Guest Post by:
Lindsey Clarke, MS, ATC, CMT
Athletic Trainer
MUSC Sports Medicine

Favorite singlet? Check.
Shoes? Check.
Race number? Check.
Pre-race nutrition plan? Ummmmm.

Running a race takes preparation, strength, and energy, and how you approach your pre-race eating plan can affect all three. In the weeks leading up to the race and immediately before the event, a correctly balanced pre-race nutrition plan will contribute towards your best performance. Throughout training, your diet plays a significant role in helping you perform and recover. Whether you are a novice running your first race, or an experienced runner with countless races under your hydration belt, here are a few tips on giving yourself everything your body needs to have a successful and enjoyable race.

WEEK PRIOR: Moderate quantities of carbohydrate-rich foods will fill your glycogen stores throughout the week leading up to the race. Depending on the length of your race, shoot for about 3-5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight per day, with foods like oatmeal, potatoes, carrots, and other vegetables. For example, a 150-pound adult would need at least 450 grams of carbohydrates per day. Many runners focus so much on getting enough carbohydrates that they don't pay enough attention to their protein consumption. Protein is used for some energy, but mostly in repair of tissue damaged during training. Again, depending on your training/length of race, you should consume .5 to .75 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Good sources of protein are fish, lean meat, poultry, beans, nuts, whole grains, egg whites, low-fat milk, low-fat cheese and some vegetables. This is the time to experiment with discovering what foods work best for you, and which foods you want to avoid…experimenting on race day is never a good idea!

DAY BEFORE: Many beginning runners hear that “carbo-loading” before a race is a good idea and mistakenly overindulge on enormous portions of carbohydrate-rich foods. Gone are the days of indulging in stacks of pancakes or sitting down to an all-you-can-eat pasta bowl. Instead, continue eating as you have in the week leading up to the race, increasing your intake of up to 5.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight; a 150-pound adult would need up to 825 grams of carbohydrates. Foods with a moderate to high glycemic index are your best choices before a race. Eat foods like whole-wheat pastas, which contain 40 to 50 grams of carbohydrates per dry cup serving, and vegetables.

MORNING OF: The length of your race will determine what and when you’ll eat. For shorter, higher speed races, you’ll want to take in a lighter meal approximately 90 minutes prior to the start. This will provide you the energy to get you through the race, but will also aid in preventing any gastro-intestinal distress. For longer races, your body will require more fuel, so a more substantial meal is warranted approximately 2 hours prior to start in addition to a light snack 1 hour prior to.

In making food choices, it’s always best to stick with what you know works. A well-rounded diet of lean meats, legumes, dairy, fruits, and vegetables is a great way to set your self up for success come race day. Some foods to include in race preparation are:

*Whole grain pastas, brown rice
*Lean proteins; salmon, chicken
*Fresh fruit
*Fruit/Vegetable juice
*Oatmeal
*Bagels
*Yoghurt drizzled with honey
*Toast with nut butter

Some foods to avoid in race preparation are:

*Cruciferous vegetables; broccoli, cauliflower
*Sugar-free items/artificial sweeteners
*Bran; cereals, muffins
*Caffeine(unless you regularly consume)
*Fried foods
*Fatty meats/high fat cheeses
*Alcohol

Another extremely important and often forgotten about component of pre-race preparation is proper hydration practices. Many runners underestimate how much fluid they actually lose during their runs and don't drink enough while they're running as well as post workout/race. The result? Dehydration. This is detrimental to performance and dangerous for your health. In the days leading up to your race, you’ll know you’re properly hydrated if you void a fairly large volume of pale urine at least six times a day. On the day of, drink 8-16oz. of water one to two hours before the race, and then another 4-8oz just before. Consumption will vary depending on the length of your race.

LENGTH OF RACE:

ONE HOUR OR LESS
Three to six ounces every 15 to 20 minutes. Water is usually fine. For a tougher runs over 30 minutes, consider a sports drink to replace electrolytes and glycogen.

ONE TO FOUR HOURS
Three to six ounces every 15 to 20 minutes. A sports drink with carbohydrates and electrolytes will replenish sodium.

OVER FOUR HOURS
Three to six ounces of sports drink every 15 minutes, after which use thirst as your main guide (drinking more if you're thirsty and less if you're not).

POSTRUN
Replace fluids, drinking enough so you have to use the bathroom within 60 to 90 minutes after your run(approximately 8-24oz).

Whether you dragged yourself over or kicked it out with your arms raised high, you’ve made it across the finish line. So what comes next? Post race practices are very important in regards to recovery. Replacing fluids lost and replenishing glycogen stores are crucial and the window of opportunity is small. It is best to consume a recovery ‘meal’ within the first 30 minutes after completion of the run. The optimum ratio is 3:1 carbohydrates to protein. Depending on your preference, this meal can take the form of nutrition bars, recovery sports drinks, or even chocolate milk. For longer runs, you should also take in a full meal within 2 hours of completing your race that contains lean proteins, carbohydrates, and maybe even a post-race treat…you deserve it! This attention to detail in your meals leading up to your race will definitely take a bit of planning, but getting the proper nutrition for pre and post race will not only help your performance and recovery, but will make the experience over all much more enjoyable and successful!