How will you fuel your body to finish strong in your race? Nutrition is important during your training and in the days leading up to your race. Nutrition is also important on race day, before, during, and after the race to finish strong and feel good.
Carbohydrate and Protein
Endurance athletes need a carbohydrate-based diet to provide adequate glycogen to the muscles for energy during training and during the race. Carbohydrates are found in grains, fruits, and dairy products. Approximately one-half of your calories should come from carbohydrate-rich foods.
While carbohydrates are important to provide energy, protein is important to build and repair damaged muscle from the miles and miles of training each week. Protein foods, including meat, chicken, fish, eggs, dried beans, peanut butter, cottage cheese, and other dairy products, provide amino acids to regenerate muscle tissues.
Dehydration is the single largest contributor to fatigue when training and racing. Sweating regulates your body temperature. However, the loss of fluids and electrolytes, including sodium, requires replacement to prevent dehydration and a compromised performance.
The days before race day, runners should focus on their hydration to ensure that they start the race well hydrated. On race day, runners may choose a sports drink as it offers water, as well as electrolytes and carbohydrates. To avoid the need to use the facilities, runners should reduce or stop drinking approximately 30 minutes before the race.
In addition to considering your hydration, depending on the duration of your race, you may choose to fuel your muscles with a supplemental carbohydrate. A variety of options including gels, sports beans, or gummies can be used before or during the race.
After the race
Once you cross the finish line, start drinking water or a sports drink. Runners should continue to hydrate and drink 24 oz. of fluid for each pound lost during the race. The water will replace lost fluids and a sports drink is important for replacing vital electrolytes.
Protein and carbohydrates are also important to replenish glycogen stores and rebuild muscle tissue. Some runners opt for a meal while others do not feel hungry and choose low-fat chocolate milk or protein shake instead. Remember to never try anything new on race day and experiment during training to learn how your body will handle whatever fuel you are using.
Nutrition Tips for Training
Eating Before Exercise
The goal is to consume a carbohydrate-rich snack or meal before exercise to top off muscle glycogen stores. Include a small amount of protein to help build and repair muscle tissues. Choose pre-exercise meals that are low in fat and fiber to ensure optimal digestion.
3-4 hours before your run
30-60 minutes before your run
Eating During Exercise
The optimal fuel blend during prolonged exercise requires the proper mix and timing of fluids, carbohydrates, and electrolytes. Experiment with sports drinks and foods for different types of workouts and competitions including:
Eating For Recovery
The goals of recovery include restoring fluids and electrolytes (sodium and potassium) lost in sweat, replacing muscle fuel (carbohydrate), and providing protein to aid in repair of muscle tissue. Begin nutrition recovery with a snack or meal within 15-60 minutes after your run.
Fluids: Carbohydrate-electrolyte sports drink to replenish fluids and electrolytes
Snack ideas: Smoothie made with yogurt and frozen berries, sports bar, graham crackers with peanut butter, banana, or low-fat chocolate milk
Meal ideas: Turkey on whole wheat bread with and veggies, pretzels, and low-fat chocolate milk; whole wheat tortilla with beans, rice, cheese, salsa and avocado; or stir fry with lean protein, veggies and brown rice
Enjoy your training and prepare for your race with these easy to follow nutrition tips!
Ginger Meyer, MS, RD, LD