Your Race Day Nutrition Plan
You made it to the big day – you should be really excited and proud of yourself! Now that you’re in the final stages of training, it’s extremely important that you plan what goes into your mouth each meal.
Think of everything you eat as fuel for the race. Nutrition is just as important as training miles at this point.
It’s simple, really. Stick to the basics that have worked for you during training. Don’t start eating lots of junk food right now, even though you might be stressed or nervous.
Eat as cleanly as possible and make at least 60-70% of your daily intake carbohydrate-based, 15-20% protein-based, and approximately 20% based on good fats. Your goal is to use the carb-based meals to stock your glycogen stores so that you have full reserves on race day.
Stick with simple, carb-based meals like pasta, rice, sandwiches and potatoes the week before your race. Add vegetables, fruit and lean, clean protein for well-balanced, nutritious meals.
Stick with foods that work with your body. The last thing you want is a case of food poisoning or an upset stomach! Stay away from creamy, fried, or greasy items... as these will not provide proper fuel for your body this week.
The night before race day, use a tried-and-true meal that will not make you sick or give you intestinal troubles.
Don’t be afraid to eat foods with a bit of salt in them – this will help keep your sodium levels balanced. Pretzels are a great, slightly salty snack for runners. Hydrate throughout the whole week… not just the day before the race. Have your water bottle with you at all times!
On Race Morning
Race day is the time to do everything you've been practicing these last few weeks. Since your marathon starts early in the morning, you can prepare for the race just like you would for a normal Saturday morning long run.
Get up a few hours before the race and eat a breakfast that's made up of 300-600 calories of complex carbs like bananas, oatmeal, rice, apples, whole grain bagels or cereal... or anything else that sits well in your stomach. Pick foods that are low in fat and fiber so you don't slow your digestion down. Drink a glass or two of water as well.
Make sure to pack a bag of snacks to bring with you to the starting line to munch on an hour before the gun goes off. Light snacks like granola bars, trail mix, energy bars, sports drinks, bananas, oranges, dried fruit, gels, and pretzels will work great.
Start hydrating from the moment you wake up, and continue throughout the morning. Make sure to drink 16 ounces of water or sports drink 2 hours before the race. This will fully hydrate you and give your bladder enough time to empty before the race begins.
During the Race
Remember to consume 100-300 calories every hour in the form of gels, orange slices, bananas, energy bars, hard candy, etc. This is not the time to experiment with new foods… so make sure you pack a fanny pack with foods that worked well for you during training.
Drink 5-8 ounces of liquids every 15 minutes to stay hydrated. Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink – at this point, it will be too late – you will already be dehydrated. A good rule of thumb is to drink at every single water stop you pass.
Remember to consume sports drinks at some of the rest stops to replenish your electrolytes and avoid hyponatremia (a condition that results when sodium levels drop too low).
After the Race
After the race, you may not feeling like eating anything at all, but it's extremely important to eat/drink in order to recover fully. You should drink lots of fluids after the marathon ends, and continue this trend for the next few days to make sure you’re fully hydrated again. Your body may need 24-48 hours to replace sweat losses. Use your urine as a sign – drink until it’s light yellow.
You will need to get food into your body to restock your glycogen supplies! Multiply your body weight (in pounds) by two (2). That’s the number of calories (mostly carbohydrates) you need to consume within the first hour of finishing the marathon. You should consume a carb-based meal of that size every hour for 4-5 hours.
You’ve just burned at least 2600 calories – you need to get some fuel back in your body. Eating is your reward for finishing a long, 26.2 mile race. Eat up and enjoy it! And enjoy your run – remember, you’ve worked hard for this day. Have fun!
This article was adapted from the "Race Day Issue" of the Peak Performance Nutrition Program... the online nutrition program Christi developed for marathon runners.
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