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Pre and Post Race Nutrition Tips

Whether you are a runner, triathlete, weekend warrior or jogger, all athletes and runners can benefit from wholesome nutrition and proper hydration the day before and after a race. You must consider that your event may only be one to two hours of the day but your overall performance will depend on what type of nutrition you’re putting in your body leading up to and the day of the event. The longer your race, the more of a factor your nutrition will be in order for you to perform at your best. Healthy and wholesome pre and post-race food will enrich your body and give you the proper nutrient levels to optimize your performance. Proper nutrition can even help decrease recovery time, limit injury and even help fuel your next training session.

In order to perform at your best and not throw away months of training, proper race-day nutrition is critical. Runners of every stride and fitness level are unique and each person’s diet, formula and needs will vary. That being said, nutrition shouldn’t be something you look at exclusively for race day, this should be a priority during training and leading up to race day too. Our recommendation is always to seek the help of a dietitian or even get some nutritional counseling, however, here are some general tips for nutrition before and after your race:

Tip 1: Hydrate

Hydration is key to your success. Properly sequencing out and consuming water throughout the week, not just on the big day, will help you stay at the appropriate hydration level. Each runner is different and each race varies in length, so recommendations vary for how much water to consume. Generally, the amount of water is based on how far you are going to run and how much you weigh. A rule of thumb is to drink 16 ounces the night before the race and another 20 ounces two to three hours before the start of the race. 

Hydration levels can be difficult to judge so one of the easiest ways to check if you are hydrated is by looking at the color of your urine. You may compare to the Armstrong chart, or as a rule of thumb, you want your urine to be a lighter or more transparent yellow than lemonade. If your urine is darker than this, you need to consume more water.

Hydration is imperative to doing well in your race, however, you must also make sure to replenish your system’s sodium and potassium levels as you lose water. This can be done with food or by adding a sports drink to your regiment. Consuming too much water without enough sodium intake to match will give you hyponatremia. Hyponatremia is when your system lacks the amount of sodium it needs to function at an optimal level and you begin experiencing headaches, nausea, muscle weakness, or cramps.

Once your race is over, chances are you’ve lost some water and you will need to replenish yours system. A good practice is within 30 minutes of your race ending, drink about 20 ounces of water for every pound you lost during the run. Additionally, ensure you are incorporating a sports drink with electrolytes or some food to help you replace lost sodium and potassium.

Tip 2: Source from Unprocessed Foods

Although it may be convenient to grab a protein shake on your way back from a long-run, after your race or otherwise, whole foods are superior in most ways. These are fruits, vegetables, lean meats, legumes and whole grains. These should be the largest portion of your caloric intake and will provide a good source of protein, carbohydrates, fats, micronutrients and phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are essential for inflammation control which will aid in your recovery.

Tip 3: Lock-in Your Pre Race Nutrition

Pre-race nutrition can be confusing. Should you exclusively eat pasta at the spaghetti dinner and hope for the best? We think not. Make sure you are looking at your intake over the entire week leading up to the race before you start chowing down on fettuccine. Additionally, you should also aim to get in some protein the day before your race to maintain glycogen levels and not overwhelm your gastrointestinal system. While carb-loading can work for some better than others, each runner should consult a dietician to see what is recommended for their formula. If you are looking for a place to start for some popular pre-race foods you can consider the following:

  • Whole Grains – Bulgar, oatmeal, quinoa, whole grain pasta and amaranth are staples in the running community for a reason. Whole grains provide a good source of carbohydrates which can improve glycogen storage, but they also contain good amino acid spectrums (which can help with energy and recovery.) 
  • Dark Berries – Tart berries like cranberries, elderberries, and blueberries contain antioxidants and Vitamin C. These are both essential elements to reducing inflammation and improving blood flow. 
  • Sweet Potatoes – The unsung hero of the running world, sweet potatoes contain Vitamin A, a good source of the amino acid L-Leucine and beta-carotene, which function as a potent antioxidant. 

PRO TIP: Antioxidants can help to limit the damage caused by Reactive Oxygen Species (a fancy way of saying oxidative stress). Oxidative stress can impair muscle function and a diet higher in antioxidants may protect against this. 

Tip 4: Eat Familiar Foods

Eating healthy and wholesome foods is great for providing your body with the essential nutrients it needs to perform at a high level but runners should also consider eating foods that their system is familiar with. You’ve likely been training extensively for a race or competition so there is no need to try anything new or elaborate the day of or the day before your race. Eat foods that your body is used to eating when you are within 48 hours of your event, competition or workout. In other words, this is not the time to try any spicy food challenges. Many runners develop their own favorite combinations of food or routines, however, this will come with trial and error during training.

Tip 5: Get the Proper Caloric Intake 

Finding the proper amount to consume is a balancing act. You don’t want to be heavy before a race just to get the proper amount of calories. You can overeat. Conversely, you don’t want to be hungry during a race or “hit the wall.” As all runners are unique and races vary in length, each person will require different amounts to perform at their optimal level. Make sure you consult with a registered dietitian or get nutritional counselling to find your formula. A general rule of thumb for carb-loading leading up to race day is to eat about 4.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight per day. 

For some races, the start time can constrain what food you can consume. Generally, the longer time you have before an event the more complex foods you can eat. This longer time will give your body time to digest. While the day of foods have the the most effect on your race, those four hours or closer to the race are the most important. Your focus should be on the window 4 hours before the race, however, if your start time does not allow this, you can pick the appropriate amount of food with your given window below:

Number Of Hours Before RaceCaloriesExample Foods
1 Hour Before Race100 – 200 Calories Banana or Clif Bar and Water
2 Hours Before Race200 – 400 CaloriesOatmeal with Berries and Water
3 Hours Before Race300 – 600 CaloriesToast with Peanut Butter and Fruit Juice and Water
4 Hours Before Race400 – 800 CaloriesVegetable Omelette with Toast and Fruit Juice and Water 

After your race is over, you will also want to make sure you get some nutrients back into your system, especially within the first 60 minutes of finishing. While the amount you consume varies depending on the length of your race, aiming for consuming a 0.5 gram per pound of bodyweight of carbohydrates and around 25 grams of lean protein will help muscles repair.

Tip 6: Replenish Over Reward

You crushed your race, set a personal record in the 10K or ran negative splits the entire time and now you’re thinking of what treat to give yourself. Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich? Cold Beer? The best reward is to treat your body with wholesome nutrition. 

  • Lean Protein Sources – Fish, wild meat, legumes and some white meat can be your best foot forward when it comes to repairing tissue. 
  • Cruciferous Vegetables  – These are the family of vegetables that feature cauliflower, cabbage, kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts and many other leafy greens. Cruciferous vegetables contain a plethora of micronutrients like Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K but they also contain phytonutrients, a plant-based compound that has been shown to reduce inflammation and even protect against chronic disease. It should be noted that these should not be eaten before a race as they can act as gas-forming foods that will weigh you down.

Your body will appreciate you for helping it replenish some of the nutrients used during your race!

Join The Tread Empire

Pre and post race nutrition is something that changes over time and involves trial and error. To learn your formula and take your training to the next level, try out one of our nutritional counselling!