Ready, Set, Race! How to fuel yourself for a race

Ready, Set, Race! Pre-Race Fueling

It’s always worthwhile to take some time to look at your pre-race fueling choices, with the aim of eating just enough to maintain your energy level and to give your system a boost.  The ingredients for a good pre-competition meal include both physiological and psychological factors, so a bit of experimentation is often needed to assess what foods you enjoy along with what your body will best tolerate prior to exercise.  Although we’re each an ‘experiment of one’ when it comes to pre-race fueling, some general guidelines may be beneficial.

*Pre-Race Nourishment:

What you eat before competition has 4 main functions:

>To help prevent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which can result in light-headedness, fatigue, blurred vision and indecisiveness.

>To help settle your stomach, absorb some of the gastric juices, and abate hunger.

>To fuel your muscles, both with food eaten in advance that is stored as glycogen, and with food eaten within an hour.

>To pacify your mind with the knowledge that your body is well fueled.

*When running a 5K, you can enjoy any tried-and-true foods that digest easily and settle comfortably. About 2-3 hours pre-race, have a light 200-400 calorie meal (depending on your tolerance), such as low-fat yogurt and a banana, or 1 to 2 sport bars, tea or coffee and 8-16 oz. of water.  Allow 1-2 hours for a liquid meal, such as a smoothie, and less than an hour for a small snack*Faster runners…Remember that you may need more digestion time before intense racing, as your muscles require more blood during intense exercise than with moderate or low intensity efforts, so your stomach may get only about 20% of its normal blood flow during hard efforts, which slows the digestive process.

*Limit high-fat proteins such as cheese, full-fat dairy or peanut butter as these take longer to empty from the stomach because fat delays gastric emptying.  Low-fat protein such as poached eggs or low-fat milk with cereal are generally good choices. Limit high-fat foods as well (such as bacon) to avoid GI problems, along with high-fiber foods (bran cereals, or high-fiber sports bars, or any food that has more than 3 grams of fiber per 100 calorie serving).

*Be cautious of sugary foods (such as soft drinks, jelly beans, or even maple syrup or some sport drinks) to avoid a drop in blood sugar that may leave you tired or light-headed.  If you must have a bit of something sweet, the best bet is to eat it within 5 to 10 minutes of the event as this short time span is too brief for the body to secrete excess insulin. (The hormone that causes low blood sugar).  Since the body stops secreting insulin when you start to exercise, you should be able to handle this sugar fix safely.

*Dehydration actually enhances the risk of intestinal problems, so be sure to practice getting in 8-12 oz. of fluids pre-workouts during training, so that your GI system will be ‘trained’ by race day as well.

A Timeline for a 5K Race might look Like This:

*2-3 hours before– Toast with jelly and a banana, or low-fat yogurt plus 16 oz. water

*During Race-Nothing…No need to take in calories for this short race.

*30 Minutes After-Low-fat yogurt or other small snack with protein to help recovery.

*1 Hour After-A real meal, like a veggie omelet and a piece of fruit, so you replenish your body with healthy fuel.

Breakfast really IS for Champions on Race Morning, so have a solid Game Plan for good nutrition in place…Your body will pay you back when you zip across that Finish Line!


Pam Landry

Pam Landry

Dedicated CT RACE IN THE PARK Coach

photo credit: Juanedc via photopin cc provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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