What to Eat Before a Race: Your Pre-Race Meal Plan

by - 4:18 PM

One question I often get asked is what is the best pre-race meal? What should I eat? When should I eat? Should I carbo load?

These are all great questions, however the key to a pre-race meal is to test and plan it out several weeks in advance and not to start thinking about it the day before your race. There is no "special" meal that is a winner for every person.

We are focusing on bio-individuality at IIN right now, and I think this theory also applies to pre-race fuel - one person's food is another person's poison. The ideal way to find YOUR best pre-race meal plan is to try out several different lean protein and carb options to find what your body responds to the best.

The Q&A below applies to my diet approach before a longer race (half/full marathon, Triathlon, etc.)

What to eat before a race

To find your pre-race meal plan, start testing out lean protein and carb combos the days before your longer training runs. You may find grilled chicken breast with whole wheat penne really fuels your body well, and other combinations of fish and rice make your stomach upset afterwards. My personal go-to is roasted salmon with sauteed veggies over brown rice with teriyaki sauce (a rice bowl of sorts). Don't eat something you have never eaten before the night before a race - pick a go-to meal you have often that your body is used to digesting.

When to eat before a race

Timing is very key when you are planning out your dinner before a race. Eat too early, and your body will be running low on fuel in the morning. Eat too late, and your body may not have time to digest everything properly for you, ahem, evacuate the tank on race morning, which can lead to a very unpleasant race experience. Plan on eating your dinner at least 3-4 hours before you plan on going to bed. Since most races start at the crack of dawn, you may be going to bed around 9pm. That means you should probably eat dinner around 5 or 6.

Other theories suggest having two dinners - breaking up your normal dinner portion into two parts, eating one around 4 and the other around 6, allowing the body ample time to digest and convert the nutrients. Again, test it out. See what works best by practicing before your longer training runs.

What about carbo loading?

In short, I think carbo-loading is a myth. I'm not sure who started this rumor, but jamming your stomach full of starchy pasta the night before a race is not going to help you go faster or farther the next day. There are only so many carbs your body can process at one time. The rest then gets converted to fat and waste.

If you want to begin to add some additional carbs to your diet, you should begin doing so in moderation 2-3 days before your race. This will allow the body to build up carb storage, instead of shocking it with intense amounts of carbs the night before. All this is really going to do for most people, is make them have to take a massive poop. Sorry, it's true.

What should I eat the morning of my race?

Again, this all depends on the individual. I suggest eating an easily digestible starch and protein. This could be peanut butter on ezekiel bread/whole wheat toast, or greek yogurt with granola and a banana. Test out your before-race fuel on your longer training run days and make sure you wake up early enough to eat well before your event.

Think of fueling your body for your race like filling up the gas tank on your car for a long roadtrip - don't give it a type of fuel it's never had before and expect it to perform amazingly well. Don't fill it up too early, and don't fill it up too late. Test out different food combinations during your training to find what works best for you.

If your race is tomorrow and you haven't had time to do that, just pick your healthiest, favorite meal you are used to eating all the time, and you will be fine. Your body will know what to do with it.

If you want some ideas, here are some recipes to try out:

Roasted Squash and Goat Cheese Penne (add grilled chicken)
Roasted Salmon (add brown rice and veggies)
Spaghetti Squash with Shrimp
Red Quinoa Avocado Salad (add grilled chicken or fish)

>> Check out my Five Tips for Race Week for other fun pre-race guidance <<

(And all of my friends should know by now that if you text me a fitness or foodie related question at 7am, I will probably end up doing a post about it later that day.)

Good luck to all running this weekend's Rock and Sole Half! I will be cheering for you at the finish!

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  1. Great post, Kat! Pre-race nutrition is so important and I love your tips!

  2. Thanks Sun! I agree, it can really make or break a race if you aren't paying attention to what (and when) you eat before a race!