One of my cousins (who just ran a 25 minute 5k, no less!) asked me recently for my thoughts on food and running. I have so much to say! Keep in mind, I have zero actual nutritional knowledge. Everything I know about eating and running I learned from my own experiences eating and running.
The days leading up to a race:
The week of a race I try to make an extra effort to drink lots of water. I realize that drinking water on Monday won’t keep you hydrated all the way to Saturday or Sunday, but it helps me to be prepared. I feel like it also ensures that I will drink lots of water the day before the race, which does make a difference. In terms of food, I eat pretty much like normal.
The night before a race:
Carbs are a must. If it’s a long run, I eat pasta. Personally, I like lettuce, pasta, red sauce in a bowl in that order. I know that some people are fans of pizza, but I try to cut down my dairy intake before a race, so I skip the pizza, ice cream, etc. I continue to drink lots of water, but I avoid drinking too much close to bed time. (You don’t want to make a ton of late-night potty runs because your bladder is full.)
The morning before a race:
I always eat a piece (or two if the race is longer) of toast with peanut butter and jelly. I know that some runners prefer a bagel or a banana. (I had a bagel with peanut butter prior to running Austin and that earned me a PR.) Again, I drink water but not too much. There are some runners out there who like to drink coffee prior to a run, but coffee isn’t my thing, so I don’t. (My understanding is that it helps you stay regular, if you know what I mean. If that’s a concern for you, it might be worth a try.)
If it’s an afternoon/evening race, I have found that pizza lunchables work well for me. I don’t know why this is, but who am I to argue with something that works?
During the race:
This really depends on the length. If I’m running a 5k, I usually don’t take in anything (not even water – no time!). For a 10k or longer, I like to take in Gu. (For a 10k, I might eat the Gu at the halfway point. For a half, I take one Gu at 4.5 and one Gu at 9. For my recent full I had Gu every 5 miles.) My advice is to test out different flavors on training runs. (Strawberry banana might sound good, but it to me, it tasted like warm shampoo. Blech! I couldn’t even bring myself to swallow it. I’m just glad this didn’t happen during a race.) I’ve tried chews, and while they taste better than Gu, they are just too hard to chew. I think they work just as well, but they aren’t right for me. I’ve also heard of runners eating gummy bears, Starbursts, fun sized candy bars, oranges, and other solid foods during races.
As for fluids, I like water or Nuun and drink it as needed. I try to make sure that I take at least a swig every two miles.
After the race:
You’ll want to hydrate, so I always go for lots of water post-race. Protein will help you recover, so you need to find a way to get some of that in. My mom is a big fan of Muscle Milk. Milk doesn’t appeal to me, so I prefer a smoothie with protein powder. A big ol’ burrito is another protein-rich option, but really anything protein-y will work.
The big takeaways: Find what works for you and stick with it. If pizza the night before and coffe the morning of make you run fast, go for it. If dairy doesn’t agree with you (that’s me!) stay away. Practice your food/hydration routine in your training. That’s the time to work out the kinks, not a race.
What are y’all’s pre-, during, and post-work out go to foods? Anything that you have to avoid or that tastes nasty? Share your food wisdom!*
PS This Runner’s World post that HTP recently linked too is pretty helpful, too!