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Fuel your race: what to eat before running

Finding the right pre-race fuel is trial and error for many runners. While some can indulge in whatever they want — Bill Rodgers famously had a stomach of steel — others need to keep it simple and relatively boring.

Not sure which category you fall? Err on the side of caution. Here are some rules to follow to ensure your pre-race meals maximize your race day performance and don’t hinder your run.

1. High carbohydrate, low fat, low protein, low fiber. This is the science. In order to fuel your run, you want your body to burn your own fat first, then use carbohydrates ingested for the best performance. Fiber and fat are not good choices. Both will lead to gastrointestinal upset.

2. Simplify. The less complex your meal the better. Picking a performance bar designed specifically for eating prior to a race may be your best first try. Or pick whole, simple ingredients.

3. Include caffeine. Coffee, tea, sports bars, and energy supplements such as gels and chews with caffeine all provide an extra boost. But moderation is key because too much will lead to GI problems.

4. Hydrate. Pre-race fuel is not just about food. Make sure to drink at least two 8 oz glasses of water or sports drink at least two hours before race time.

5. Keep sugar to a minimum. Try not to ingest too much sugar. Sugar will be your body’s source of energy rather than your own fat during the race and cause you to fatigue faster.

6. Think about timing. Take a gel, chew, squirt of honey, raisins, or sports drink 15 minutes before your race. This gets the engine running, and your body will thank you for a bit of fuel to start the run.

Here are some ideas for pre-race fuel that you should have two hours before the start of the race:

  • Oatmeal, black coffee, 1/2 banana, and water
  • Plain bagel, spoonful of peanut butter, black tea, and 8 oz of sports drink
  • Sports bar, a handful of raisins, green tea with a spoonful of honey

Written by Danielle Bressoud. Danielle is a licensed physical therapist, practicing for 7 years, and running addict living in Massachusetts with her husband and son.

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