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Pre-Race Food
What to eat before an event.

What and when you eat before a run is critical.
Carb loading!

The things you do before a race, help determine your performance in a race. There are training schedules to follow, equipment checks to perform and strategies to prepare for the weather. What many people forget about is food. Here's how to plan before your next event.

Time it Right

Test the best time to eat your pre-run meal. Some people can eat 20 minutes before an intense run and do great while others have to digest for two hours before taking a step.

For new runners, I suggest eating a snack between 200 and 400 calories, about 90 minutes before your run. If your stomach gets upset, increase the time by 15 minutes. If you have no issues, decrease the time by 15 minutes. Your goal is to figure out the closest time before the race that you can eat, without getting cramps or an upset stomach.

In general, the longer you run, the more food you'll have to eat and the more time you'll need to eat it before you start.

Choose Your Food

Next, figure out what you need to eat before each run. Consider fruit like a banana, blueberries or peach. A granola bar, toast, muffin or half bagel with jelly or peanut butter are good choices too. If you can handle dairy, Greek yogurt with fresh fruit is an option.

Running for more than an hour may mean you have to double the food or choose things that can provide a more sustained release of energy. Oatmeal, cereals, French toast, pancakes or waffles are all things you can try. 

Skip These

Avoid foods especially high in fiber or fat right before a long run. That includes whole-grain breads, legumes and high fiber vegetables. Typically those are healthier choices, but they take longer to digest and if eaten right before a long race can cause diarrhea or cramps.

Don't eat anything that keeps you up, you need to be well-rested. Spicy foods and things high in acids can cause problems, so it's better to skip them.

Caffeinated drinks may be fine for regular coffee or tea drinkers, but you probably don't want to add any if you're not already drinking them. Research shows little or no benefit to consuming caffeine before exercise. 

Carbohydrate Loading

Carbo-loading is a real thing. High carbohydrate foods like pasta or potatoes are stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen. During long events, glycogen is the fuel that your body can use the easiest.

In a 2006 study from Baylor University, there were distinct differences between how men and women should prepare.

Men did best when they increased the percentage of carbs in their diet to 70%, three to four days before the race.

Women performed better when they increased the percentage of carbs in their diet to 70% AND increased the total calories they consumed by 34%, three to four days before a race.

(You can download a copy of the study here.)

Remember, you're not changing the foods you've trained with the week before a race, just the percentages of what you're eating.

During the Race

Consume calories during the race, if your endurance event is longer than 90 minutes. The first hour and a half, most of your energy will be coming from glycogen. Once that's gone, your body turns to liver glycogen and the sugar in your blood. Taking in carbohydrates during the event gives your body additional fuel to push further.

Carbohydrates should always be combined with protein during a race. Protein stimulates insulin release. That's important, because insulin speeds up how fast muscle cells absorb blood glucose by up to 50 percent. During an endurance race, when you're burning up blood glucose, the faster you can replenish your energy the better you'll do. Protein and carbs work together to get your body what it needs quicker.

Protein also stimulates blood flow to the muscle and slows down the amount of stress hormone cortisol your body releases. During races, choose protein in liquid form that doesn't have lactose, so it's easy to consume and to prevent possible cramping.

Traveling somewhere new for a race can present problems. If you're not sure what's available to eat, bring your food with you. Remember, don't experiment with anything new, just stick to the tried and true.

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.