5 Common Pre-Race Nutrition Blunders
By Trisha Reeves
Proper nutrition during training is just as important as your weekend long run for a strong race performance. But all your healthy salmon and spinach dinners won’t mean a thing if you fall off the wagon just before the race.
Poor pre-race nutrition choices can leave you feeling ill, groggy, or exhausted on race day—all things that can spoil your performance. Don’t make these rookie mistakes at your next big race.
A well-hydrated runner is more alert, stays cooler, and needs less ﬂuids during a race. But many runners love their beer and coffee. Especially at big races, it’s tempting to celebrate the night before with fellow runners and a few brews, some salty beer nuts, and wake up the next morning in desperate need of coffee.
When it comes to an important race, do right by yourself and replace some of that beer and coffee with water. Don’t just dump two 20-oz. bottles of fluid down your throat ten minutes before you hit the starting line. Concentrate on staying hydrated for one or two days before the race, to ensure your body is ready.
I once ran a 10k on the morning of January 1. The night before the race, I celebrated with friends and stuffed my face. I thought this would give me plenty of energy for the race, but it also gave me some stomach misery. I achieved a PR that day—because I was racing for the bathroom.
Eating too much pre-race food is a big blunder because your body may not have enough time to eliminate everything before gun time. Since running stimulates your bowels, you might find yourself in a very uncomfortable situation. Have a good pre-race dinner, but don’t overeat.
If I earned a quarter every time I heard the phrase “carbo-loading” used to describe pre-race nutrition, I’d be up for early retirement. Sure, a certain amount of carbohydrates are needed for energy during a race, but consuming a meal made entirely of pasta and bread the night before race day isn’t your best bet.
Carb-laden meals like pasta and bread are satisfying, but they’re made of mostly simple sugars that burn off quickly and can leave you feeling sluggish. Runners may forget that fruits and vegetables are an excellent source of complex carbs.
Fruits and veggies also contain essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They provide energy with less calories. They also digest more slowly and thoroughly, which means less waste the next morning.
Your jumpy nerves can make it hard to think of food on race day. But as bad as overeating can be, going out there on an empty stomach can be just as detrimental. You’ll go through your energy stores quickly and you may end up hitting a wall.
Your best bet is to have a small meal made up of protein and carbohydrates, one hour or two before the race. My preference is to allow myself an extra few minutes in the morning so I can make a smoothie with some quick-digesting whey protein. Some other options are potassium-rich bananas, a bagel or a PB&J sandwich.
It’s always good to try out new ways to fuel before and during running. Just don’t do it on race day. Think logically when you’re deciding what to eat right before your race. You wouldn’t wear a brand new pair of running shoes on race day, and the same goes for new foods.
Trisha Reeves is an ultra-marathoner with more than 10 years of running experience.
This article originally appeared on Active.com—your source for event information, training plans, expert advice, and everything you need to connect with the sport you love.