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What to eat during race week and on run day

Top nutritional tips for runners

If you’ve signed up to a running event and your race day is drawing nearer, you should be winding down your training and switching the focus to what you are eating and drinking. After all, you’ll want to reach that start line feeling fresh and ready for the run challenge. So, check out the following top running nutrition tips and make sure you adhere to them in the final week before your race – so that you can get the most out of your last few days of run training and your race day itself.

Eat enough carbs before you run
During your running training, it’s more important than ever to ensure you are eating enough good-quality carbohydrates. You’ll want your glycogen stores to be fully replenished by race day, as these will be an important source of fuel – and eating good-quality carbs will help you to do this. Ensure that you include carbohydrate in every meal and snack, and top up with fruit (that doesn’t mean you need to stuff your face with potatoes, bread or pasta at every sitting, though!) Remember that cereal, starchy veg, crispbreads, rice cakes, jelly babies and jaffa cakes all count too. If you think you might be going short, isotonic sports drinks are a useful back-up.

Don’t pig out before the race!
While you’re stocking up on carbs, be careful not to unwittingly increase your calorie intake. It’s the amount of carbs you are aiming to increase, not the amount of calories. The final week before your race should be a very light week as far as physical activity is concerned, so you won’t have much of an opportunity to burn off any excess calories. You can maintain a healthy weight by cutting down on high-fat foods and ‘extras’ such as crisps, chocolate bars and Danish pastries!

Don’t skimp on protein before race day
If you’ve been into some really tough training, make sure that you don’t skimp on protein during this last week. Protein is essential in muscle repair and growth, and you do need a little more if you are very active. Again, however, it’s the proportion of protein that you are looking at increasing, not overall calorie intake. Eating an equal-sized portion of protein with your carbohydrate-based food twice a day will ensure you get enough. For example, you could have a tin of tuna on a baked potato, or a palm-sized piece of chicken, fish or meat with rice or pasta.

Stay hydrated when running
With a week or less to go before the race, it’s time to start your hydration strategy. Guzzling down lots of water on race morning is not good enough. Make sure that you always carry water with you, and have a bottle on your desk and one beside your bed to ensure that you stay well hydrated. As for alcohol, studies show that drinking alcohol reduces the effectiveness of your training, as well as providing ‘empty’ calories and possibly leaving you dehydrated. That said, if you normally have a glass of wine with your meal, it won’t do much harm to continue with this custom – but you should definitely avoid wild nights out involving a lot of booze!

24 hours to go till race day...
With 24 hours to go until the race, your main objective is to rest, stay hydrated and eat healthily and lightly. A pre-race pasta and pizza blow-out isn’t going to do your performance any favours! It’s better to adopt a ‘grazing’ strategy, where you eat small regular meals throughout the day. If you do want to have a larger-than-normal dinner – if, for example, you are doing a marathon or other long-distance event – then have it earlier in the evening, so you avoid going to bed feeling bloated and heavy. Also, now isn’t the time to finally try sushi, or give some other new type of food a go – and if you suffer from gastrointestinal troubles when running, avoid gas-forming foods such as beans, cruciferous vegetables, bran and spicy food the night before your race. You should also avoid drinking alcohol the night before a race, as it will only cause you to lose precious fluid.

Breakfast time on race day
Research suggests that eating two to four hours before you run gives you the best chance of topping up fuel stores without causing gastrointestinal discomfort. The ideal pre-race meal should include a little fat and protein and a lot of carbohydrate. It could be breakfast cereal with milk, toast with a scrambled or boiled egg, or a bagel with peanut butter and banana. If you feel too nervous to eat, opt for a liquid breakfast, such as a meal replacement or energy drink or fruit smoothie. You really need some calories to top up liver glycogen that has been depleted during the night – so make sure you consume at least something.

Race day hydration
Taking in fluid should be top of your agenda – so have one or two glasses of water with breakfast and keep sipping fluid – little and often – until you’re around 20 minutes away from the off. Some experts suggest avoiding caffeine on race day, as it can upset the stomach and acts as a diuretic. If you have never experienced any GI problems from drinking tea and coffee before, then you’ll almost certainly be fine to have a cup or two – especially as research suggests that once you are on the move, your kidneys will go ‘on hold’ – so you shouldn’t need to answer the call of nature during the race itself.

Fuel on the run: what, when and how much?
Once you’ve started your race, you should remember that the distance of the race will dictate your fuel strategy. For any race that is going to take an hour or more, you are definitely better off drinking an electrolyte sports drink or energy gel rather than just water. You may even want to top up with high-GI snacks, such as jelly babies or fruit gums. For events that will take less than an hour to complete, water on its own is fine, as you should not need to top up your blood glucose levels so soon. But whatever you choose to drink (or eat) on the run, make sure it’s something your body is already familiar with. With regards to the volume that you should drink during the race, this depends on the weather, your personal hydration habits and the length of time you are going to be running for. It’s likely that you’ll need top up fluid levels every 15 to 20 minutes, however.

As you approach a drinks station during the race, try to make eye contact with someone holding a drink out so they know that you are going to take it from them. This will save you from missing out on vital fluid! Also, if you want to drink and run at the same time, you should practise this during your training, as you’ll have to pick up a knack for it – which involves taking sips while closing the epiglottis, before allowing the liquid to go down the throat.

Be prepared for the run...
Hopefully, you are reading this with plenty of time for a visit to the shops to stock up on healthy carbs, proteins, fruit and veg and energy products. It’s a good idea to plan what you are going to eat for dinner on race evening and for breakfast in the morning so you know you have everything you need. By following the tips here, though, you should be able to do this.

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