by Reilly Brown, RD/Sports Nutritionist >> Request an Appointment
You've trained for months. Your lucky outfit is ready. Your shoes are out. Now, it's time for the race.
What should you eat on your big day? You don't want all of those hard days of training to go to waste because you fueled incorrectly! With those pre-race jitters, eating before a race may be tough, but it is vital. Getting a balanced, nutrient-rich breakfast before the race is ESSENTIAL to preventing a mid-race slump and ensuring a consistently high energy level throughout the race.
Ideally, you want a pre-race meal 3-4 hours before start time with foods that are:
High in carbohydrate (whole wheat bread/waffles/English muffin)
Moderate in protein (eggs, nut butters, turkey bacon, protein powders)
Moderate/low in healthy fats (nut butters, egg yolks, avocados)
Low in fiber
Aim for a meal of at least 500-600 calories with the majority coming from complex carbohydrates. Your meal should also be low in fiber. It takes the body longer to digest fiber which may cause bloating and discomfort while running. Prioritize plain foods; no surprises or exotic foods. If you've never had breakfast tacos, before a race is not the best time to try them!
So 3-4 hours… that seems like a very long time before a marathon that starts at 6:30am. Do you need to wake up at 2:30am to eat? No! But you will want to eat something ASAP after you wake up – your body needs fuel!
If you have trouble eating in the morning or are going to be consuming something less than 2 hours before the race, a nutrient-dense liquid may be the best option. Liquid takes a shorter amount time to digest and is a great choice when you're short on time or for someone who's not used to an early breakfast.
Examples of Pre-Race Meals
Peanut butter + jelly sandwich + 1 cup grapes + ½ cup pretzels
2 cups honey nut cheerios + 1 cup almond milk + 1 banana + 2 tbsp peanut butter + 2 hard-boiled eggs + 1-2 cups water + 1 cup OJ
½ cup quick oats made with 2 tbsp brown sugar, 1/8 cup raisins + 2 tbsp sliced almonds + 1 cup skim milk / handful of berries + 1-2 cups water
Protein smoothie: 1 cup frozen fruit + 1 frozen banana + 1 scoop protein powder + ¼ cup oatmeal + 2 tbsp nut butter + 1 cup dairy free milk
Hydration is also important! A couple hours before the race, aim for 16-32 oz of fluid. Then 1 hour before start time, drink 8-12 oz of an electrolyte drink (Nuun, Gatorade, Powerade). This will keep your core temperature down and help your body temperature to stabilize during the race.
1 hour before the race is time for a “fuel top-off," which refers to consuming 30-50g (120-200 calories) of simple carbohydrates that will be absorbed quickly.
Examples of "Fuel Top-Off" Simple Carbs for 1 Hour Before the Race:
Fruit chews or gummies
Fluids first! Without the proper amount of hydration, your body can't start to recover and build muscle mass. You'll want fluids, protein and carbohydrates as soon as your body allows it. Getting nutrients in ASAP is best, but sometimes, the body is not ready to accept a large amount of food right away.
Examples of Small Snacks for Immediately After the Race:
8-12 oz of chocolate milk + banana
1 electrolyte drink + protein bar
1 protein shake + 2 cookie dough protein bites
After this initial snack post-run, you should preferably consume a full meal within 2 hours. This meal should have a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. The combination of lean protein and complex carbohydrates promotes muscle recovery and glycogen replenishment. It takes 48 hours to properly replenish glycogen storage, and preparation for your next competition begins immediately! Additionally, a proper ratio of protein to carbohydrates will help decrease soreness.
Examples of Post-Workout Meals
4-6 oz lean meat + 1.5 cups starchy carbohydrates (pasta, rice, sweet potato, regular potato, bread) + 1 cup vegetables
1 cup old fashioned oats made with 2 tbsp brown sugar + ¼ cup raisins + 2 hard boiled eggs + 1 cup mixed berries + 2 tbsp all natural nut butter
2 pieces whole wheat toast + 2 egg scramble + ½ cup sautéed veggies + 2 tbsp shredded cheese + ½ small avocado + 1 cup cherries
As apparent in the above meal examples, post-workout meals should:
Prioritize carbohydrates and protein
Include small amounts of anti-inflammatory fats (all-natural nut butter, avocado)
Be rich in anti-inflammatory fruits and vegetables
Prioritizing these nutrients is going to optimize your recovery and get you back on the road quickly!
Try these suggestions out to better fuel you through the race and help you recuperate afterwards. Let us know what you think in the comments section!
For a nutrition consultation or appointment with Reilly, please request an appointment here. (Select 'Nutrition' under Preferred Location.)
Learn more about Reilly B Sports RD here.