Here’s all you need to know about eating before a race so you’re ready to run your best.
The proper pre-race fuelling will help you stay energised for the race, without leaving you with an upset stomach. Follow these tips to have a great first race.
It’s best to sip water throughout the days before the race. Avoid pounding the fluids right before the starting gun; this could you leave you feeling sick to your stomach or needing to take a break from the race to hit the bathroom.
The practice of carb loading (increasing your intake of carbohydrate-heavy foods while cutting back on protein and fat in the days before a race) is geared for events of 90 minutes or longer. And more than likely, you’ll be done with your 5K long before that! For a 5K, it’s likely that you have enough fuel in your muscles – from a healthy pre-race meal – to race your best without risking running out of energy. If you attempt to carb load before a 5K, you’ll end up with lots of kilojoules that you don’t need, which could make you feel bloated, nauseous and feeling like you have heavy legs by the time the starting gun fires.
If your race is in the morning, consume a 800- to 1200-kilojoule meal one to two hours before the race. The majority of the kilojoules should come from whole, unprocessed carbs. Keep the meal low in fibre and fat; both take a long time to digest. Aim for less than 10 grams of fibre per serving (or less if you have a sensitive stomach); limit fat to five to 10 grams. It’s also a good idea to stay away from the spicy stuff, which could upset your stomach.
Experiment with different foods before training runs so you know what works (or doesn’t work) for your system and there will be no surprises on race day. Try one of these options for a pre-race breakfast:
- Bakery bagel with a small apple plus 240ml of sports drink.
- English muffin topped with two tablespoons of jam and a piece of fruit.
- Bowl of oatmeal topped with raisins and brown sugar.
Don’t forget the fluids
Be sure to wash down your pre-race meal with plenty of fluids. Aim to consume 500 to 600ml of fluids two to three hours before the race, and another 200 to 300ml before the race begins. It’s okay to have coffee, tea or a sports drink if you regularly drink those fluids before your runs and they don’t upset your stomach.
If your race is in the late afternoon or early evening, what you eat at breakfast and lunch will have a big impact on how you feel for the event. For breakfast, focus on carbs with some lean protein. You might try oatmeal with fruit, low-fat yoghurt topped with fruit and granola or a bagel topped with a scrambled egg and some fruit. Cereal is a great bet, but avoid high-fibre cereals (those with more than five grams of fibre per serving).
At lunch, avoid high-fat and high-protein items since they take longer to digest. You might have a cup of pasta tossed with some napoletana sauce, plus a cup of skim milk. (Skip the cheese and buttery garlic bread.) Or you might try a turkey sandwich (hold the mayo and go easy on the veggie toppings) with a side of pretzels and a bottle of water. Avoid eating until you’re stuffed. You don’t want to arrive at the starting line still feeling full.
If you feel hungry on the way to the race, have a small snack of 600 to 1000 kilojoules that quiets your hunger but without filling you up. You might grab a small banana or a handful of crackers. Or have some energy chews or an energy bar for quick fuel that’s easy to digest. Choose one that is high in carbohydrates and has less than 10 grams of protein and fat. Be sure to wash it down with 200 to 300ml of water or sports drink.
Plan to arrive at the race with enough time to hit the bathrooms before the race begins without feeling rushed. Arriving at least one hour before the starting gun fires should give you plenty of time.
Don’t Do Anything New
Whatever you consume, make it something that’s worked for you during your regular training runs. It should be something that makes you feel energised but doesn’t leave you with an upset stomach. Don’t try anything new; you don’t want your first 5K to be derailed by a pit stop.