What You Should Eat The Week Before a Race
In less than a week, I will be sprinting (or possibly crawling) past the Charlotte half-marathon finish line. I've worked so hard for this, guys! For the past 12 weeks, I've trained almost every day and checked off every Saturday morning long run (hungover or not! 🙌) So with five days left before the big race, there's no way I'm going to slip up. This week will be all about resting, hydrating, and getting my mind game-day ready. But I gotta share a little secret with y'all: this will be my fifth half-marathon, and never before have I been strategic with my diet for these races (that means I may or may not have turned to some original glazed goodness for pre-race fuel in the past). 😳 So this time around, I'm going to try something new to prep for my big day: I've teamed up with renowned sports nutritionist, Rebecca Stritchfield, to plan out exactly what I should be consuming the days leading up to a big race.
Two to Five Days Before the Race
NE: What should I plan on eating the days leading up to the run?
RS: Carbohydrates are the body's preferred fuel source, but proteins and fats are still very important for helping produce sustainable energy, regulating body temperature, and preventing injury. Therefore, your meals should be balanced: fill your plate with 1/3 carbs, 1/3 protein, and 1/3 veggies/fruit. Eating colorful fruits and veggies will also help ramp up your antioxidant intake, which helps prevent injury.
Here is a sample day of eating:
Breakfast: eggs/yogurt, toast/bagel/oatmeal, and fruit
Lunch: tuna/chicken salad with avocado, lettuce, tomato on wheat or sourdough bread, fruit, and a handful of crackers
Dinner: salmon, rice/potato/pasta, and sautéed spinach or a colorful garden salad
Post-Workout: aim for a roughly 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. Some ideas include: low-fat chocolate milk or a fruit smoothie with yogurt
NE: Are there any food groups I should watch out for this week?
RS: Avoid trying anything new a few days prior to race day. Avoid fried, highly processed foods as these tend to be harder to digest and can promote inflammation. Also avoid excessive amounts of high-fiber foods like bran cereals, chicory root and large portions of vegetables, to prevent digestive issues.
Day Before the Race
NE: I've always heard carb-loading is the goal for the night before a race. Is this true?
RS: The night before your race it’s important to eat a well balanced meal that includes carbohydrates, proteins and vegetables. My go-to is pasta with meat sauce and a colorful side salad. It’s easy on the tummy and the combination will help fuel your muscles and reduce risk of injury without feeling bogged down in the morning.
NE: How important is it to hydrate the day before the race?
RS: Hydration is key. Dehydration can significantly effect performance and increase risk of injury. Carry a water bottle around with you the day before the race and take small sips often throughout the entire day.
Morning of Race Day
NE: What should my pre-race meal look like?
RS: Aim for whole grains, dairy with protein, and fruit even if your breakfast has to be quick. Carbohydrates will be your premium fuel. So what you want to look for is slow-release carbohydrates, which are going to last for up to four hours. You can get those in Belvita breakfast biscuits, which have a particular type of grain that allows slow release, and then they bake it low and slow to make sure that grain stays intact. Eat them up to about 30 minutes before the race.
NE: Is there anything I should steer clear of?
RS: Avoid highly acidic juices (like orange and grapefruit) as this can cause indigestion.
NE: What do I need to keep in mind during the race?
RS: Be sure to stop at the hydration aid stations throughout the course to hydrate, mixing electrolyte/sports drinks with waters to help keep your muscles well fueled and hydrated. I recommend packing BodyArmor sports drinks. These drinks are made up of coconut water, vitamins, and the electrolytes without artificial sweeteners or extra salt. Sip on them every 20 minutes or so during the event.
NE: I know as soon as I cross that finish line, nutrition is going to be the last thing on my mind. But what is the most important thing I should remember to consume after my race?
RS: Reach for a protein drink as soon as you can. I recommend Core Power: it's is a milk-based protein recovery beverage designed specifically for athletes, with an ideal balance of protein and carbohydrates to help your muscle repair and rebuild.
Meet Rebecca Scritchfield, MA, RDN, HFS
She's a big deal. Not only is she a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and health fitness specialist, but she's also an avid runner, having completed 15 marathons and a 50-miler! That's why when Rebecca tells you what you should and shouldn't eat before a race, you listen. She knows her stuff.