Race Day Dilemma: What Should I Eat and When?

What you eat and drink during a day can greatly affect your energy and performance levels during exercise. It also can impact how quickly your body recovers. To get more from your workouts, develop a nutrition plan.

Choose Foods that Work for You
For most, eating a healthy, balanced diet will give you all the fuel you’ll need for workouts.

If you’re preparing for an athletic event, consider upping your intake of carbohydrates to a moderate level several days before. And avoid high-fat foods, like fried foods, on event day. They’re difficult to digest.

Time Your Intake
How you schedule food intake also can make a difference. Try to:

  • Enjoy a healthy breakfast. Refueling your body early in the day can affect the quality of workouts later on.
  • Eat every three to four hours — three meals plus three to four snacks — to help maintain energy throughout the day.
  • Have a snack one to three hours before exercise to provide muscle energy.
  • If you regularly train for an hour or more, use nutrition to help your body recover post workout. Have a snack that contains fluids, carbohydrates and protein, like a smoothie made with low-fat milk and fruit.

Don’t Overlook Fluids
Dehydration causes the body to heat up faster, making it more difficult to get through a workout. To keep your body well hydrated:

  • Keep a water bottle with you and drink throughout the day.
  • Drink about 20 ounces of water one to two hours before intense exercise. Then drink an additional 10 to 15 ounces within 15 to 30 minutes of the activity.
  • Take frequent water breaks during exercise.

Race Day Ready
What works for your body may not work for someone else when it comes to eating on race day. But having a plan can help you focus on your race and not on your tummy.

  • Don’t skip breakfast. Eating a small breakfast can help keep blood sugar levels within their normal range, help you perform at your best and aid your post-race recovery. You can keep it light with instant oatmeal made with skim or low-fat milk, toast with nut butter, dry cereal, or a banana.
  • Bring a variety of healthy foods. If you aren’t hungry now, you will be hungry later.
  • Plan on protein. Nibble on cheese sticks, nuts, peanut or nut butters, deli meat slices, yogurt or yogurt drinks, boxes of low-fat milk, hummus, hard-boiled eggs, or edamame.
  • Consider carbs. Have easily digestible sources, like fruit leather, applesauce, fresh or dried fruit, veggie sticks, crackers, unsweetened dry cereal, pita or other breads, or pretzels. Stay away from refined sugars such as soda, candy and desserts on race day.
  • Stick with what you know. Remember the rule: “nothing new, only tried and true” on your race day. Don’t try new foods on the day of or the day before a race.

Ready? Set, go! Lace up, eat up and get going!