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How to Stuff Your Face Before a Race

Coaching

Well, it's less stuffing and more strategising … but here's your guide to fuelling well so you can run at your peak.

Last updated: November 2, 2021
6 min read
What to Eat Before a Race
What to Eat Before a Race

If there were a food-delivery app just for runners, pre-race meals would be, hands down, the most popular option. It would be nice to have someone craft your perfect plate for you so you could direct your mental energy elsewhere (like, to your upcoming event).

Until that app exists, we're here to serve you with the sports-nutrition intel you need to take race-day meal planning into your own hands. You can thank us later.

What to Eat in the Days Before a Race

When you're training, you should aim to get more than half of your calories from carbohydrates, a quarter from protein, and the rest from fat, says Ryan Maciel, RD, the Head Performance-Nutrition Coach for Precision Nutrition.

Carbs, which are stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen, should make up a large portion of your diet because they're your body's most readily accessible source of energy. That's why carb-loading is a go-to method for runners who want to top off their glycogen stores before a big event.

But take your fork out of your farfalle. Carb-loading does not mean inhaling straight carbs for the entire month before your event. Or, perhaps worse, only the night before it. If you're running a race in under 90 minutes, like a 5K or 10K, you don't even need to overstock on carbs, says Monique Ryan, RDN, a sports nutritionist who advises professional and endurance athletes and teams. And if you are running a longer race, like a half-marathon or marathon, there's a narrow window in which to do it.

About three or four days before your event, shift the makeup of your meals to 70 or 75 percent carbs, still leaving room for protein and healthy fat, says Maciel. Your body can't top off glycogen stores in one night, and overdoing it on Cs right before your race could leave you feeling sluggish, the opposite of what you want.

Ideally, you'll "train" for this kind of fuelling the same way you do for the race itself—especially in the days leading up to some of your longest runs—so you know what's going to work for you, says Ryan. Come race day, you don't want to face any surprises before (or worse, after) crossing the starting line.

"You don't want to try anything new before a race".

Ryan Maciel RD, Head Performance-Nutrition Coach for Precision Nutrition

What to Eat the Night Before

The good news: If you carb-load in the days leading up to your race, you can just eat normally the day before, because your glycogen levels are already at their peak, says Ryan. This also helps ensure you'll wake up hungry, not bloated, and ready for your pre-run meal (more on that in a minute) on race morning.

Eating "normally" means focusing on a balanced dinner with that ideal ratio of macronutrients—more than half of your calories from carbs, a quarter from protein, and the rest from fat—and avoiding the temptation to double your usual portion. No matter which foods are on your plate, you should feel confident in your meal because, remember, you've already tested eating it the night before your longest runs.

What to Eat Before a Race

What (and When) to Eat the Morning of a Race

Breakfast on race morning is tricky. You want to eat enough to properly fuel your race, but you also don't want to eat so much that you can feel food sloshing around in your stomach while you're running. The fact that most races start early in the morning, when people aren't even hungry yet, adds to the challenge.

If you can wake up early enough that you're eating breakfast at least two hours before you're due to run, have a normal, well-balanced meal, says Maciel, with that go-to ratio of carbs, protein and fat. A nice, easy option: an egg with toast and avocado and a side of fruit, or oatmeal with peanut butter, banana and flax seeds.

If you don't want to get up that early (we get it), eat a mini version of this meal an hour before you start running. Smoothies are also a good way to go, since liquid tends to be easier on your stomach, says Maciel. Make sure you include a healthy source of complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, as these take longer for your body to break down than simple ones do, meaning the fuel should hit your bloodstream right when you need the extra oomph during your run. Think some version of oats, peanut butter, berries and milk (cow's or an alternative).

What Not to Eat on Race Day

You may have running friends who swear by a pre-race fried-egg sandwich, and others who promise that's the worst thing you could eat. There are no "wrong" or "bad" foods to eat before an event, says Maciel, just ones that do or don't work for you. The only rule you should stick to? "You don't want to try anything new before a race", says Maciel. "You should be doing what you've practised over the past several months of training". Why? Putting it kindly, stomachs can be unpredictable, especially when they're filled with race-day butterflies (those starting-line porta-loos are proof).

That said, the majority of runners do well when they avoid foods that are heavy in fat or fibre or are overly greasy, says Maciel (so maybe rethink that bacon). These take longer to digest, which can overtax your stomach and cause gut problems while you're running.

And Don't Forget About Water …

Food matters, but to get the most out of your training, you have to hit the H20. You should be hydrating all the time, and particularly in the weeks leading up to your event, says Maciel. You can't carb- or water-load: "Chugging water the night before a race is not going to make up for not hydrating enough all those other days", he says. In other words, if you trained while slightly dehydrated, you just won't have the fitness you could have had if you'd taken in more fluids. Plus, chugging too much the night before or the morning of the run will likely make your stomach slosh—and just make you have to pee more than usual.

Some runners like to make a point to increase and track their water intake every day during the week of their race, and others like to add an electrolyte supplement the night prior to boost their hydration even more. As long as you're drinking at least eight glasses a day (pro tip: set a reminder to drink a glass every hour of your workday), you should be in good shape, says Maciel. Like training for the perfect pre-race meal, you want to train for your ideal level of hydration too.

Now that you know what to eat (and what not to), maybe you should go invent that meal-delivery app. After you crush your race, of course.

Words: Ashley Mateo Illustration: Kezia Gabriella

What to Eat Before a Race

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