It’s race morning and its past the time you swore to yourself that you were going to leave at. The clock seems to be ticking faster than usual, double-time really, and each time you approach the door to head out, you remember something you’ve forgotten. “Do I have enough socks? Did I grab my flats? Should I bring a jacket? What happens if it rains?” Scenarios race through your head determining what the essentials are. It is quite easy to forget a necessity but if there is one critically important thing to remember it is to eat.
Now, some people are convinced that they run better without eating beforehand. Granted, when you have race anticipation, the butterflies in your stomach do have a tendency to fly away with your appetite. But consider how much faster you could run, if you flaunted a balanced energy level.
It is important to eat before races but not just anything. Certain foods can give you an edge before, during and after race day. Here are a couple.
Carbohydrates – Better known as carbo-loading this is key before race day. Pasta is probably the most familiar food associated with runners.That isn’t to say pile it on heavy (too much of anything is no good) but carbohydrates are well known for longer lasting energy levels and muscle recovery prior to activity. Another great option the morning of race day are bagels, which help keep energy levels up. As they are heavier to digest, it is important to time your eating them appropriately. You wouldn’t want to go for a bagel an hour prior to race time but three hours should be an appropriate amount of time.
Fruit – There is a children’s song that goes, “I like to eat, eat, eat apples and bananas.” Personally I’d trade out the apples for oranges but you get the point. Oranges, more commonly a post-race food favorite help recover energy levels and help replace electrolytes lost. For those who have a tendency to get muscle cramps opt for the banana. Banana’s give you a boost of potassium and potassium helps reduce the amount of lactic acid buildup that causes muscle cramps. Grapes are a personal favorite of mine on race morning, I find they give a great extra boost of energy. It is important not to overdo it pre-race with fruit though- citric fruits can add extra acidity to an already anxious stomach and the sugars in fruit can make you go from feeling great at a sugar-high but what goes up must come down and sometimes that happens at a less than ideal time.
Protein – There is nothing like a well-earned hamburger or steak after a trying race but you may want to avoid going for red meat prior to the race. Since it takes longer to digest red meat you might feel more lethargic come race day. Not to mention the energy your body is using digesting it, could have been used in your race! Hard-boiled or scrambled eggs are good options for day of the race because much like carbohydrates they maintain a more long-lasting energy supply.
Snacks- There is power in snacking. A fellow runner once told me, it is important to have something 1.5 to 2 hours before race time and I firmly believe this. That isn’t to say sit down with a five-course meal but maintaining sugar levels is beneficial. A handful of trail mix, dried cereal, a spoonful of peanut butter, or a granola bar are all great ways to do so, without setting yourself up for that stomach cramp that says, ‘Hello” two minutes into your race.
Recovery Drinks – It is important to replace the electrolytes you have lost on really hot days pre-race and most importantly post-race because it assists in muscle recovery. Energy drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade are the most well known ways and are probably the best tasting alternatives. However, the amount of sugar in these drinks to make them taste doesn’t make them the best option. The reduced calorie and better electrolyte version of this is Pedialyte. Honestly, the taste isn’t great but if you can get past it, I personally believe that it works much better without all the excess calories. Chocolate milk is another favorite recovery drink. It helps replenish muscles and by far tastes the best, but I’d avoid it pre-race. Is Vitamin Water, Sugar Water?
Dairy doesn’t typically process well and causes stomach cramps. Coffee and caffeine can add extra acidity to your stomach. Salads and vegetables alone tend to be calorie negative and are practically the equivalent of not eating before a race.
About the Author: Marie Walsh is a senior at Rice University, who runs for the Owl’s Cross Country and Track & Field Team. An avid runner, she loves to learn whatever she can about the sport and spread the knowledge.
Follow Marie: @MarieAWalsh