How to Eat the Week Before Running a Race

It’s every runner’s worst nightmare. You are standing on the start-line, ready to roll, and then you hear it: The girgle; the grumble; the growl…and it’s coming from your stomach.

The casualties of poor pre-race nutrition are the stuff of legend. Many a runner have prepared mightily for the big day, only to get waylaid by intestinal problems, stomach discomfort, or just hitting the end of their energy stores. And what many people don’t realize is that what you eat the week and night before the big event matters just as much, if not more, than what you consume the day of the race itself.

Here are some prerace nutrition tips for the week before the race to help guide you to a happier, healthier finish line.

1. Eat as Normally as Possible

Try to eat the same types and amount of food that you usually do. Don’t feel like you have to binge on carbs, but you should also not try to lose those last two pounds in the day or two leading up to the race. Eat moderate amounts of all food groups, with emphasis on complex carbohydrates, while still maintaining a balance of protein, fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats.

The week before a big competition is not the time to test nutritional extremes.

2. Bring What You Need 

If you are travelling to a race, you may need to pack a few go-to snacks or small, portable meals (like a sandwich, pasta in Tupperware, or cereal) to ensure you get the foods you need when you need them. You never know exactly what food a travel day or destination may bring, and you don’t want to be stuck experimenting at the local taco stand, or worse, going without proper fuel the week before a race.

3. Eat Often

The more frequently you eat, the more stable your blood sugar will be. This, in turn, will balance your insulin levels and help your body release and consume the optimal amount of energy.

Eating small meals or snacks every few hours will also make it easier for your stomach to digest the food, keeping it satisfied and settled.

Don’t Forget the Chocolate

It is important to keep in mind that you will probably be tapering—or cutting back in mileage—the week before a big race. This decrease in training causes a kind of endorphin withdrawal in many athletes, making them feel sluggish, irritable and more prone to headaches.

The cure for the tapering-blues? Dark chocolate. This delectable sweet has been shown to cause a release of endorphins similar to that of high-intensity exercise and just a little bit each day can help the body rebalance as you prepare for the big day.

4. Go to Bed Full

Dinner the night before is the last, really important meal prior to a big race. Take the opportunity to fill up with a well balanced meal, and even if you’re nervous, make sure to eat until you feel full. The meal should be high in carbohydrates and low in fat with a moderate amount of lean protein. You will have plenty of time to digest and the worst thing you can do is under fuel for the big day.

Don’t Stress

The more you stress out about prerace meals, the more unsettled your stomach will become. If you have a bad gastrointestinal experience during a race, go back over your diet and see what may have affected your stomach on that day. Experiment a little by removing red-flag food groups like fiber, fat, and produce, or try a suggestion from an experienced fellow athlete.

In the end, the best way to nutritionally prepare for a race is just use common sense. You know what works: You run and eat every day and understand you need to perform at your best.

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