In honor of National Donut Day, of course we're gonna talk about food here in The Lab...
The days before a big running race can be nerve wracking, especially if it’s your first time running a long-distance half-marathon, marathon or ultramarthon race. Over time, as you run and race more, you get used to it, and the pre-race nerves are replaced with pre-race hyperactivity, excitement, heavy social media use and lots of selfie taking #_______ (fill in race name). Otherwise, maybe you’re too hard on yourself and you should quit wearing a watch like we did? Heh.
Seriously, with all the other things to worry about (i.e., WHAT SHOULD I WEAR?!) there’s another critical component to the final countdown to the start – what do I EAT?!?
Truth is, there’s not one running food solution that works for all runners, but here are some general suggestions based on our +10 years of racing. We’re not experts, but we’ve made some mistakes, done some things right, and definitely learned a few things along the way!
HYDRATION HYDRATION HYDRATION: One of the biggest issues that can screw up a long run or race is dehydration. Losing as little as 1% of your body weight in fluid can decrease performance up to 10%! Best to start the race with your fluids at full capacity – and this is super easy to do. For one, always drink lots of water and especially in the week before the race. Or, always, in general.
As a general rule, most pros recommend using a fluid replacement drink such as Hammer Fizz or Hammer Heed or Endurolytes (we like Hammer products because they’re natural, science based, less sugary and formulated by REAL athletes who use their products). vs. water alone as you want to be sure you maintain proper electrolyte balance. Over consumption of water can cause runners to lose electrolytes through their urine. The best way to stay on top of fluid intake is by using a fluid replacement drink. Sometimes runners will eat heavily salty foods in the days leading up to a race, especially if it’s going to be hot out. This helps water retention and reduces the likelihood of starting the race already a bit dehydrated. A “golden” rule about hydration (pun intended) is to only consume enough fluid so that your urine is very light to clear in color. Drinking more past this point could affect your electrolyte balance (as mentioned above) and also negatively impact sleep. There’s nothing worse than going to the bathroom too many times the night before a race! Doh.
EAT SAFE & SIMPLE: Another pre-race golden rule – don’t eat new foods! The last thing you want to do is start a race and have your stomach leave you scrambling for the potta-potty! It can be tough when traveling to run a race, but try to stick with a high quality, fresh-foods restaurant, and order the most simple pasta dish on the menu. Ask the restaurant to make a special dish if you have to. There’s not one food which works for every athlete, but one key thing is you want to eat more easily digested food. I’m sure you know what foods don’t work well for your digestion, and what foods you eat that feel like they sit in your stomach for hours. Ew. On the day before a long run or race, try to keep your eating as simple and clean as possible so everything digests before the start. Oh, how runners love talking about poop.
YOUR LAST MEAL: No, not your last meal ever (if it were that it'd be stinky cheeses, bread, chocolate and wine). Your last large meal before the race should be eaten at least 12 hours before your scheduled start. This means that if you have a scheduled start of 7am on Saturday; you should finish your last meal by 7pm on Friday. Finish, not start. This will ensure everything is fully digested before you start running.
RACE MORNING: Many runners eat a light, small meal that's more easily digested, 2-3 hours before the race on race morning. (Meb Keflezighi eats a bagel with almond butter, he said it during a live chat back in April after the Boston Marathon!) If you eat a liquid meal, timing is less important as it should empty out quicker than sold foods do. One of our favorite pre-race meals is some roasted sweet potatoes, or gluten-free toast with almond butter, and a banana. Always a banana. And sometimes a few bites of chocolate, too.
If you do choose a light solid meal on race morning, be sure you finish eating it around 2-3 hours before your start time. For 7am start time, this would mean your last bite should finish by 5am. In those final 2-3 hours before your event, it’s important that you manage hydration, so continue to drink watered down sports drink right up until start.
POST RACE: Umm, EAT WHATEVER THE HECK YOU WANT!! And have a beer! We have a rule where we allow ourselves to "go crazy" and pig out after a race (well, usually only after marathons and ultras). But, one key thing we've learned -- HYDRATE! Always drink a ton of water the day or three after a race. For each sip of beer, have a sip of water. And fill up on potassium. For each donut you eat, have a banana.
There are lots of factors to sorting out your pre and race day food, but hopefully this helps. After your race is over, write down what you ate, how you felt, how many times you went to the bathroom, how you finished, so you can remember it for more races. Good luck & have fun!