8 fluid ounces of a performance juice like Beet Performer every day for seven days prior to your race, and another 8 fluid ounces the morning of the race to put yourself in the best position to finish strong.
7. Be A Plain Jane On Race Day
Avoid anything new on race day, even if the delicious smells from the bakery en route to the race are making you feel weak at the knees. Eat the breakfast you have perfected over the last month at a time that works best for you, and trust it to help you run strong.
8. Eat Your Pre-Race Dinner Early
Eat an early, high-carbohydrate, low-fat meal to clock enough digestion time. Avoid heartburn foods, which are anything spicy, high in fat, deep-fried, or highly acidic, like tomatoes, chocolate, or mint.
Foods low in fiber, like regular spaghetti, can also help prevent the dreaded runner’s trots and intestinal cramping and bloating, so they’re wise choices if you want your dignity intact when you cross the finish line.
9. Carb Up 30-Minutes Prior
To top off your energy stores to their maximum, eat 15-30 grams of carbs within 30 minutes of the event in the form of a gel, chew, or sports drink. It’s one of the few times gummy bears are firmly on the menu!
Master The Running Must-Knows
Now that you’ve got your nutrition down, here are a few housekeeping tips to ensure you run strong the entire race:
- Always pack a spare pair of laces: If one of your shoelaces snaps before the finish line, a backup pair can mean the difference between starting the race five minutes late—or not at all.
- Place a toilet paper roll in your pre-race bag: There’s little worse than waiting in the porta potty line for 30 minutes before the race than discovering there’s no roll to help out with the pre-race nerves.
- Tape up: Tape your feet to avoid blisters. Also consider sticking Band-Aids over your nipples for a long race; they’ll rub and possibly bleed, thanks to the sweating and friction.
- Stay off your feet pre-race: At the starting line, try to keep off your feet to conserve energy. Take an old shirt, jacket, or even garbage bag to sit on whenever you can.
- Personalize your journey: Name each of the final miles after someone you admire. That way, when the going gets tough, there’s no way you’ll give up in their patch.