What Should Runners Eat Before a Race? Secrets to Better Performance

You’ve been hard at work training for the past few months and race day is right around the corner. With the race lurking ever so close, you may be wondering what it is that you should be eating to provide you with a competitive edge on the day of the big race. 

 


When it comes to runners, simply eating a miraculous meal on the day of the race won’t provide you with the best means to find that competitive edge. What is important is that you incorporate the best diet possible during training, to provide for stronger training sessions which inevitably will boost your performance. That being said, what you eat on the day of the race will define how well you perform. It can make or break your race. After all, you don’t want to be running that 10k and feel bloated during the run. 

 


Food choices play heavily on the minds of runners who have to obviously consider the rate of digestion and the time that they eat their meals. You simply cannot afford to eat your meals too close to a race and expect your digestive system to miraculously be able to digest the food in time for the race. You want to award yourself plenty of time between the meal and the race to ensure that you have sufficient time to digest the food. Undigested food is what causes stomach complications during the race. We all know how painful it can be to have to stop halfway through the race because your stomach is knotting or becoming bloated. 

 


Fortunately for you, you have come to the right place. We have for you all the secrets and insights that will help you take control of your pre-race meal and ensure what you eat won’t come back to bite you. In fact, eating these foods before a race can help you perform better, for they contain the nutrients that will help you boost performance. 

 

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What Should Runners Eat Before A Race?

When it comes to picking meals before a race, you know you want to ensure that you have a reliable carbohydrate source. On the day of the race, you don’t want to stuff yourself with carbohydrates, however, you still have to consume a light carbohydrate source. Something like bread or toast works really well on the morning of the race. 

 


Bread contains all the necessary carbohydrates and is rather easy to digest. It won’t take too long for your body to convert it to glucose, which means during the race, you should have plenty of readily available energy. A bagel too works really well as a good carbohydrate source. Bagels are too easily digested by the body, which is integral when you are considering a pre-race breakfast.

 


You don’t want to eat heavy carbohydrates such as pasta and rice, for this could lead to more time being needed to digest the meal. The heavier the carbohydrate you eat, the more time will be needed to digest it. Hence, if you are used to eating these foods and would like to eat pasta or rice on the morning of the race, we recommend that you eat them well ahead of time and provide yourself with plenty of time to digest the meal. 

 


Rice, pasta and lean meats should be the composite of the carb-loading stage of your pre-race meal plan. This stage relates to the three days prior to the race, when you should look to consume a lot more carbohydrates than usual, to increase the amount of glycogen reserves.

 


When you eat a lot of carbohydrates, the concentration of glucose in your body increases, which results in the excess glucose being converted to glycogen. Glycogen is stored in the body until it is needed as an energy source. Glycogen is converted to glucose when necessary, which is the actual energy currency of your body. Think of glucose as the money you need to spend and glycogen as the savings account. 

 


Hence, though heavy carbohydrates three days leading up to the race can help you, the fact that they take time to digest and act heavily on your stomach makes them less useful on the morning of the big race. As mentioned, on the morning of the race, you should opt for easier to digest carbohydrate sources such as bread. 

 


You also may want to add some peanut butter to the toast to provide additional nutritional value. Peanut butter is a great source of protein and essential fatty acids which will all work to provide you with a good nutrient fix. If you are looking to spread anything on your bread, peanut butter should be your go-to option. 

 


Combine the peanut butter toast with some fresh fruit and some fruit juice or a sports drink and you have a perfect meal that will provide you with all the nutrients that you need. Most importantly, this meal isn’t too heavy on your stomach. Not only will you not be carrying around too much weight from the meal, but you also won’t be feeling too stuffed to run. We all know how painful it is to run on a full stomach. Then again, you don’t want to consider running on an empty stomach.

 


That being the perfect pre-race breakfast, your three days of carb-loading can include plenty of heavy carbohydrates such as rice and pasta, some lean meat, starchy vegetables and plenty of fruit. You don’t want to consume meat on the morning of the race for this again is hard to digest. Meat isn’t easily digested and eating meat will make it difficult for you to digest your meal, making it less likely that you would be prepared for the race. 

 


Further to toast and peanut butter, oats are yet another strong selection that you can make for your pre-race meal. Oats contain heaps of essential nutrients and have the tendency to slowly release energy. This slow release of energy makes them extremely useful as a pre-race meal. Though oats aren’t as easy to digest as toast, they aren’t too difficult to digest either. 

