How to Properly Fuel Your Body The Week of a Big Race

It’s race season. In fact, if you live in the Baltimore or D.C. area, it’s likely race week. With the Baltimore Running Festival and the Marine Corps Marathon coming up this weekend, it’s only appropriate to discuss how to properly fuel for whatever race length you’re up against.

I’ll preface this post by disclosing that while I’ve run a few half marathons, I am running my first marathon this upcoming weekend. The tips you’re about to read come from experience from my half marathons and research I’ve done to prepare for Sunday. (I’m running the Marine Corps Marathon.) I am not a nutritionist and this is not my specialty, I just like to research these kinds of things and figured my blog would be a great outlet to share my findings with those running this season or even this weekend.

So, let’s start with water. 

 

The day before your race is not time to start the hydration. You should pay attention to hydration 5-7 days before. At a minimum, drink 64 ounces of water a day. Rule of thumb is pay attention to your pee when you go to the bathroom, making sure it’s pale yellow to clear. (Sorry for TMI.)

*Hydration Tip: 

Add lemon or squeezed fruit to your water to give it a flavor you’ll want to drink more of. Fuel up on electrolytes too!

3-5 Days before race day:

Up the carbs… a LOT. Your emphasis should also be on consuming high-carbohydrate foods with at least 70 percent of the total calories coming from carbohydrates. This will ensure that your glycogen stores are fully replenished for competition. [Womens RunningRunners World suggests boosting carbohydrate intake 3.5 to four grams for every pound of body weight. (For example, for a 150 lb runner, that would be an intake of 600 grams of carbs daily.)

That’s a lot of carbs, I know. In fact, when I read that, I immediately was like “how the hell do I even eat that many carbs?!” Take a look at my list below of reliable and carb-heavy food sources, if you make sure each meal or snack is carb heavy, you’ll be able to hit your carb goal no problem.

*Recommended Carbs:

Bagels, Pancakes, Oats, Pasta, Quinoa, Bananas, Sweet Potatoes, Apples, Oranges, Blueberries, Grapefruit, Fat-Free Potato Chips, Whole Wheat Bread, Brown Rice, Beans

2-3 Days before race day: 

Limit fiber in your diet. That means reduce consumption of whole grains and large amounts of (raw) vegetables to help lighten the weight in your intestines. This helps ensure your stomach will be a happy camper come race day. Also, begin to eliminate foods like yogurt and cheese if you think it may cause some stomach stress. Continue your carb load.

The day before:

Through all the articles I’ve read to create this blog post, each one said the same thing…

“Nothing new.”

Hate to say it, but hopefully you’ve been studying what your stomach agrees with and what doesn’t throughout training, especially for dinner. Make sure you eat an early dinner, eating 12 hours before race time to make sure you have enough time to completely digest your food.

Your meals should be high-carb and low fat, low fiber. While it’s important to fuel up, your meal the night before should not be a “carb-load” meal, otherwise you’ll be feeling sluggish on race day. Throughout training, I’ve always eaten Chipotle the night before my long runs and it always served me well.

The morning of: 

Again, NOTHING NEW. 

Your pre-race meal should be exactly what you’ve eaten throughout training before those long runs. ACTIVE says 80 percent of the calories consumed on race morning should come from carbohydrates. In the past for my half marathons, I’ve eaten a bagel with butter and a banana. For my training runs this year, I’ve eaten a slice (2 if my stomach was calm enough) of avocado toast with chia seeds on top and felt great. Again, it’s all about what works for you.

Make sure you eat your breakfast at least 2 hours before race time. I know, that’s freaking early and when I’m up that early, my stomach is upset and not in any condition to eat a hearty breakfast. If that’s the case for you, drink a glass of cold water to help wake your body up and your stomach will turn around so you can eat.

Which brings me to my next point, How much water do you drink the morning of your race?

You want to make sure you’re hydrating enough, but not so much you’ll have to take a pit stop after the first hour of your race. Runner’s World suggests drinking 16-24 oz of water or a sports drink 2-3 hours before race time (so, with your breakfast). If you drink this far in advance, you’ll have enough time to hit the BR before you start. DON’T chug a bottle of water less than an hour before race time, that’s asking for it.

And you’re off! How do you make sure you’re getting enough water?

Rule of thumb is to stop and drink at every station. I’ve found in the past that trying to run and drink water is not worth the 10 seconds of time you save. Plus, when you run and drink, half the water in the cup is likely to end up all over you. For my 20-Miler a month or so ago, I grabbed one water and one gatorade at each station and felt great.

Oh, and don’t forget the fuel! 

Again, hopefully you’ve been training with energy gels so you know what your stomach agrees with and what doesn’t. Your race will likely give out energy gels, but make sure you only take them if you know your stomach can handle it.

Fuel up with some sort of energy gel every 30-45 minutes. Some gels have caffeine, some don’t, and some gels have 2-3X sodium which come in handy. I like to start with caffeine and rotate between caffeine and non-caffeinated. Then, once I’m halfway through, I introduce the sodium because my body needs it most then.

It’s important to listen to your body throughout the race. If you feel “hungry” before 30 minutes is up, eat. Don’t allow yourself to feel “hungry,” you don’t want to crash. This goes for hydration too.When you’re putting your body through this kind of stress, don’t make it wait for water or fuel.

I highly suggest bringing a hydration pack so you don’t have to wait for the next water station. (I’m especially looking at my fellow MCMer’s, because between miles 19 and 24, there are NO water stations… -_-)

So, I know. I’ve spit out a bunch of information and you probably don’t know where to start. Take a look at my meal plan for this week and that should get you started on sample meals to ensure you’re hitting your carb goal. Again, nutrition is not my specialty, but this works for me!

 

Breakfast:

Monday-Saturday – Banana Pancakes Topped with Blueberries (3 medium-large sized)

Mid-Morning Snack:

Wednesday-Saturday – Whole Grain Toast with Butter (2 slices is ideal)

Lunch:

Monday-Tuesday – Chicken-Veggie Quesadilla

Wednesday-Friday – Chicken Pesto Pasta with Tomatoes (Hefty portion)

Saturday – Pasta with Tomato Sauce (Small bowl)

Afternoon Snack:

Monday-Saturday – Apple with Peanut Butter

Dinner:

Tuesday – Steak and Eggs with Veggies

Wednesday – Cod with Veggies

Thursday & Friday – Sweet Potato Tacos

Saturday – Chipotle

I sincerely hope this information and research I’ve done helps out my fellow runners.  Enjoy your taper week and prepare to crush it! Feel free to comment below or shoot me a message if you’re running the Marine Corps Marathon, I’d love to meet you at the Expo or on Race Day!