We’re well into the training season for fall marathons and half-marathons, and I’ve been getting a lot of questions about race day nutrition. I wish I could just say, hey everyone, only use Brand X gels every Y minutes, drink Brand Z of sports drink at intervals of A minutes and eat a breakfast of B, C and D exactly F hours before your race. Unfortunately (or fortunately, really!), everyone is different and there’s no one perfect strategy. That said, there are some generally agreed upon principles of race day nutrition that I’m happy to share, and lucky for us runners, every week we complete a long run, which is the perfect time to test, tweak and confirm what’s going to work best for us on race day!
Do practice eating dinner—and eating early—the day before your long run!
It’s not necessary to carb load the day before a long training run, but don’t skip meals. Practice eating the reasonably-portioned carbohydrate-rich dinner you’ll eat the night before your event, and eat early! You’ll want to complete your dinner around 12 hours before your run to allow your body to digest. Avoid high fiber foods and greasy foods, and memorize this important formula: Predictable food + easy digestion = less surprise port-a-potty visits.
Do eat a carbohydrate-rich meal for breakfast!
Eating breakfast the day of your event is non-negotiable (except for those with serious digestive issues), so use long run mornings to practice eating a carbohydrate-rich breakfast and to fine tune what works best for you. Avoid a lot of fiber, protein or fat, none of which provide immediate fuel, and all of which can cause digestive issues. Some examples of carbohydrate rich, easy-to-digest foods include…
• A banana has 30g of carbs
• A plain bagel has about 50-60 g of carbs
• Oatmeal has about 30 g of carbs
• A bowl of white rice has 45g of carbs
• 2 medjool dates have 30-36 g of carbs
Do practice eating early—at least 2 hours before the long run, preferably earlier!
I know, I know. It’s the weekend and you’re already getting up early to do this dang long run. But to digest your breakfast and use that energy in the beginning, you really need to eat more than two hours before your run to. If you’re eating in the car on the way to a long run (unless you have a really long drive), you’re asking your body to digest solid food while you’re running. That means diverting blood away from your muscles—not ideal.
Do practice taking in supplemental carbohydrates on runs longer than 75 minutes!
Supplementing with carbohydrate on your long training run gives you two significant advantages:
1. Carbohydrate will enable you to work harder, building more endurance and strength
2. You will be able to test out how your body reacts to different gels/chomps/beans/drinks so there are no surprises on race day.
A widely used formula for minimum carbohydrates to consume per hour on race day is:
Body weight in kilograms x .7 = X grams of carbohydrate per hour
You likely won’t need that amount of carbohydrate on training runs since you are exerting less, but use these runs to experiment with what type/how much of these products you can tolerate. Can’t stomach gels or drinks? Try experimenting with dates, raisins or dried fruit.
Do hydrate during your long runs!
Hydrating well the day before your run is an excellent strategy. We also carry along water and sports drinks for several reasons on a run:
1. To hydrate
2. To supplement carbohydrates (as discussed above)
3. For electrolytes
Water is ideal for hydration, but some runners find additional benefits in sports drinks. There is some debate over whether you need to supplement with electrolyte—it comes down to personal preference. A word of caution: A number of drinks, especially the lower calorie options and electrolyte drinks, contain artificial sweeteners that can be a digestive irritant to some. Practice with caution!
Do eat a carb-rich snack or meal after your run!
After that long run, your body needs serious replenishment. A snack or meal with a good source of carbohydrate and a small source of protein is ideal within 30 minutes. The widely accepted ratio for a perfect post-long run snack is 4:1, carbohydrate : protein. Some examples…
• A fruit smoothie with a quality protein source (nuts, seeds, quality protein powder)
• A bagel with a smear of peanut butter
• A banana with almond butter
• Fruit and granola with almond milk
• A well-balanced energy bar made with quality ingredients in the 4:1, carb:protein model
Give your body what it needs, or you risk inadequate recovery or worse. Replenishing your body immediately also helps to quell cravings that come up in the days following a long run. Throughout the rest of the day and your week, enjoy plenty of vegetables and fruit, protein and whole grains to restore and repair your body for the next workout.
Do beat the hunger game!
Pre-empt out-of-control hunger in the hours and days after your long run by preparing small healthy snacks, like fruit, vegetables + hummus, a small handful of raw almonds or other nuts and seeds, etc. As you increase your exercise, your appetite throughout the week will increase, too. It’s shockingly easy to over-eat and even gain weight during training.
Do remember that everyone is different!
The gels your running buddy takes, the timing of his hydration, or the breakfast she eats may not work for you, so experiment for yourself to find your perfect solutions! Once you’ve dabbled around and found something that you think works, practice it. Then practice it again and again to test, tweak and confirm!
If you’re not sure if your diet supports your active lifestyle, let’s talk about it! email@example.com