A blog by runners. For runners.

Pre-race meal planning: what should I eat before I run?


Pre-race meals are highly debated by runners and researchers alike. Opinions on what to eat vary greatly depending on the study. Not to mention all of us without masters degrees who have our own opinons on what works and what doesn’t. This can make the choice of pre-race meals rather dizzying.

Over the past couple of days, I did a little research on the subject and found a wealth of information. Turns out, a plethora of studies have been conducted to determine the optimal pre-race meal. Some claim carb heavy meals are the way to go. Others maintain meals heavier in fat reap better results. Even still, other reports confuse matters by saying eating a pre-race meal higher in fat then topping it off with a carb rich energy gel is the way to go.

Considering all the advice out there, I’ve tried to cull what I’ve read and put together a few basic tips for preparing your pre-race meal. As always, I’d love to hear yours tips as well, feel free to comment below.

  1. Eat! For those of you who run long distances this is probably not an issue, but even if your race is a 5K or 10K it is still important to have a proper pre-race meal. This will give your body the energy it needs to perform so you aren’t running on empty right from the start.
  2. Choose foods you know your body can easily digest. Most of us know what foods sit well and what foods send our guts spinning. As a general rule of thumb avoid foods that are overly heavy, spicy, or acidic prior to a race. I’ve personally found blander foods — like toast, peanut butter, and bananas — are tolerated well.
  3. Don’t use race day as a day to try out a new pre-race meal. Test your pre-race meal on a day when you will be running a distance similar to your race and see how you feel. If your gut reacts negatively, keep testing meals until you find one that works well for you, then eat the exact same thing on race day.
  4. Try to eat 2-3 hours before your race to allow time for your pre-race meal to digest. There is nothing worse than standing at the starting line feeling like there’s a lead bagel in your stomach weighing you down.
  5. Hydrate. Because most races start first thing in the morning, you are often competing with a night’s worth of dehydration, not to mention mile-long Porta Potty lines. Still, this shouldn’t be a reason to skimp on the liquids. Make sure to drink plenty of water during the days leading up to your race. For shorter races, try having at least 16 ounces of water with your pre-race meal; giving your body time to hydrate, then subsequently giving you time to hit the bathroom before the race.
  6. Listen to your body. Everyone is different and each of us requires specific fuel to run his or her most optimal race. Trial and error is the best tool for creating a pre-race meal that gives you what you need.  Don’t get bogged down with fad foods or get too concerned with what others are eating. Find the pre-race meal that works best for you, and then stick with it.

Written by Lisa Horvath.