Whether you’re prepping for your first 5K race or your first marathon, getting proper nutrition should be one of the top priorities in your training regimen. After months of workouts and early morning runs, taking some time to create a great meal plan before race day will ensure that all your hard work will pay off. To help you get a better idea of which foods you should enjoy (and avoid), here are a few expert tips on how to choose nutrient-dense foods before, during, and after your race.
24 Hours Before Race Day
Even if you’re relatively new to running, you’ve probably heard of the phrase “carb-loading.” Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean you should eat an enormous pasta dinner the night before your race and call it good. Treating yourself to such a heavy meal will likely cause you to wake up feeling bloated, uncomfortable, or even nauseous; in other words, definitely not a great way to start a race!
Instead of “carb-loading” in one big meal, nutritionists advise getting carbohydrates from a variety of foods over a few days. You can begin adding more carbohydrates to your diet up to three days before your race to slowly build up your glycogen reserves and avoid “hitting the wall” on race day. Add one of these foods to each of your meals to boost your carb intake gradually:
- Rice, oatmeal, quinoa, or pasta.
- Baked potatoes or sweet potatoes.
- Whole grain bread or tortillas.
- Yogurt with granola.
- Juice or sports drinks
- Fruits and vegetables (just be aware of fiber content!).
3-4 Hours Before Your Run
The morning of race day should include a nutritious breakfast that’s low in fat, low in fiber, and high in carbohydrates. Avoid eating processed meats, such as bacon or sausage, and stay away from heavy foods like donuts and pastries until after your race. Foods like these can weigh you down and make you feel lethargic since your body has to work harder to digest fatty foods. Instead, opt for simple foods you’re familiar with, such as:
- Toast or bagel with peanut butter.
- Banana and a granola bar.
- Oatmeal or low-fiber
- Eggs or yogurt.
During the Race
“If your race takes more than one hour, you’ll need to drink during it,” says Master of Human Nutrition and triathlete Kaisa Sali. She recommends taking small sips of water every 15-20 minutes, or at each aid station, in order to avoid dehydration. If you’ll be running a half or full marathon, Sali says it’s a good idea to take in anywhere from 30 to 90 grams of carbohydrates per hour, depending on the individual’s weight. These can be taken in by gels, sports drinks, bananas, or sports bars.
After you’ve crossed the finish line, it’s wise to grab a sports drink to help you replace fluid, proteins, and carbs. Snacks like recovery bars, milkshakes, smoothies, cold cereal, and chicken sandwiches are a few great options that can boost your energy and begin repairing damaged muscle tissues. Then, you can feel free to indulge in your favorite meal—you deserve it!