Written by: Jacie Slocum, MS, RDN, LD, CDCES is a Registered Dietitian with Aramark Healthcare+ who works at Baylor Scott & White – All Saints Medical Center as the Lead Outpatient Dietitian and Inpatient Diabetes Educator.
Planning to run a 5K, 10K, half-marathon, full-marathon, or ultra-marathon? Adequate nutrition will ensure you feel your best come race day and perform at your peak level. Here are 5 things to consider when training for your upcoming race.
Don’t try anything new on race day.
Practice makes perfect. Try out different meals, snacks, and beverages on the days that you are completing your longer runs when training. Race day is not the time to do anything new from your training. Take note of how you feel.
- Do you feel energized?
- Do you feel sluggish?
- Do you feel heavy and uncomfortable?
Hydrate early and often, but be cautious not to over-hydrate.
Being hydrated is all about consistency:
- Before the race: drink 16-20 ounces 2-hours prior and 7-10 ounces within 20 minutes of starting
- During the race: every 15-20 minutes try to drink 6-8 ounces of water. If you are running for more than a hour, consume a sports drink to replenish your electrolytes and glycogen stores
- After the race: start rehydrating within 30-minutes after you finish the run and continue to drink fluids until your urine is a pale yellow or clear.
It is good practice to weigh yourself before and after a run to determine what the number of pounds lost in water weight. A 2% or more loss of body weight can decrease your aerobic performance, especially in warm-hot conditions. For every pound lost plan to drink 24 ounces of water.
Carbohydrates are your primary source of energy.
Carbohydrates are the bodies preferred form of energy. Carbohydrates are crucial to maintain blood glucose levels, maximize muscle and liver glycogen stores, and replenish glycogen stores after you exercise.
If you aren’t consuming an adequate amount of carbohydrates on a regular basis and aren’t replenishing them during your workout then you may run out of your glycogen stores mid-run – resulting in you feeling lousy and fatigued. Some people refer to this as “hitting the wall” or “bonking”.
Leading up to the race, think about consuming simple carbohydrates that are low in fiber to reduce gastric disturbances during your race and digest quickly.
- Dinner (night before the race), consider having a pasta dinner, loaded baked potato, or stir fry
- Breakfast (morning of the race), consider having a bowl of cereal with banana chopped in it, a bagel with low fat cream cheese, or a bowl of yogurt with granola and fruit
How much should you eat during the run?
- Running an hour or less: based on the individual, but likely okay with just drinking water
- Running an hour or more: aim to have 120 to 240 calories per hour – in the form of small carbohydrate rich snacks like gels, chews, or sports drinks
Glycogen stores can be exhausted after 1-2 hours of intense activity. The ACSM guidelines call for endurance athletes to consume approximately 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour. Be prepared to snack during your run and have a fanny pack, belt bag, or camel pack loaded with your preferences.
Things to consider caring with you may include:
- Cliff Bars
- Gummy Bears
- Fruit Snacks
- Jelly Beans
Now it’s time to refuel and rehydrate.
Congratulations! You've crossed the finish line and it’s time to celebrate the accomplishment of finishing the race. Within, 30-minutes of finishing the race it is crucial to begin rehydrating and replenish your glycogen stores.
My “go-to” after a long run is a serving of 1% Chocolate Milk. Liquids are easy to digest and don’t tend to linger in your stomach as long as solid foods do. The nutrition profile of chocolate milk is high in carbohydrates, contains a moderate amount of protein, and is low in fat. This allows the carbohydrates to replenish your glycogen stores that were used during the run and the protein will assist with repairing muscle breakdown from the run.
Within 2-hours after the run its time to have your celebratory meal. Think about a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. Go out for brunch and enjoy a plate of pancakes or waffles. If that’s not your style, consider going out for Italian food and enjoy a plate of pasta!