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What to eat the day of a race

Christina Strudwick, MS, RD, CSSD, LD is a Sports Dietitian with a focus on helping others reach their goals. She is passionate about pushing athletes of all levels to meet their individual goals by focusing on body composition, meal pla...

Diet tips for race day

To make sure your body is properly fueled to run a race, you'll want to start prepping your body a week before. Here's everything you need to know about what to eat the week before, the night before and the morning of your race.
Runner eating apple

Nutrient timing is crucial on race day. Throughout your training and for each specific training run, it's important to test out meals, supplements and timing to find what works best for your body. Become familiar with your nutrition routine long before competition day to eliminate stress.

One week before the race

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The week before the race, the central focus is to hydrate and fuel for competition day.

Drink extra water and fluids during the week leading up to race day. Aim for 1 ounce per pound of body weight every day. Avoid alcohol in excess (more than one drink per occasion for women) to prevent dehydration. If you're experiencing cramping, it may be necessary to salt your food and eat to replenish electrolytes lost in sweat, including sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium. Sports drinks provide these nutrients, but the body metabolizes them from food more efficiently. This list can help you choose the right foods:

  • Foods high in sodium: sun-dried tomatoes, table salt, beef jerky, pickles, pretzels
  • Foods high in potassium: avocado, sweet potato, mushrooms, banana
  • Foods high in magnesium: spinach, pumpkin or sesame seeds, black beans, almonds
  • Foods high in calcium: yogurt, sesame seeds, spinach, cheese, milk

Make sure your meals are balanced with carbohydrates, protein and fat. The day before the race, it is extremely important to include high carbohydrates in all meals to raise glycogen levels (carbohydrates stored in the muscle). If your event is longer than 90 minutes, it's a good idea to increase carbohydrate intake consistently three to five days prior to competition.

The day before your race

Oatmeal with fruit

Breakfast

  • Oatmeal with low-fat milk, fresh fruit and scrambled eggs
  • Smoothie with dry oats, fresh or frozen fruit, Greek yogurt and almond butter, 100 percent juice
  • Breakfast sandwich on whole-grain English muffin or toast topped with egg(s), avocado, 2 percent cheese and a side of fresh fruit with low-fat milk to drink

Stir fry with brown rice

Lunch and dinner

  • Whole-grain pasta with lean meatballs and marinara sauce, plus a side salad
  • Turkey or chicken sandwich on whole-grain bread, fresh fruit and yogurt
  • Brown rice stir-fry with chicken or lean beef, mixed vegetables and fresh fruit
  • Big spinach salad with eggs, quinoa and fresh fruit
  • Homemade pizza with a side salad

The day of your race

Consider your current habits. Are you the runner who gets up early to fuel with breakfast or do you grab something to eat in the car as you dash out the door to meet your running group? Or are you the runner who likes to run on empty?

There's a solution for every type of runner.

For those who like a solid breakfast: Try eating two hours prior to the race. Try a 300- to 500-calorie meal with 60 to 120 grams of carbohydrates and 16 to 20 ounces of fluid. Avoid high-fat or fiber to prevent gastrointestinal (GI) issues. For many people, their normal breakfast can serve as the perfect pre-race meal. Good options:

  • One bagel with 1 to 2 tablespoons of cream cheese, one or two scrambled eggs, 1 cup of fresh fruit, 6 to 8 ounces of 100 percent juice
  • One packet of oatmeal with one tablespoon peanut or almond butter, one (6-ounce) non-fat Greek yogurt, one banana
  • One to two cups of cereal with low-fat milk, one or two bananas

If you like to eat something on the way to the run: Try eating one hour prior to the race. Try a 200- to 250-calorie snack with 60 grams of carbohydrates and 10 ounces of fluid. If you have fewer than 60 minutes, stick with something liquid. Try one of these:

  • One bagel with 1 or 2 tablespoons of cream cheese
  • Two bananas or 2 cups of cut fresh fruit
  • Smoothie with 4 ounces of 100 percent juice, 4 ounces of water, one banana, 3 to 4 ounces of Greek yogurt

If you normally run on empty: Try fueling the night before. Aim to get in a good amount of carbohydrates and moderate protein with a before-bed snack to prevent low blood sugar the next morning. By eating a meal or snack before bed the night before, a small snack prior to the race can help "top off the tank." Try a 100-calorie snack the morning of the race with 10 ounces of fluid, such as:

  • Peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole grain with low-fat milk, 1 to 2 cups of cereal with low-fat milk, mixed fruit with Greek yogurt, pasta with lean meatballs, rice-based stir-fry
  • 100- to 150-calorie pre-race snacks: One large banana, one granola bar, half a bagel, 4 to 6 ounces of regular yogurt, one cup of dry cereal, one-quarter cup of raisins, half a banana and honey sandwich

Race-recovery meals

After a successful race, make sure you start the recovery process immediately! Recover with 10 to 20 grams of protein and 20 to 60 grams of carbohydrates within 30 to 45 minutes after your race. Many times, the race will have sponsors that provide food on site. Grab a banana, yogurt or sports drink to start the recovery process immediately. This is will help hydrate, reduce inflammation and prevent extreme soreness.

More running tips

How to train for your first half marathon
What to eat the day of a training run
Getting the most out of your running routine

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