Race Day Nutrition

1st Rule – DON’T EXPERIMENT ON RACE DAY!
That means if you haven’t tried it before on a long run, don’t try it on race day. If you haven’t practiced anything, well, then, uh, I guess you’re going to have to do something and be conservative, but if you’ve been ok without anything, you probably ought to race that way. That said, I definately feed my body before, during, and after a race.

Days Before

Carbo loading in the way most think of it with a big ol table full of pasta the night before won’t help you. The only thing it’ll do for you is give you a heavy gut. The body stores in glucose and other carbohydrates over time. Typically, you should begin consuming a bit more complex carbohydrate than usual (25% more than normal, not twice what you normally eat) starting wednesday evening (we’re assuming a Saturday race). Eat frequently throughout the day and don’t stuff yourself, it won’t help. Lots of fruits and vegis are important, and cut out the simple sugars all together. While sodium is a necessary and important for racing, we get plenty in our diet, no need to consume more (during the race is a different story).

Water is a crucial component to glucose absorption and storage as well as sodium and other electrolyte transfer. Hyponatremia, or when the body’s electrolyte (mainly sodium) levels have been diluted to such a point it becomes dangerous, is rare, and not something you should worry extensively about. But it is out there. Starting thursday, or wednesday night, begin drinking 150% of what you normally drink in water. I personally drink about 96oz/day pre race (not more than 20-27oz per hour). Water needs are much based on body weight, the climate conditions around you, and personal experience. This is an excellent article everyone should read that does a much better job than I do explaining the top 10 mistakes athletes make in race nutrition.

Also, in my personal opinion, you shouldn’t run past wednesday. Give your legs thursday and friday to rest. Cross train if you want thursday, but just focus on stretching, massaging, and working out any junk that might be hanging around. The Stick is one of my favorite tools for this.

Race Day

True glucose storage will have taken place over the weeks before the race after you’ve depleted them in a workout and replaced them properly promptly after. If you’ve stored well, you’ll have almost an hour of energy already in your body. All that’s necessary race morning is to top the stores off. Your meal should be no more than 400 calories and it should be something you have eaten already before a long run, something your body is used to and tolerates well. Mostly carb, some protein. It should be eaten 3 hours before the race. That advice is for a half marathon or longer. A 5k/10k doesn’t need quite so much and should just be 100-200 calories 2-3 hours before if needed.
That’s it. Eat your meal 3 hours before, and nothing to eat in between. 15-20 minutes before the start I use a Hammer Gel. 100 calories of complex carb that’s easy to digest and easy to throw away at the start. Gel is always followed by 4oz of water, always.
Water is still important race day. I try to drink 16oz every hour before the race, ending that drinking about an hour before the start and just sipping until 30 minutes prior to the race. That way the body can empty what it doesn’t need and you’re not stuck waiting for a bathroom on the course or jumping into the bushes – which I by the way, have no qualms about – we’re all adults, and sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do, just try not to moon everyone :) . Ladies, a nice trick is to just pull the liner in your shorts to the side when you squat down so you don’t have to pull the shorts themselves down.

During the Race

This again, should have been practiced. So you’ve taken your gel and 4oz of water 15 minutes before the race. After this I’ll consume a gel every 45-60 minutes, and water every 15-20 minutes or so. Sports drink can work too if that’s what you prefer, I just alternate sports drink at one stop, water at the next. Don’t stress about running through the aid stations. I’ve come to learn that it’s worth the extra 10-20 seconds to get a good drink in without also taking in a lot of air. It can also be helpful to know you just need to run to the next aid station (2 miles typically) and you’ll get a quick walk break.
I suggest only consuming the specific product you’ve practiced with. So either find out what your race will use and practice it, or bring your own product along. You can buy elastic race belts for $10 that have little loops sewn on for you to stuff a gel package in. I’m really interested in this new one that has a little zip pocket you could put a tissue, or key, or Endurolytes, and it’s only $10. There are also great running shorts out there that have multiple pockets to slip gels into. You can also pin the gels to your waistband and flip them inside your shorts to reduce the bouncing. Beware of chafing though, I had some mean scrapes after the St George Marathon (but it was also raining the entire time, which didn’t help). Ladies, also, don’t be afraid to take advantage of the sports bra. Lots of places to stuff things there in the front, sides, back, whatever works for you.
Endurolytes are a lovely little item from Hammer Nutrition that will help you maintain electrolyte levels, ward off cramps, and help in digestion. These you could probably use race day and not worry about it if you haven’t in the past. Just start with 1 capsule per hour.

Post Race

Just like in training (SO important folks), you need to get your 3:1 carb to protein ratio in within 20 minutes of finishing. It will feed your body, and help it fix the good damage you just did :) . Whey protein is the best protein source for after, and again, we want complex carbs with some quick absorbing carbs like fruit or juice in there too to get into the system quickly. Water, water, water is important as well.
Above all, practice your race day nutrition in hard and long workouts. You have to find what works for you. Everyone is different.
Good luck, don’t stress, and have a great time. This is reward for all that training. Enjoy the atmosphere and the people and beauty around you.

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About The Author

Jen has been doing triathlon for several years. She is a former bobsled pilot for America Samoa and has a passion for the outdoors; especially winter mountaineering. At home she is wife to a mountain obsessed husband and mother of three girls, but here at EnduranceReview, she is an author, Managing Editor and token chick.