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What to Eat Before a Race

By Nike Running

What to Eat Before a Race

To notch your peak performance, make sure your fueling is as dialed-in as your training.

The day of your event, you can’t prevent a sudden downpour at the starting line or crowds of runners throwing elbows after the gun. What you absolutely can control: Consuming the ideal fuel to power you through your run. Here’s what to grab.

Knowing what to eat and drink before a race requires a little bit of sports nutrition know-how and a lot of trial and error. While there is no best menu of pre-race meals, these guidelines can help you craft the best fueling strategy for you. Let’s get at ’em.

What to Eat in the Days Before a Race

During 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 the 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 also why carb-loading is a go-to method for runners who want to top off their glycogen stores before a big event.

“During training, you should aim to get more than half of your calories from carbohydrates, a quarter from protein and the rest from fat”

Ryan Maciel, Head Performance-Nutrition Coach for Precision Nutrition

But this doesn’t mean inhaling loafs of bread and bowls of cereal for the month leading up to a race, or carb-loading for a 5K. Consuming more carbohydrates is meant for races that last longer than 90 minutes, says Monique Ryan, RDN, a sports nutritionist with more than 25 years of experience advising professional and endurance athletes and teams. And 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. This is instead of slamming a plate of spaghetti the night before the race, says Maciel. “Do that, and you’ll probably feel sluggish the next day, and it’s not actually going to increase your glycogen stores. Your body can’t do that in one night,” he says.

If you’re preparing for a longer race, practice this kind of fueling in your training — say, 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 won’t face any surprises before hitting the starting line.

What to Eat Before a Race

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 topped off, says Ryan. This also helps ensure you’ll wake up hungry, not bloated, on race morning and ready for your pre-run meal.

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 you’ve already tested eating it the night before your longest runs.

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 run, but you also don’t want to eat so much that you can feel it in your stomach while you’re racing. 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 set to run, have a normal, well-balanced meal, says Maciel (picture that go-to ratio of carbs, protein and fat).

If you don’t want to get up that early, eat a mini version of this meal an hour before you start running. “We generally recommend something liquid at this point,” says Maciel. Be sure to include a good source of complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains. Complex carbs take longer for your body to break down than simple ones do, which means the fuel should hit your bloodstream during your run, right when you need the extra oomph. (For a go-to shake, combine oats, peanut butter, berries and soy or cow’s milk.)

What to Eat Before a Race

What to Avoid Eating

You may have running friends who swear by a pre-race fried-egg sandwich, and others who swear that’s the worst thing you could eat. There are no “wrong” or “bad” foods to have before an event, just ones that do or don’t work for you. The only rule: “You don’t want to try anything new before a race,” says Maciel. “You should be doing what you’ve practiced over the past several months of training.”

That said, the majority of runners do well when they avoid pre-race meals heavy in fat or fiber or overly greasy, says Maciel. These take longer to digest, which can overtax your stomach and cause gut problems while you’re running.

“You don’t want to try anything new before a race”

Ryan Maciel, Head Performance-Nutrition Coach for Precision Nutrition

How to Hydrate

To get the most out of your training, you should be hydrating well all the time, and particularly in the weeks leading up to your event, says Maciel. “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.

What to Eat Before a Race

During the race, stay on top of your hydration by taking a few sips every 15 to 20 minutes from a water bottle or a swig of something every time you pass an aid station, and make it a sports drink if you’ll be running for 90 minutes or more, Maciel recommends. These contain electrolytes, like sodium and potassium, that you lose through sweat. Those are key to keep you running strong — and able to fist-pump your way over the finish line.

What to Eat Before a Race

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What to Eat Before a Race

Nike Run Club

Your perfect running partner.

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