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Nutrition – Fueling Your Race

Ask any seasoned runner what they eat on race day, and you will likely get a very detailed answer. It’s almost like a ritual, like a good luck charm, for a runner to eat the same breakfast before every race.  Because through much trial and error, they’ve arrived at something that works for them, that helps keep up their energy throughout the race without upsetting their stomach. This also differs from person to person – a bowl of oatmeal, or a bagel and peanut butter, or a 2 egg omelet with cheese (that last one is me!). If you are a new runner, you may be wondering what will work best for you. No one can tell you for sure, so you will need to experiment a bit, but here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Start experimenting now, while you are training.  Try a different breakfast or snack item before each run and note how it makes you feel.  Did a little extra protein help your legs feel stronger?  Did that energy bar make your tummy cramp up?  There are a lot of factors that make one run better than another so it can be hard to determine, but in time you will figure out what’s working.
  • Timing is important.  Some people like to eat a full breakfast several hours before the race and nothing else.  Others like to eat a small snack 15 to 30 minutes before, to top up their energy.  Play with the timing of your meals and snacks to see what feels good to you.
  • Consider your current diet.  Your body is used to fuel coming in certain forms, so don’t suddenly make a change in the days leading up to your race.  Even if it’s a healthy change, you don’t know how it will affect your stomach when you are exercising strenuously.  Experiment now, and stick to what your body knows on race day.  You want to be running across the finish line, not running for the bathroom!
  • Don’t skip breakfast on race day.  If you’ve never run a road race before, you may be nervous and not feeling very hungry.  But skipping breakfast, or at least a light snack, will leave you feeling tired during your run.  A pre-race meal helps keep up your energy and steady your blood sugar during exercise.  If you need to, get up a bit earlier than normal to eat and give your stomach time to digest before the start.
  • Hydrate, but don’t over-hydrate.  Loading up on tons of water just before the race can cause stomach upset and dilute your electrolytes.  Stay hydrated in the days before the race, and then drink an extra glass or two a few hours prior to give your body time to process the fluids.  Before the starting gun, drink only a cup or two more.  I personally like to stop drinking water at least an hour and a half in advance, so I don’t need to pee!  Then I carry water with me, even in short races, to keep my mouth from feeling dry.

Good nutrition is a key component to running a race and being able to cross that finish line.  But what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another.  If you aren’t sure what works for you, now is the time to try different approaches and test out new things.  On race day, stick with what worked best while you were training.  In time, you will find you have your ritual breakfast or snack that fuels you across that finish line.

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Written by Carolyn


Carolyn is a writer, a runner, a mother and a diabetic. She is also the evil mastermind behind All Day I Dream About Food. She lives, and runs, for food. Join her in her experiments in creating delicious low carb, gluten free recipes the whole family will love.

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[...] more tips on nutrition and running, please see my post on Red-Faced Runners. Filed Under: Low Carb Tagged With: [...]

Kristen Doyle - July 23, 2012 - 9:04 am

As a newish runner, I so appreciate this information. I’m just now understanding and learning the power of what you eat and how it effects your run. Thanks for the great tips!

Cookin' Canuck - July 23, 2012 - 9:09 am

This is such an important factor in whether or not your race/run goes well. Thanks so much for this great post, Carolyn! I typically eat half a banana and a half piece of whole wheat toast with peanut butter. It’s worked well for me overall, but I still need to play around with lower fiber options so my tummy doesn’t get upset partway through my long runs. There’s a balance in there somewhere, I just know it! :)

bridget {bake at 350} - July 23, 2012 - 9:13 am

These are great tips! I’m always a little unsure about what to eat/drink…even before my morning runs. I’m a little hooked on Kind Bars now, but maybe I need to experiment like you suggested. Thank you!

Katharine - July 23, 2012 - 9:49 am

I’ve always heard about carb loading, and when I found out I was prediabetic and needed to restrict my carbs I was nervous I’d have no energy for exercise. It’s been cool to see how well protein and fat fuel my workouts, and I never seem to get side stitches anymore. Before I became prediabetic I loved whole wheat toast with peanut butter and banana slices before a big workout. Thanks for this post!

Carolyn - July 23, 2012 - 10:01 am

It’s really interesting that you mention the side stitches…I noticed exactly the same thing when I started eating low carb. My runs are much better fueled on protein and fat. Did you see my post about it today on my blog?

Becky (So Very Blessed) - July 23, 2012 - 1:04 pm

I definitely need to keep trying different foods. My stomach seems to cramp when I run no matter what I eat, even if it’s 2 hours after eating – that’s why I’ve been trying to run first thing in the morning (that and the crazy Tucson heat!). Thanks for the tips!

Robyn Stone | Add a Pinch - July 23, 2012 - 1:12 pm

This is wonderful information, Carolyn! Great for race day as well as while training as well. Like Bridget, I always wonder if I’m having the right things. And, since I’m also watching my carbs, this is great information for me! Yay!!!

Katrina @ In Katrina's Kitchen - July 23, 2012 - 1:28 pm

I always feel like I’m just going all willy nilly with what I eat before and after a run. Thanks for the info and encouragement to keep trying to find what is best for me :)

Sarah @ Will Run for Pasta - July 23, 2012 - 8:06 pm

I’ve always struggled with what to eat too, especially on the rare occasion it’s an early morning workout becasue I’m not usually hungry first thing. I’ve heard the toast/pb/banana trio mentioned before so I may have to try that one next! Thanks for all the great tips!

Christine - July 26, 2012 - 7:13 pm

This was such a timely post for me. It is rare if I eat anything solid before a run. One cup of coffee and some water is the usual pre run meal. Two weeks ago I had half a yogurt before my morning run. I claimed my fast time was due to my new skirt. Yeah right, the yogurt gets the prize! Dara, the half a piece of toast with peanut butter and bananas sounds good. I think I’ll give that try next time. Thanks Carolyn for the information.

dressca - August 27, 2012 - 4:56 am

Yum! Thanks for the link love!!

[...] also did a great post about how to fuel your race which is full of awesome tips as [...]

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