Pre-Race Nutrition and Hydration Tips

How to Make Sure You're Fueled Up for Race Day

Granola, avocado, and apple breakfast
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What you eat and drink the day before and the morning of a race, such as a marathon, can make a huge difference in your performance and comfort during the race. Follow these tips to make sure you’re fueled and hydrated properly.

What to Eat and Drink the Day Before Your Race

The day before a half or full marathon is the time to top off your glycogen (stored energy), stay hydrated, and steer clear of any foods or drinks that might lead to digestive issues.

Don’t try new foods. Rule No. 1 of pre-race nutrition is: "Nothing new for race day." During your long training runs, you should have been practicing your carbo-loading and experimenting with different foods in the days leading up to your long runs.

So, when it comes to your pre-race meals, don't try any new foods. Just stick with your favorite pre-long run foods that you're used to eating and have never given you any digestive problems.

Plan ahead. If you're traveling to a new location for your race, make sure you plan your meals in advance and be sure your favorite foods are available in the race city. Some runners prefer not to take any chances and pack their favorite foods to bring with them.

Focus on carbs at lunch. Your lunch the day before your race is a good time to focus on getting some carbs. You have plenty of time to digest foods, so your lunch (not dinner) should actually be your biggest meal of the day.

Stay hydrated. You should be drinking enough fluids so that you’re urinating every two to three hours. Do a urine check. It should be a light yellow color, like straw or weak lemonade. Make sure you’re not overhydrating since that could throw off your electrolyte balance. If you’re urinating every hour, slow down your hydration efforts.

Don’t eat a heavy dinner. Some runners mistakenly think they need to load up on calories, especially carbs, during dinner the night before the race. But overloading on carbs could end up hurting more than helping you. Many runners have found out the hard way that carb-loading can lead to “carb-unloading” during the race. The carbs won’t be stored as glycogen and actually could leave you feeling bloated or heavy on race morning and force you to stop at the porta-potties. Just eat a normal amount of food, with an emphasis on carbs.

Avoid alcohol.  Alcohol dehydrates you and it also interferes with your sleep, so it's not a good idea to consume it the night before a long run or race.

Stay away from gas-forming foods. Avoid high-fiber or gas-forming foods like beans, bran, or any type of food that may upset your stomach or can interfere with sleep.

What to Eat and Drink on Race Day

Although your glycogen stores in your muscles should be full by now, you still need to take in more carbs to top off your liver glycogen supplies.

Give yourself enough time. Be sure to finish your breakfast at least 90 minutes before start time. Don't have a huge breakfast. Stick with mostly carbs and some protein. Some examples of good pre-race breakfast foods include a bagel with peanut butter; a banana and an energy bar; or a bowl of cold cereal with a cup of milk. ​Again, don't experiment with any new foods, test these out before your long training runs. 

Stay away from fried foods. High-fat, fried foods take longer to digest and will sit in your digestive system, making you feel heavy and lethargic. Stay away from greasy foods such as bacon and sausage, as well as croissants and other pastries.  

Make sure you’re hydrated. Drink at least 16 ounces of water the morning of the race. Stop drinking an hour before start time, so you have time to get rid of any excess fluids before you start running. You can drink another 4 to 6 ounces right before the race so you can skip the first water stop.

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