Whether you stick to a carefully detailed workout program or have a more casual approach to your training leading up to a race, you’ll be wise to also put some thought and purpose into your nutrition before, during, and after the event so you can do your best. A well-planned nutrition strategy will support you both physically and mentally and literally fuel you toward your goal.
Determining what ultimately works best for you to ingest during the race might mean the difference between a decent race and a great race. To figure things out, it really helps to know what works best for you during training. That’s why you should be thinking about race day nutrition well in advance of your event and should take time to experiment with different food and beverage choices.
Also, be aware that depending on the distance of a race, how you eat and hydrate can impact your performance to varying degrees. It should be clear that there is more to consider for a marathon than for a 5k but there are some principles that apply across the board. Since Pacers Running mainly hosts short and mid distance races up to 10 miles, the following nutrition advice is intended to apply to those distances.
Before the Race:
First of all, eat sensible leading up to the event. That old advice about carbo loading– not a humongous difference maker for a short or mid distance race. But, you’ll definitely benefit from building up your glycogen stores in advance. Instead of gobbling down a hefty plate of pasta the night before, take in moderate amounts of carbs a few days leading up to the race. Of course, it will be smart to avoid foods that could leave you clamoring for the next available restroom on race day instead of focusing on the competition. Eat a balanced meal that is easy to digest and don’t risk anything by introducing something new to your diet.
The day before a big race is the time to properly hydrate your body in preparation for what lies ahead. Drink fluids you normally would to stay hydrated. This can include water, sports drinks, juice, even coffee and tea.
For some of us, it is hard enough getting up early on race morning. But, it is helpful to get a very early start and take in some calories and liquids around two hours before your event (consider waking up early, eating, and going back to bed if you prefer not to miss out on sleep). Slow release carbs such as bagels, toast, or oatmeal topped with fruit will make great choices. Avoid fatty foods or anything else that could upset your stomach. If solids don’t sit well, try a smoothie.
You’ll also want to hydrate after a night’s sleep. But don’t overdo it—taking on too much water before a race could leave you feeling bloated and will also dilute your electrolytes and leave you susceptible to cramping. Drink when you get up to give your body time to process the fluid. Then, drink a small amount more shortly before the starting gun.
During the Race:
Depending on the amount of time you will be exerting yourself, you can consider taking on calories during your run. But, generally, it’s not too important, or perhaps detrimental, unless you’re racing for longer than 60-90 minutes. After that point, you should consider taking on carbs every 45 minutes or so. You can eat “real” food items such as fruit and nuts or any of the many varieties of convenient nutritional items such as bars, gels, or gummies which are small and easy to carry. Combine that with water or a sports drink (for replacing electrolytes) to keep you going.
Again, for a short or mid distance race, you may not need to eat much based on the amount of time you are actually out on the course. But, do be sure to grab what’s offered at the water stations—you don’t want to wait until you feel thirsty to drink!
After the Race:
You’ve finished, but that doesn’t mean your planning comes to an end. It will be important to replenish your body with post-race carbohydrates and protein to get the recovery process started. Bananas are often given out after races because they give a good supply of carbohydrates and potassium to prevent muscle cramps. Then, when you get home, have a good victory meal.
Again, if you start planning your race day nutrition well in advance of your race, you will have opportunity to narrow down what works best. Then, for your big day, you are sure to have success!