Pre Race Nutrition: Eat Your Way To The Finish Line

It’s race day. You’ve trained hard in the months leading up to this, monitoring everything from your water intake to your sleep carefully. Now, with only a few hours before the event it’s time for breakfast and you’re faced with several choices. You know that what you do here in the kitchen could be a complete game-changer for you but there are a lot of different ideas swimming around in your head. Are you so nervous that you skip the meal altogether, maybe out of fear of upsetting your stomach? Or do you go to the opposite extreme and fuel up with a big, heavy breakfast? Another important and oft forgotten question is: What was your dinner like the night before?

Your nutrition the night before and the morning of your big race could have a massive impact on your performance.  So, what should your meals look like?


The Night Before

The night-before-carb-feast has been in the runner’s arsenal for a long time. The idea behind the practice is to load up your glycogen stores to make sure you have plenty of fuel during the race. This practice has been proven time and again, through both clinical research and anecdotal evidence. However, exercise physiologist and consultant for the American Council on Exercise; Monique Ryan, offers a few cautions when it comes to this practice.

Ryan suggests sticking with cooked vegetables, rather than raw. The unbroken fiber found in raw veggies could leave your with digestive upset that will slow you down come race time. Also, limit your protein intake during this last supper for the same reasons.


The Morning Of

This is the time to have your breakfast. Since you packed up on carbs the night before, this meal is all about topping off your tank. Remember that while you’re sleeping, you are also fasting and using up some of those carbs. Since that’s the case, you need foods that breakdown quickly and easily so avoid fibrous, heavy offerings like granola. Speaking to the American Council on Exercise, Fabio Comana, M.A., M.S suggests using a ratio of one-part protein for every four-parts carbohydrates.

How about your morning coffee ritual? If you normal drink coffee, stick with it. Not only could the potential withdrawal symptoms slow you down but, research suggests your regular caffeination could give you a needed edge. Caffeine spares your carb stores, encouraging your body to burn fat instead. It’s also a well-known stimulant that can improve your reaction time, awareness and over-all performance.

If you’re preparing for a long event, something lasting more than 2 hours, sip on a sports drink in the hour before the race. This will keep you hydrated, make sure you have enough electrolytes and add to your blood-sugar levels.


Trying New Things

The morning of the race is not the time to try new foods or supplements, nor is the evening before. Stick to foods that you know and enjoy, that you can be confident won’t upset your digestive system.

Some recent research has suggested that eating a fatty breakfast the day of the race, after a carby dinner the night before, can help to save your glycogen stores. But more research is needed to really understand whether or not this protocol works. If you want to test it out, do so during training. Basically, don’t trying anything new on race day.