You’ve committed to a 5K, 10K, half marathon or possibly even a marathon. Go YOU! But, there’s more to nailing your race than just running a lot. Knowing what to eat is a big part of getting across the finish line.
Our Nutrition Strategist and Brand Influencer—Yvette Waters MS, RDN, CISSN—has developed helpful nutrition tips for runners. Learn how to prepare for a race with nutrition ideas for training. Find out how to stay fueled during your run. And discover best practices for post-race recovery.
On Your Mark, Get Set…
Preparing for Your Race
Tips for Training
- Stick to a healthy, balanced diet with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins.
- Hydrate before, during and after each exercise with fluids and electrolytes.
- Eat enough. During training, you are burning more calories than you were before, so consume a diet rich in nutrient-dense foods to replace those calories and prevent muscle loss.
- Intake plenty of carbohydrates. Carbs are your muscles’ primary source of energy and should be a foundation of your diet when you are training for a long-distance race.
- Create a plan that fits your lifestyle. Consider your individual nutrition needs, food preferences, allergies, tolerances, schedule and willingness to cook when planning meals and snacks.
- Practice your nutrition. Throughout training, try eating different types of food and alter their timing little by little. Listen to your body to see what works best for you.
5 Days Before the Race
Focus on consuming fruits and vegetables. Increase your total carbohydrate intake by slowly adding in more pasta and other starchy foods.
48 Hour Before the Race
This should be your last big meal, giving your body ample time to digest anything you eat so you won’t feel bloated on the big day.
24 Hours Before the Race
Eat balanced meals and make sure you hydrate with electrolytes throughout the day. Avoid foods that might slow your digestion or make you gassy, like these:
- Sugary refined carbs
- Beans and other legumes
- Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts
- Fatty cuts of beef or other meats
18 Hours Before the Race
Start eating small meals every 2-3 hours, but cut out fatty red meat, fried foods, dairy products, oils and nuts. Focus on consuming light, digestible foods like small sandwiches with soup or energy bars. Keep drinking water and electrolyte beverages and avoid salty and high fiber foods.
For dinner the night before a race, carb load! This is the one situation in which eating lots of carbs is recommended, so enjoy it! Also look for meals that are moderate in protein and low in fat and dietary fiber like these options:
- Pasta primavera with chicken
- Turkey or salmon burger with green beans and potatoes
- Grilled fish or chicken with rice, zucchini and a sweet potato
- Turkey sandwich with veggies like cucumbers, tomatoes and avocado
- Sushi rolls with lean fish, avocado and plain veggies like cucumbers
- Stir fry with chicken, fish or tofu and veggies with rice
4 Hours Before the Race
Don’t experiment with new foods on race day! Sip—don’t chug—water with some electrolytes. Eat a small breakfast. Focus on low in fiber, easy-to-digest carbohydrates. Here are some ideas:
- Bagel with nut butter
- Yogurt with berries
- Toast with honey
- Waffles or pancakes with fruit
- Dry corn or rice-based cereal
- Oatmeal with banana or berries
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole grain bread
- White rice
1-2 Hours Before the Race
Have a snack made up of easy-to-digest carbs and something low in fiber, fat and protein, like one of these:
- Figs, raisins or dates with cheese
- Applesauce or 100% fruit juice
- Rice cakes with nut butter, honey and banana
- Cereal with milk or a milk alternative
- Sandwich with veggies, hummus and/or lean protein on whole grain bread
- Pancakes or waffles with fruit
- Banana with nut butter
- Apple and string cheese
During Your Run
If your run is less than an hour, stick to water. For longer runs, stay fueled by taking in 30-60 grams of carbs per hour in the form of food, sports gels or sports drinks like these:
- Coconut water
- Water and salt
- Flavored water
- Sports drinks
- Iced green tea with honey
- Sports gels
- Dried cherries
- Gummi bears
- Jam and honey sandwiches
- Frozen grapes
- Milk Chocolate or Peanut M&M’s
After the Finish Line
After all that training, hard work and preparation, you did the thing! But that doesn’t mean you should head straight to the bar to celebrate. Instead, rehydrate with water, 100% fruit juice, milk or a milk alternative. Consume a protein-rich snack within 30-60 minutes of completing your run like the suggestions below, to kickstart your recovery:
- Fruit, vegetable and yogurt smoothie
- Peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole grain bread
- Turkey and cheese sandwich on whole grain bread
- Greek yogurt with fruit
And eat a full meal that contains high-quality carbs plus protein to repair your muscles and replenish their glycogen stores 3-4 hours after your run.