 

Recommended Article: What Should Runners Eat: Essential Nutrition Tips for Runners

 

 

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How Much Protein and Carbohydrates do Runners Need Before a Race?

Before a race, you don’t really need protein. Protein is needed to help your muscles recover and grow. Hence, they are needed after a workout or a run. You don’t have to eat a protein-rich diet nor do you have to drink a protein shake before a run. This will only add bulk to your meal and will make it harder for you to digest your meal. 

 


That being the case, you don’t want to completely omit protein from your pre-race meal. A little protein in the mix will go a long way in propelling performance. You should aim to get about 15 to 20 grams of protein from nut butter, milk or yoghurt. Though protein builds muscles, it is carbohydrates that fuels them, hence what you actually need more importantly is carbohydrates.

 


Carbohydrates are what you need before a run and you should be looking to eat easy to digest carbohydrates. As you may have realised, the trick is in being selective about the carbohydrates that you eat. You don’t want to eat too heavy carbohydrates which could make it difficult for you to process and digest before a race. As mentioned, you should stick to easy to digest carbohydrate such as bread and steer clear of heavy carbohydrates such as rice and pasta. 

 


Once again, rice and pasta work well during the three-day carb-loading, not on the morning of the race. So when it comes to your pre-race meal, look to combine an easy to digest carbohydrate source with some protein and you should be well served.

 

Recommended Article: Eggs for Runners: Are Eggs Good Before a Run?

 

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Should Runners Eat Fatty Food Before a Race?

There are two types of fat, fat that you find through animal products and others that you find through plants. Plant fats are usually considered fine before a race, for they don’t make digestion too difficult. Animal fats become very difficult for your body to digest and process, which is why you should look to avoid it on the morning of the race. This includes sausages and bacon. 

 


When it comes to plant fats, you also want to be on the lookout for saturated fats which often turn to solid at room temperature. Foods like butter, palm and coconut oil, cheese and red meat all contain high amounts of saturated fat. You don’t want to consume any saturated fat before a race. These saturated fats could work against you and more valuable energy would be used up in dealing with these saturated fats. 

 


At the end of the day, you don’t really need fats in your pre-race meal. However, fats as those found in avocados are considered healthy and can work to add extra fuel through your meals when add to a pre-race meal. 

 

Recommended Article: 10 Best Fruits for Runners: Fruits to Boost Performance

 

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Should You Run a Race on an Empty Stomach?

It isn’t considered safe to run on an empty stomach. Though you may be tempted to skip the morning meal altogether and go for the run, running a race on an empty stomach is risky. You could quite easily feel hungry during the race and this may lead to hunger cramps. 

 


If you aren’t fond of eating before a run, you should look to eat something small and light, which will still work to provide you with more of an advantage. Even a few bananas will work to fill your stomach to ensure that you don’t feel hunger cramps during the race. 

 


Furthermore, eating before a race is a good way to fuel up. You want to use every chance you get to fuel up. After all, the more fuel you have the better off you would be. Hence, we do not recommend that you skip out on the opportunity to fuel up. Though many runners do run on empty stomachs, this is from years of training which has accustomed their bodies to running a certain length of a run on an empty stomach. We do not recommend that you try this on the day of the race, as it could spell disaster.  

 

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How Close to Race Time Should Runners Eat?

You need plenty of time to digest your pre-race meal. Otherwise, it could lead to indigestion and an upset stomach during the race. Awarding yourself anywhere between three to four hours is a good way to go. This provides your body with sufficient time to digest your meal properly and have energy stores ready in time for the race. 

 


You really don’t want to eat too close to the race. Eating an hour before the race would mean that you would still be digesting your meal during the race. This means, further to the energy being needed for the race, more valuable energy would be needed to digest the meal you literally just ate. Heavier food will take longer to digest, hence though bread can digest in a matter of two to three hours, oats could take anywhere between three to four hours. 

 


Hence, it is a good idea to eat your pre-race meal, three to four hours before a race. This will provide you with sufficient time to digest the meal and will work to prepare you well for the big event. 

 

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Should I Eat Between the Race?

Depending on the length of the race, you could mostly certain have an inbetween-race snack. Many long-distance runners eat bananas, for they contain potassium which works to keep fatigue at bay. 

