Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pre-Race Nutrition

This weekend my daughter Madison, and my wife Michael of Slowly Tri-Ing, are running the Oklahoma City Memorial Half-Marathon in Oklahoma City, OK.  It's Madi's first Half-Marathon EVERRR!  And Michael's third - so we're all pretty pumped.  (I'll be running with them too.)
Marathon Radar
So we've been thinking a lot about what to eat in the days leading up to the race.  And last week Coy Martinez of First In Philly suggested that I write a blog about what I eat before a race.  And well, I'm nothing if not influencable ... so here' goes!

Carb Loading
In things that I've read (and experienced first hand), one of the mistakes people make before a marathon is OVER-CARB LOADING.  We are all ultra-conscience of getting enough carbs befor the big race and often we totally change our diet, stuffing our faces with every carbohydrate filled goodie we can find.  As a result, on race day we are a few pounds heavier, and feel bloated & poop-filled (need evidence ... um, check out the line of porto-potties before the race ...  not many things worse than the wafting of carb-filled excrement!!!).

The truth is, there is a lot of debate even to this day about carbo-loading before a  marathon.  Old-school runners rarely loaded up the week before a marathon, trying to get skinnier and lighter at the starting line.  In 2005, the Marathon Directors College said carbohydrate loading has been dropped by most serious marathoners. You should eat a normal diet with 60-70% carbohydrates the week before the marathon, but do not increase your total calories http://walking.about.com/od/marathontraining/f/carboloading.htm

In November of last year I wrote to Sports Dietion Jackie Dikos, a 2:45 Olympic Marathon Qualifier at the 2010 Indianapolis Monumental Marathon, and asked her about carbo loading.  You can read the article on her blog here ... http://nutritionsuccess.org/blog/2010/11/disappointed-because-i-usually-hit-the-wall/  Jackie was very kind and helpful in giving me a little pre-race meal advice that I have used with great success in the two marathons following Indianapolis.

For my first eight marathons, I would slowly add carbs all week, and then eat everything in sight the day before.  It led to the above mentioned condition, and my stomach never really felt great before the race.  Following Jackie's plan, I now do the majority of my carb loading two days before, and then eat fairly sensibly the day before the race.  It has worked wonders.

So here is what I typically eat for a Saturday race ...

Eat healthy, normal meals, usually about 2300 calories... not carbo loading at all - try to stay relaxed and don't do or eat anything out of the norm

     Breakfast ... lots of fruit, namely strawberries, blue berries, an orange and banana & wheat toast, yogurt, 3 egg
     whites, and maybe dry oatmeal
     Snack ... smoothie if available with whey protein or almonds & another banana & saltine crackers
     Lunch ... usually pizza and some fruit
     Snack ... protein bar (I know I'll hear from Jason of  Cook Train Eat Race on this one) & more crackers
     Dinner ... chicken pasta with brown rice on the side if I can get it, broccoli or brussel sprouts
     Snack ... pretzels or more crackers & an apple
     Calories ... aprx 3300-3500
     Note: I also usually drink a lot of Gatorade & as much water as I can hold
Lots o' crackers

     Breakfast ... lots of fruit, namely strawberries, blue berries, a banana & wheat toast, yogurt
     Snack ... saltine crackers or protein bar
     Lunch ... chicken pasta again
     Snack ... protein bar or banana
     Dinner ... very light - usually a chicken salad or something like that
     Snack ... a few pretzels or more crackers & a banana (I try to stop eating around 7pm)
     Calories ... aprx 2500    
     Note: I still drink a lot of Gatorade & water, but nothing after 9pm
Some sort of chicken & pasta is a pre-race favorite

     Breakfast ... Banana & protein bar when I first wake up aprx 4 hours before the race
     EXACTLY 1/2 hour before the race ... I'll eat a Power Bar C2Max Carb/Protein bar for a last shot of race energy

So that's what I do.  The only two things that are a little out of the ordinary are aprx 5-6 bananas, and pizza ... but hey, pizza works for me and is my good-luck charm! And here's the usual disclaimer ...  THIS IS ONLY WHAT WORKS FOR ME!!! Obviously you should practice and do what works for you before a race.  I never cramp and usually don't hit the wall anymore ... which I attribute mostly to better training and pacing, but also improved diet.  The biggest difference I've noticed by adding the carbs two days before the race is that I don't feel so bloated and loaded down at the starting line.  Eating less the day before also just seems more normal.

