Healthy You - Every Day

Race Day Tips and Tricks

Fuel your body for success

Fuel your body for success

Getting ready for a half-marathon or marathon is not for the faint of heart. It takes months of training and lifestyle modification to get your body in peak condition. It’s also important to make sure you fuel your body with the nutrition you need, especially in the days leading up to the race.

“The physical demands of running a half or full marathon will require you to be thoughtful about what you eat and drink, especially in the days before your race,” says Alexa Roseberry, registered dietitian with Lehigh Valley Orthopedic Institute.

Gearing up for the big day

As you train for a race, the physical demands on your body will increase and your diet should reflect that change. Your overall caloric intake needs to increase, and you will perform at a higher level by eating certain foods.

“You’ll want to focus on carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are our body’s go-to for energy, which you will need,” Roseberry says.

Roseberry suggests choosing foods that are higher in fiber and contain slower digesting carbohydrates. Some foods she recommends include whole grain breads/bagels/pasta/rice, whole or dried fruits and starchy vegetables such as potatoes and corn. Eat fewer refined carbohydrates and sweets such as pastries, cookies, cakes and sweet coffee drinks.

Protein helps support muscle growth and recovery. Choose lean protein foods such as lean beef and pork, chicken, turkey, eggs and low-fat dairy. It’s best to avoid foods high in fat since they could leave you feeling sluggish.

Put night before jitters to bed

After months of intense training, it may be tempting to calm your nerves the night before the race with a glass of wine or your favorite takeout meal. Roseberry says to reach your race day goals, you may want to choose some healthier options.

“Fuel well the night before your race by filling half your plate with carbohydrates such as bread or pasta, a quarter of your plate with lean protein and a quarter of your plate with a non-starchy vegetable. This ensures you get the vitamins and minerals you need,” Roseberry says.

Sleep also can influence your performance. While you sleep, your muscles recover and build using the nutrition you provided throughout the day. Aim for eight to 10 hours of sleep in the days before the race, and especially the night before. Sticking to a consistent sleep schedule will help you fall asleep and wake up easier. 

“On race day, meals should be consumed two to four hours prior to the run and be rich in carbs and protein.” - Alexa Roseberry, registered dietitian

Race day nutrition

You may be nervous the morning of your race, but Roseberry says it’s important to fight the urge to skip breakfast.

“Breakfast will help increase your endurance, speed, power and mental sharpness. On race day, meals should be consumed two to four hours prior to the run and be rich in carbs and protein. Be sure to avoid foods high in fat and fiber,” she says.

Within an hour of the race, you can fuel with quick-absorbing carbohydrates such as Gatorade, Stinger Waffles, fig bars or applesauce pouches. Not eating enough prior to the race can lead to fatigue and increase your risk for injury.

Staying hydrated on race day also is important. It’s best to hydrate with a sports drink such as Gatorade, which will help you replace carbohydrates and electrolytes you have lost. Plan to drink:

  • 16 ounces two-to-three hours before the run
  • 8 ounces 10-to-20 minutes before the run
  • 8 ounces every 20 minutes during the run

You can generally grab water or sports drinks at hydration stations throughout the race, but there are a variety of ways you can carry water while running, including backpacks with a bladder, waist pack or hydration belt.

Post race recovery

After the race, refuel your body with plenty of carbohydrates and protein within two hours of finishing the event. This will help replenish your energy stores, optimize your muscle recovery and building, and prevent muscle soreness.

Some meal ideas to refuel with are a turkey sub sandwich with baked chips and a side of fruit or a grilled chicken wrap on a flour tortilla with pretzels and low-fat milk. 

Roseberry says eating to fuel your body properly is important, regardless of whether you are training for a marathon.

“Everyone has different needs, strengths and weaknesses. Seeing a sports dietitian and nutritionist is a great way to address your specific day-to-day nutritional needs to ensure you are fueling your body properly,” she says.

Lehigh Valley Orthopedic Institute

Lehigh Valley Orthopedic Institute

The region’s leader in joint, spine and orthopedic care gets you moving again.

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