What to eat before a race, during, and after a race


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If you have read my recent post “Tips for New Runners” you learned about the importance of hydrating and fueling up. Today I will expand a little on these two topics to shed some light on this important topic.

Before you begin the fueling process there are a few things to consider. You should alter your plan based upon the race distance. There is no need to “carb load” for a 5k, or even a 10k actually. We all have a storage of glycogen in our bodies and it usually will last for about about 90 minutes… so if you are running for anytime period less than that,  overloading your system is unnecessary.

Does this mean that you shouldn’t have a higher carb breakfast? Absolutely not. Go for it! But, don’t over do it. So, in summary, tailor these guidelines to YOUR race distance.

With that, I give you some great suggestions for what to eat before, during, and after a race.

1. Don’t wait until the day before the big race to start thinking about fueling your body. Instead, start adding extra calories to your meals in the week leading up to the race. A mix of both carbs and protein is important. Starting a race with a full store of carbs can improve performance and endurance so make sure to fill up on grains, starchy vegetables and fruits the week before the race. Also, as you consume more food during the week before the race, your protein levels should also increase as your portions become larger.

2. Many people make the mistake of waiting until the night before the race to eat their big meal. Try making lunch your big meal of the day before the race, instead. This gives your body more time to process nutrients, lowers the risk of stomach problems and can even help you sleep more soundly. Pasta is still often considered one of the best pre-race meals but instead of having it for dinner, eat it for lunch the day before the race and opt for a lighter dinner that evening, instead.

3. What you choose to eat the day of the race, however, is just as important as what you eat the week before. In the two to four hours before the race, eat protein and simple carbs and drink water or sports beverages. Avoid high fiber, fatty and new foods, which can cause digestion problems. Good choices for pre-race foods include oatmeal (my personal favorite), bread, bagels, cereal, fruit, and small amounts of peanut or almond butter, low-fat cheese, avocado, low-fat milk or a fruit smoothie. The hour prior to the race should just include moderate consumption of water, sports beverages or electrolyte tabs, energy gels or energy chews.

4. During the race, it is recommended that you consume 30-60 grams of carbs per hour. Suggested energy foods to eat during the race include orange slices, energy gels, honey, fig bars, dried fruit or even jelly beans, and gummy bear candies. Make sure to rotate between drinking a cup of water and a cup of sports drink every fifteen minutes to restore fluids and electrolyte levels but to avoid too much sodium from just sports drinks and over-hydration from just water.

5. Following the race, make sure to get a mix of high-carb and moderate-protein into your body as quickly as possible. A 3-to-1 ratio of carbs to protein is recommended. Good food choices at the finish line should contain both simple carbohydrates for quick energy and complex carbohydrates to level out your insulin levels. Your body is nearly completely depleted in carbohydrates and you need to replace them as soon as possible. Suggested food choices following the race are bananas, fruit, yogurt, milk, muffins and bagels. Also, soon after the race, try to eat a full meal that contains lean proteins, complex carbohydrates and some fats. Your body is craving calories and nutrients. Replacing them as soon as possible will aid in your post-race recovery and repair and rebuild any muscle damage.

6. Fluids are just as important as food, after a race, so make sure to consume sports drinks or other beverages containing electrolytes and nutrients, along with water. Drinking just water could further dilute your blood and increase your risk of over-hydration. Some good post-race drinks are sports drinks, electrolyte tabs (like Nuun),  or chocolate milk.

Proper training, along with eating and drinking right before, during and after the race should help you run a successful race and result in a speedy post-race recovery!

Good luck!

-RatherBeRunnin’

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31 thoughts on “What to eat before a race, during, and after a race

  1. Jacob Spradlin says:

    This was just what the doctor ordered. I’ve got my first marathon coming up in August and was wondering what I should be doing from a fueling perspective during the race! Thank you so much.

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  2. themovingmuncher says:

    Thank you! As my first ever race/10k is coming up next week I’ll be sure to put these into practice (sort of gutted as well though – was looking forward to carb loading! I guess I’m just going to have to start running longer distances so that I get to do it 😉 ). Also had a read of your tips for new runners – ace!

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  3. Jennifer says:

    Excellent advice! For those with sensitive tummies (like me) who can’t deal with regular food after a race (especially a long run), drink your calories! The Naked juice drinks with protein are surprisingly easy to handle. Tried one – the mango veggie with protein – after Salt Lake City marathon and it was great! Really helped replenish plus it was packed with Vitamin C! It’s my new go-to post-race nutrition. 🙂

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  4. klmv says:

    Ugh. I’m pretty sure I suck at proper fuelling and hydrating. Sweet things just make me nauseous while running. Right now I’m managing with nothing for my up to 90 minute runs, but I’m pretty scared when I think about those weeks I’ll pass the two hour mark, and *have to* fuel while running.

    I also totally agree. Nothing beats oatmeal.

    The worst thing I’ve had before a run was a cheeseplatter lunch once about three hours before running. Not recommended! Heavy things like that sit like annoying extra baggage in your stomach.

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