You’ve done the work and you are getting closer and closer to the magical date: race day. As you inch closer you may have questions in your head. One big question many people ask themselves involves the perfect prerace meals.
How and when you fuel your body are important questions that matter in the grand scheme of things. Most people follow some basic concepts in fueling in the weeks, days and hours leading up to the big race day.
The Distance Matters
While most runners fuel with carbs, how much and how long you load with carbs depends on how far you are racing. For example, for most runners, a 5K does not require a lot of carb-loading ahead of time.
If you are racing a marathon, on the other hand, you will focus on carbohydrate-heavy meals for a full week preceding the race.
What Should You Eat Before a 5k?
If you have been training for a 5K you probably have figured out that you don’t need a lot of calories in your body on race day morning. Most runners can eat a fairly light breakfast and run quite well.
When choosing what you will eat the morning of the race the first rule of thumb is not to do anything new on race day. If you typically have oatmeal in the morning before you run, then it is a good idea to do the same on race morning.
If you are new to running and trying to figure out some morning running fuel, here are some ideas:
✓ Oatmeal with berries
✓ Toast with peanut butter
✓ Bagel with cream cheese or nut butter
✓ Banana and almond butter
You may have noticed a few things about those combinations. First, very few of the options have dairy. That is because for many runners, dairy triggers stomach issues on a run morning. Now it is important to note that other runners enjoy a bagel and yogurt before a run or race. Everyone is not the same!
It is a good idea to avoid things like whole nuts, citrus fruit or anything dense with fiber in 12-24 hours before an important race. For example, a giant salad the night before will send some people into gastro distress. A meal with a heavy focus on red meat could also be a problem for some runners.
Carb Loading for Race Week
Especially if you are running a half or full marathon, carb-loading begins the week of your race. One week before your race you should start to plan your prerace meals. You should focus on lean meats, fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy carbohydrates that come from real food like potatoes.
Two to three days before your race most runners switch to a very carb-heavy diet. In this time, 75-85% of food comes from carbs. Although bagels and cereals taste delicious, try to make sure that more of these carbs come from whole grain foods.
Healthy grains include quinoa, wild rice, and barley. You can also add fruit and vegetable carbs like corn, carrots, sweet potatoes and other foods. That is not to say there isn’t a place for pasta, there certainly is!
What Should You Eat the Day Before the Race
Pasta and marinara sauce with a lean piece of meat such as chicken is among the perfect prerace meals for supper the night before a big race. Some people actually prefer to eat their big meal earlier the night before a goal race and eat lighter in the evening. That allows for adequate digestion.
One of my favorite methods of carb-loading includes eating pasta with chicken around the noon hour the day before a race. Then, at suppertime, I eat whole wheat bread or bagels with peanut butter, some fruit and other light foods. Since I have some digestive issues, this sets me up for success if I am running 10 miles or more. Prerace dinner is very important to consider and plan out ahead of time. Do not need anything to chance!
Morning Prerace Meals
Depending on what time you are racing, you start with that and work your way back. If the race is at 8:00 a.m., most people prefer to eat between two and three hours before the race.
My favorite race morning breakfasts include steel-cut oatmeal, whole-grain toast with banana or a small amount of protein such as lean ham with toast.
If I eat around 5:00 a.m. and race at 8:00 I may then want a small something to eat about thirty minutes before gun time. For me, this tends to be something easy to digest such as a granola or cereal bar.
What Should I Eat 6 Hours Before a Race?
Have you ever participated in an evening race? Some races are evening races. For example, I was part of an evening, pop-up beer garden series last summer. With the races starting at 7:00 p.m., I started at race time and worked my way back.
For lunch (noon or 1:00) I had macaroni and cheese made from wholegrain pasts. I ordered this light on the cheese with baked chicken on top. Even though the restaurant had my favorite soda (cherry ginger ale!) I passed on this in favor of water.
To make sure I was adequately fueled right before the race, I had a light meal around 4:30 or 5:00. Toast, lightly buttered with a dash of cinnamon and sugar was just what I needed. I had a bit of a sugar-free endurance drink, such as Powerade Zero or Gatorade Zero, and that was my prerace meal.
There are many people who have joined the Keto revolution and are left contemplating what this means for them on race day or as they prepare their prerace meals. The premise of keto is to eat very low carb and use healthy fats as a lever to keep you feeling less hungry but not lacking energy.
Many people who eat keto and also participate in endurance events do use fats for fuel for runs. However, others find they do need carb cycling for running success.
People eating keto (and trying to actively lose weight) usually stay under 30 net carbs per day. Those trying to maintain their Keto diet stay under 50-60 carbs per day. An active endurance athlete might stay under 100 carbs on days they are running long or have a challenging workout on the schedule.
If you eat higher carbs on some days, strictly those of challenging workouts, this is carb cycling and it works for many runners.
The best advice we at Rockay can give you is to experiment with your fueling and not to wait until race day to do so. The more times you practice with your food, considering both the day before and race day, the greater your chance for success. Leave no surprises related to nutrition on race day. Your body is counting on you to help set it up for success!