Endurance athletes need to be especially conscious of their food choices throughout their training… But in the week, days and hours leading up to the big event, it’s even more important. Here is a plan for what to eat in order to maximize your performance come race time!
1 week before
Pre-hydrate with fruits, veggies and water-heavy foods
Most people focus on the day of a race, but getting serious about hydration a full week before a big event helps train your body to maintain proper hydration more effectively on race day.
Pre-hydrate throughout the week leading up to a big event or long training session by eating foods that contain high amounts of water like fruits, vegetables, soups, and smoothies.
Add chia seeds to your diet this week. Naturally high in omega-3 fats and covered in hydrophilic soluble fiber—Chia seeds absorb about 10-12 times their weight in water (watch the gel form around them when put in water). This unique characteristic means chia seeds help your body prolong hydration and retain electrolytes, promoting endurance and recovery in your training.
3 days before
Glycogen is how your body stores extra carbohydrates and it’s the most easily accessible form of energy. Keep in mind that you can’t fill up your glycogen supply from just one meal, so start carb-loading two or three days before your race.
During a half or full marathon you burn both glycogen and fat, but fat is not as efficient, which means your body has to work harder to convert it into fuel. This is why you’ll want to fill your muscles with glycogen before the race.
Try to get your carbs from high quality, whole food-based sources like grains, rice, oatmeal, whole grain bread, pasta, fresh juice, and fruit.
Add even more carbohydrates the day before your race, but be careful not to overdo fat and protein intake, as they are hard to fully digest (choose red sauce instead of Alfredo or meat sauce). Another tip is to eat your biggest meal earlier in evening or at lunch. You will sleep better and avoid GI issues if you’ve had more time to digest that big bowl of pre-race spaghetti!
3-4 hours before
Complex Carbohydrates (with a side of protein and fat)
A few performance-zapping blood sugar drops will teach you never to skip a pre-race meal. To avoid drops, choose complex carbohydrates from whole grains. All carbohydrates raise blood sugar, but because complex carbs are digested more slowly, your blood sugar rises at a slower, more even pace. This will give you a consistent source of energy that will continue to release throughout your training session or race.
The fiber in the whole grains slows the digestion of these carbs, but you can further extend their release by adding a little bit of protein and fat. The addition of protein before activity will also help speed recovery after you are done.
Options: Whole grain bread and nut butter, oatmeal with fruit and chopped nuts, or a whole fruit smoothie with yogurt or protein powder.
15-60 minutes before
Eat simple carbohydrates to give your body instantly accessible energy. Choose easy to digest, high sugar foods like a banana, dried fruit, or energy gel/gummy. Research shows that runners who consume simple carbohydrates 15 minutes before running are able to run 13 percent longer than subjects who took in nothing. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy… a handful of raisins had equal performance benefits to sports gel!
Eat whole foods or gels/gummies made from real food— you will get clean energy from products made without added chemicals, dyes or sugars.
During an event!
Simple Carbohydrates & Electrolytes (and water of course)
Eat or drink simple carbs to get sugar in your system quickly to refuel muscles. This will keep blood glucose and muscle glycogen levels up, making exercise seem easier, more pleasurable and delaying fatigue! Electrolytes are minerals in your blood that are depleted during training. Great natural sources are coconut water, dried fruits like raisins or dates, and natural gels or gummies. Pro tip: Test foods during training to see how you react to them before the big event.
Take in at least 30 grams of simple carbs (¼ cup raisins) and electrolytes (dried fruit or coconut water) every 60-90 minutes. Hydrate every 15 minutes.
15-30 minutes post
Simple Carbohydrates & Protein
In the 15-60 minutes immediately following a workout, your muscles are primed to receive fuel to start the repair process. So eat/drink your recovery meal as soon as possible after you workout is complete. Consuming the right foods shortly after exercise can also help prevent muscle damage and even sickness (a drop in the immune system can occur). So respect the 15-60 minute window and refuel!
Ideally, aim for a 4-to-1 carbohydrate-protein ratio to maximize recovery. Snacks like whole grain bread with peanut butter & banana, chocolate milk, cereal with milk & banana, or Lara Bars have the correct ratio.
1-3 hours post
Eating a good meal a few hours after your event will support the rest of your recovery. Incorporate plenty of fruits and vegetables to bring your body back from the acidic state created by intense exercise. Keep hydrating and get some extra protein to support muscle repair.