Do you have a big race coming up?
Whether it's a marathon, an obstacle race, or a 5k charity run, you're probably wondering what you should eat beforehand. The way you fuel your body could make or break your performance, so it's important that you do it right.
You don't have to pay out for expensive supplements or diet plans from nutritionists. Simply read on to find out what to eat before a race. We'll tell you everything you need to know.
If you're wondering what to eat before running, look no further. Our handy guide is here to help.
Fuelling up for a race isn't just done on the day.
You need to start loading up on the right foods around three days beforehand. But what are the right foods? The answer, of course, is carbs.
Spaghetti, bread, cereals, rice, and other grains will all serve you well. You don't have to limit yourself to a boring regime of the same old carbs. Switch things up to make sure you're still enjoying your food!
During this period, you should be eating less fat and protein, allowing for carbohydrates to make up the majority of your diet. In fact, carbs can account for up to 80% of your overall food intake. Ideally, you should be getting around 10 grams of carbs for every 1 kilogram of your body weight.
You should also be scaling down your training, or even stopping completely. This will enable your body to store the carbohydrates you eat as glycogen in your muscles, keeping it ready for when you need it the most.
The timing of your meals is just as important as your food choices.
You need to make sure you give your body enough time to digest your food and convert it into energy. If you eat too close to the start of the race you could feel bloated and uncomfortable while you're running.
You also need to make sure you don't leave it too long between eating and running. Otherwise, you could miss your peak and start to feel hungry. This could cause you to burn out half-way through the race.
If your race starts particularly early in the morning, it might be a good idea to wake up early, eat something, and then go back to bed for some extra rest.
The ideal time window for a pre-race breakfast is 2-4 hours before your starting time. During that time, consume something that contains a high amount of carbohydrates, a moderate amount of protein, and a low amount of fat.
Good choices for this include bagels topped with peanut butter and honey, granola with fruit and yogurt, oatmeal with apple and cinnamon, or eggs on toast. These foods will give you the nutrients you need while keeping you full for your race. They're also quick and easy to put together, making them ideal for a speedy breakfast before you shoot out of the house.
If you're still feeling peckish before your race, pack a small snack to have around one hour beforehand. You shouldn't feel hungry while you're waiting at the start line!
Something like a cereal bar is ideal for topping up your energy stores, giving you some extra sugar, and providing you with a quick release of glycogen.
Bananas are also perfect pre-run energy boosters. They contain around 30 grams of carbohydrates, which is enough to keep you going through a race. They're also high in potassium and magnesium, which are two essential electrolytes for athletes.
Bananas are very easy to digest and won't upset your stomach. Their high fiber content also means that they'll keep you full without making you bloated. Eat one before a race, and you'll feel energized and ready to go!
If you want, you can even make your own energy balls to keep you going. Simply mix oats, peanut butter, chopped dates, chia seeds, flaxseeds and coconut oil in a bowl, then roll the mixture into little balls. You can store these in a refrigerator and then pack them in your bag for race day.
This isn't the only way to do it. There are tons of different energy ball recipes you can try. Start experimenting during your training and see what works for you.
Carbohydrates are essential fuels for runners.
It's important to get a lot of high carb foods into your pre-race diet. Your body uses these foods to produce energy, and this is what will keep you going through the race.
We commonly hear of runners 'carb loading' before races, filling up on large amounts of bread, pasta and other such foods in preparation. However, these aren't always the best kinds of carbs to have.
Heavy, starchy foods will fill you up, but they can also take a long time to digest, making you feel sluggish and lethargic. Anything made with refined flour also has a high glycemic index, which means that it will cause your energy levels to spike. This sounds good for an energy boost, but it's always followed by a crash.
Instead, it's best to eat foods that will provide a slow release of energy, sustaining your glycogen levels and your performance over a long period of time.
Simple carbohydrates, like fruits, will provide an immediate source of energy, as they can quickly be converted by the body. On the other hand, complex carbs have to go through a longer process to be converted into energy. You need a combination of both in your diet.
This means that foods like potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, and oatmeal are all great choices for fuelling up before a race. The closer you get to the start time, the more you should start to rely on simple carbs, which will give you energy without hindering your performance during digestion.
If you have a gluten intolerance, it's especially important to choose your carbohydrates carefully. The last thing you want on race day is digestion problems!
As well as foods, you should be conscious of the types and amount of liquids you're consuming in the lead-up to a race.
You're going to sweat a lot during your run, so make sure you drink lots of water beforehand. You can't load up at the last minute, so you'll have to start early. If you attempt to overcompensate by guzzling liter after liter of water just before the race, you'll end up having to take lots of bathroom breaks.
Remember, humans can't store huge amounts of water like camels can. Any excess will simply be flushed out through the kidneys.
If you're keeping yourself hydrated throughout your training, you shouldn't have to change your drinking routine for the race. Always keep a large bottle of water with you, and drink it steadily throughout the day.
The best indicator of your hydration is your urine color. It should be straw-colored. If it's too dark, you need to drink more. If it's completely clear, you're drinking too much. Everyone's body is different, so pay attention to yours and give it what it needs.
It's a good idea to get extra electrolytes into your system, as you'll lose lots of them through sweat. You can get them through sports drinks, gels, and electrolyte powders that can be added to your water bottle.
Those aren't the only ways to get them, though. You also get them through foods. Read up on which foods contain the most electrolytes and make sure you're getting them in your diet throughout your training.
Race day is not a day to try foods that you haven't had before. This is one of the pre-race biggest mistakes you can make.
Don't have any new drinks, foods, or supplements that you aren't familiar with. If you do, you're taking a risk. You're also depriving your body of the nutrient intake that it's used to.
If you've never consumed a food before, you have no idea how your body is going to react to it. It could give you an upset stomach, or worse, trigger an allergic reaction!
On race day, you need everything to go as smoothly as possible. To do that, stick to foods you know.
If anyone offers you a new snack or energy drink, politely decline. This can be particularly difficult at big events, where companies sponsoring the races often provide free samples. Resist the temptation until after you finish the race, and your body will thank you for it.
Knowing what to eat before a race is just part of your preparation.
There are lots of other things you need to do in order to get your body and mind ready for race day. You'll have to buy the necessary gear, design a well-thought-out training program, and put in the road work. As well as dedication, preparation is key.
If it's your first time, don't worry. See our list of 12 tips for newbie marathon runners for everything you need to know.
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