What to Eat Before, During, and After Your Race
Don’t leave it to chance. We asked an expert what you should be eating during training, race day, and recovery time.
Logging miles on the treadmill isn’t the only thing you need to do to prepare for a race—your diet can also have a major impact on your performance. Jennifer Menzer, a personal trainer, health coach, and owner of Boston’s Saldare Body Therapy and Wellness Studio, offers her tips for making your diet work for you.
No matter what type of runner you are or how far you’re going, hydration is the most important thing to be aware of. Drink at least two to three cups of fluid before the race, one to two during, and at least one cup after. For a 5K runner, water will suffice for hydration. If you’re expecting to run for longer than an hour, however, you should also be taking in sugars and sodium, which you can do by drinking a watered-down Pedialyte or Gatorade. “Coconut water to hydrate is also a nice choice and it’s a bit healthier,” Menzer says. She also recommends beets and beet juice for their high vitamin and mineral content.
Carbs are an important source of fuel for a runner, especially if you’re running a long-distance race. Menzer recommends simple carbohydrates including fruits and grain products like oatmeal, which provide energy to a runner but don’t require a lot of energy to break down. Carbohydrates that are low in fiber and fat should make up about 50 to 60 percent of a runner’s diet, she says, with lean protein, some fats, and vegetables comprising the rest. If you’re running a marathon, you should think about raising your carb intake to this level days or weeks in advance so that you can see exactly how your body will react to specific foods.
Limit food intake to simple carbs and protein. If you want something substantial, fruit with oatmeal or an egg with vegetables are go-to options. If you don’t react well to digesting solid food, smoothies are a great liquid option, too. One of Menzer’s favorite morning blends contains a banana, strawberries, peanut butter, oatmeal, and chia seeds.
As for your morning coffee, Menzer says some athletes enjoy an extra burst of energy from the caffeine, but some don’t react well. Try running after drinking coffee a few days before your big race. If you’re not sure how you react, it’s best not to risk it the morning of the race.
To hasten recovery time, marathoners should eat a small snack containing both protein and carbs, such as peanut butter on a banana, in the 30 to 60 minutes following a race. Two to three hours after the race, it’s time for something more substantial. And while you may be tempted to pile all the calories you burned back on with a post-race feast, Menzer says the best recovery foods should still be healthy. Stick to a lean protein like chicken or turkey, unsaturated fat like those in avocados, and a complex carbohydrate like a sweet potato.
Though these tips are fairly universal, it’s important to remember that no two runners are identical. “One food that may work so well for someone may not work for someone else,” Menzer says. “You want to figure out what works for you.” And just like you wouldn’t buy brand new running shoes before a marathon, you shouldn’t drastically change your diet the night before a big race.