Hope this is helpful!  But again, I can't stress enough practicing what works for you before your long runs and simulating "race day" as much as possible.  Best of luck with your pre-race nutrition!
... be great today!


  1. Great post. I really get confused on should you eat more carb vs protein the night before. I love that you just eat normal as the race get closertime. I have read so much on carb loading. Thank you.

  2. Great post! My cousin was just asking me my advice on pre race fuelage. This answers a lot of those questions. :)

  3. I loved this post for lost of reasons! One, I dig crackers and I don't drink enough water. I work with a girl that has the perfect diet and I've actually handed her the reigns to feeding me the week before a race and guess what I had today? Grilled chicken and rice! You're right about the carb loading! It never has worked for me, I feel like a slug!

    Since I think we're on the same wave length I'm gonna try the Power Bar a half hour before the race. I normally have a banana and that has always worked wonders for me but I think I need a little more "kick".

    Chris K is coaxing me into almonds, I see you like them too. It's just that I'm a pecan person! :)

    Thanks a million for the shout out and this was a great post! Hope you and Michael have a blast this weekend!

  4. Ah this comes at a PERFECT time for Moi!
    thank you!
    I am running my second half on Sunday!
    and I want to do well this time. I made a lot of beginners mistakes at my 1st HM. Thank you for sharing gives me some ideas. I cannot take too many calories at once and I am on a reslly strict diet for health reasons...it makes it very hard to have the proper calorie intake for a race.

  5. This post made me hungry. Too bad I can't carb load everyday. Well, I could. But I'm not as active as you. Good luck to you.

  6. interesting read. Thank you. I've been thinking more along the lines of fuel right before and during my races but this is helpful to think about too.

  7. Very interesting stuff. I have to say I am not incredibly experienced in pre-race fueling. I just never have tried to veer too far from what i do in day to day training.
    I know that if I have to run in the morning, I don't want to over-fiber-load myself with too many fiber filled carbs the night or day before. Same for race day..
    I like that you pre-hydrate. I think I really missed that this last race- forgot about it.

    Enjoyed the post!

  8. Interesting post. Any thoughts on what would be different for a half vs full marathon? I don't change much in my diet, except to make sure I actually eat some carbs the night before a race (usually brown rice) with my usual amount, a.k.a. lots and lots, of veggies.

  9. There's a new school of thought that maybe fat-loading before an endurance event might work, with some minimal carbo-loading just before the event to top off the tank. In either case, the pasta dinner should be eaten at least two nights before, from what I've read.

  10. First, your comment on my Blog was hilarious.

    I am the King of Bonking and have played around with this alot. Obviously, this works for you. I "carbo load" way more than you do. I start earlier, eat less protein bars, and generally more carbs. Not good, bad, right, or wrong, just what I have to do to stave off my bonk.

    Okay, do you take requests from Dudes or just cute and funny women like Coy? I am requesting your formula for nutrition during your race.

  11. As for Kovas, don't listen to him.

  12. Nice post! I must admit I don't eat anything specific anymore before races. I just make sure I always eat a lot the week before a long race. I include more carbs in the form of cakes and snacks the week before an ultra.

  13. Great post. I struggle on what to eat before a race

  14. Awesome post. I stick to my daily routine and just add a little carb-water mix the day before. A GU in some water just to top off the fuel tank by sipping throughout the day and then again in the morning (if possible) just prior to the race.

    Carb-Loading to me is a waste because your body needs time to process it and what it can't process it 'spits' out and thus your port-o-potty line is tremendously long as you mentioned.


  15. Great post! Pizza works for me too and is my go-to food.
    Good luck to all with the race!

  16. Just found your blog and I love it! Way to go running the Boston Marathon and completing it! That is awesome! Good luck to you and your family in your upcoming race!

  17. If you want old-school thinking, take advice from a guy in a toga.

  18. New fangled trendy fads usually have staying power. Kovas is probably right.

  19. Snacking on bananas and saltine crackers sounds like a good idea pre-race and you might be able to find those when traveling to races, too. Great post!

  20. Good luck to you and your family this weekend!! I ran my first half marathon with my dad!

    I have a tough time with too much carbs, but I do the pasta and chicken dishes which seem to work the best, but typically I need to eat my big meal in the early afternoon and then light the night before. Have fun!

  21. I am so excited for you and your family. My daughter ran her first half with me at Disneyland Sept 2010.. It was an Awesome feeling crossing the finish line..

    Of course I cried!!!

    Thats a lot of food! It kind of scares me to think of eating that much...


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