 


If you are running a long-distance race, it is wise that you keep a sports bar or two at hand or even a banana or two. Both these things will work to provide you with a good amount of energy that will help propel your performance. 

 


The trick is in knowing when to eat your between-race meal. You don’t want to wait until you start to experience fatigue, for this could be too late. You need to award your body time to digest the food that you eat and make the energy available. Hence, the best way to go about it is to plan the meal based on the distance that you run. Try eating the meal at the halfway mark, or a little before the halfway mark. This will work to provide you with the extra glucose and nutrients to boost your performance for the later stages of the race; stages where you need it the most. 

 

 

Recommended Article: Why Are Bananas Important For Long Distance Runners? (Answered)

 

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What Should You Not Eat Before a Race?

When it comes to picking the meals before a race, much like there are certain foods that will work wonders on your performance, there too are foods that will work to completely destroy you. 

 


You most certainly do not want to eat legumes before a race. Legumes can lead to bloating and gas which can be disruptive during a race. Though they are a great addition to post-run meals, they don’t work well as pre-run meals. This goes the same for high fibre vegetables such as broccoli and artichokes. These high fibre vegetables are harder to digest and take more time for your body to digest. This means it is more likely that you would be spending valuable energy on digestion during the race, energy which otherwise could be used to propel your performance. 

 


High fibre fruits are too similarly considered bad as a pre-run food. They simply contain too much fibre to make them easy to digest. The more fibre the food contains, the slower the digestion process. Though these foods make great post-run meal choices, you should most certainly not risk eating high fibre fruits before a run. This includes all high fibre fruits such as apples and pears. 

 


Cheese, red meat and bacon all contain too much fat for them to be wise choices in pre-run meals. The more fat food contains, the harder it will be for your body to digest. Much like high fibre foods, you don’t want to eat anything that will take too much time to digest. Cheese, red meat and bacon all have too much fat and is incredibly slow to digest. This could lead to indigestion and upset stomachs during the race. Furthermore, you would be using up valuable energy digesting that meat, which otherwise could be spent on the race. 

 


Coffee has been an area of contestation amongst runners. With some runners say that the coffee actually boots performance, others have reported otherwise. When it comes to coffee and caffeine in general (including soda), you don’t want to consume large amounts of caffeine before a race or run. This is because the caffeine will lead to a spike in energy which will plumet, resulting in the early onset of fatigue. Many people who run refer to this phenomenon as hitting the wall, where it almost feels as if you have hit a wall and you simply cannot run any further. 

 


Spicy food is last on our list which is an obvious addition. Spicy food is known to cause digestive distress in many people. They can cause bloating and gas and some people simply do not process spicy food all that well. The last thing you want to do is eat a plate of spicy wings on the morning of the race. If you are serious about the run you are partaking in, you should most certainly take these considerations to heart and enforce all of them to ensure a boost in performance as opposed to an upset stomach. 

 

Recommended Article: Food Runners Should Avoid: 15 Foods That Are Bad For Runners

 

 

To Conclude

What you eat on the day of the race will define how well you perform. If you feel too full or are experiencing bloating during a race, you know your performance is going to be hampered. The biggest secret is in picking the right carbohydrate sources. 

 


You want to pick a light carbohydrate source for the morning of the run and leave heavy carbohydrates for the three days of carb-loading before a race and after. This is the best way to go about planning your meals for a successful race. 

 


Remember, training is as imporant of a part of the equation as the race itself. So, if you are reading this well ahead of time, by all means incorporate these changes into your routine. Eat a light carbohydrate meal before the run and a heavy cabrohydrate meal with plenty of protein after the run. This will work to train your body to work under these specific conditions, which will prepare you better for the day of the race. 

 


We hope after reading this word to word, you have a good idea of what you should be eating on the morning of the race. The diet secret to the competetive edge of a runner is yours now and we hope you see real results from the recommendations we have made in this article.

 

 

Here are some articles which could provide useful in your pursuits for better performance. We recommend that you check them out!

 

What Should Runners Eat: Essential Nutrition Tips for Runners

Food Runners Should Avoid: 15 Foods That Are Bad For Runners

Eggs for Runners: Are Eggs Good Before a Run?

10 Best Fruits for Runners: Fruits to Boost Performance

Why Are Bananas Important For Long Distance Runners? (Answered)

Which Plant-Based Milk is Best for Athletes? A Guide to Plant-Based Milk

 

Happy Racing!

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