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    Preparing For a Big Race: The Dos and Don’ts of Pre-Race Meals

    July 30, 2012 3 min read

    pre race meal zensah compression

    Is running a marathon a good excuse to eat all of the potatoes, bread, and pasta your heart desires? Truth is, yes – for the most part. Well maybe not all of the bread and pasta that you want, but carbohydrates are very important in the days before a marathon for your pre-race meals. Carbohydrates are stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen. Glycogen is the best fuel for your muscles on Race Day and your body can easily access this stored form of energy.


    “Carbo-loading” is important for endurance athletes who will be competing for 90 minutes or more from moderate to high-intensity levels. Carbohydrates should make up about 80 percent of your pre-race meal as protein, fat, and fiber should be consumed in smaller amounts leading up to the big race. Such foods include pasta, rice, bread, bagels, cereal, potatoes, and fruit. Eating meat and cheese in moderation during this time will make more room for those much-needed carbohydrates and other necessary nutrients.

    Filling your muscles with the proper form of energy, or glycogen, not only on the night before a race, but also in the days before, will ensure that you can compete for the entire distance.

    Timing is Everything

    The last large meal should be finished 12 hours before your scheduled started to allow for full and proper digestion.  Breakfast on race day can be tricky as the ideal time for consumption is 4 hours before the start of the race. However, if your race starts in the early morning, chances are that you would rather sleep than wake up at 4am or 5am to eat breakfast. For those who do have 4 hours to spare, a pre-race breakfast can consist of up to 1,000 calories and for those with only a couple hours before the gun goes off, meals should only be 300-400 calories. Some smart pre-race breakfast choices include bagels, bananas, oatmeal, energy bars, and meal replacement beverages.

    What to Avoid on Race Day

    As valuable as it is to make sure you eat the right foods on race day, it is also equally important to know what foods to avoid that could potentially slow you down or make you sick during the race. One major food to avoid during your pre-race meal is breakfast meats such as sausage and bacon. These meats are filled with fat, which means they take longer to digest and can cause stomach cramps. Another food group to avoid on race day is foods with high sugar content. These foods will not provide valuable energy that the carbohydrates will and may upset your stomach during your run.

    Another major pre-race meal blunder is trying new foods in the days leading up to the race. Every one reacts differently to different foods and experimenting with these new foods should be done after you have finished your race, not before. Some foods that you have eaten before may still give you a bad reaction during your race.  As a result, you should try eating the foods that you will eat on race day during a smaller run so you can be certain that your body reacts positively to them.


    Everyone knows that hydration is another critical component in properly preparing for a race. It is important to consume a lot of water and beverages that maintain electrolyte balance, such as sports drinks. It is very possible to over consume as too much hydration can throw off electrolyte balance and disrupt sleep patterns. Plus, no one wants to be running to the bathroom too often on the night before or morning of Race Day. Hydration is important for all athletes, but especially for those looking to go the distance on a long-haul race.

    Note that not all athletes are going to eat the same foods and not all bodies can consume the same amounts of foods. It is also always important to remember that too much of a good thing is never a good thing, so carbohydrate intake and hydration should not be excessive. If you are concerned about eating too much or too little depending on your weight, size, or fitness level, there are plenty of resources to help you find the right meal plan for you. Don’t let all of your training go to waste and fuel your body with the right foods and beverages before the big race.

    What is your favorite pre-race meal? Are there any foods that you would recommend for that extra boost needed on Race Day? Share below!

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