What to Eat Before Your Next Race (The Night Before, the Hour Before, and More!)

by Future Tilt March 27, 2024 4 min read

What to Eat Before Your Next Race (The Night Before, the Hour Before, and More!)

Prepping for a race can be exciting . . . exhilarating. . . even fun.

But it can also be nerve-wracking, especially as you get closer and closer to race day.

It’s for this reason (and many others!) that setting your pre-race nutrition plan on autopilot is a really, really good idea.

Keep reading to learn how it’s done — in this article we’ll be looking at what to eat the day before, the night before, and the hour before your next race. These principles are designed to work whether you’re racing a marathon, half-marathon, triathlon, or even 5k!

  • Prerace basics: hydration, carb loading, and more
  • How to eat the night before your event
  • Foods to avoid before your next race
  • Pre-race breakfast ideas
  • Pre-race nutrition FAQs

Prerace basics: hydration, carb loading, and more

The first thing to know about prerace nutrition? It’s not necessarily the same as normal pre-workout nutrition. What you eat the night before and the morning of the race will often be different than what you eat in training. Below are some key similarities and differences.

Hydration: Hydration is one thing that can stay fairly constant as you go from training to competition. Be sure to keep yourself fueled with water and electrolytes (TriFuel can help with this). Bonus points for incorporating smoothies or fresh juices into your routine; these alkaline beverages can make it easier for your body to stay alkaline, potentially lowering your stress hormone levels.

Carb loading: Your daily carbohydrate intake is something that can (and often should) vary as you get closer and closer to your competition day. Many elite endurance athletes “train low” and ”race high” when it comes to carbohydrate intake, ingesting relatively fewer carbs during some training sessions, and ample carbs before and during competition. This trains the body to burn fat for fuel during a wider range of workout intensities and reduces your chance of ‘bonking.’

Here’s how one study puts it:

“High dietary carbohydrate (CHO) intake for several days before competition (CHO loading) is known to increase muscle glycogen stores, with subsequent ergogenic performance benefits often seen in events longer than 90 min in duration.” [1]

Note that athletes with blood sugar regulation issues should usually avoid carb loading and simply stick with their normal favorite carb sources.

How to eat the night before your event

The night before race day: it’s traditionally a time for early bedtimes, plenty of rest, and over-the-top carb loading.

Newer research, however, is showing that ‘carbo-loading’ may not be needed for each and every athlete . . . or each and every race.

You may not need to carb load, for example, for shorter races like 5ks and 10ks. These races don’t last long enough to deplete your glycogen stores.

You won’t want to outright neglect carbs either, though. Stick with a balanced pre-race dinner that features carbohydrates, complete proteins, and healthy fats. Many athletes prefer a 50/25/25 carb/protein/fat split. Athletes who have a big race coming up can go up to roughly 60/20/20. Premium carb choices include:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Starchy veggies

Foods to avoid the night before your next race

Whole foods are almost always a good choice when it comes to prerace nutrition. There are a few foods, however, that you probably don’t want to eat the night before your race. These foods include:

  • Spicy foods
  • Heavily seasoned foods
  • Caffeinated foods/drinks

Now is also not the time to branch out to new foods. Simply shift your intake of your favorite foods towards carbohydrates.

Pre-race breakfast ideas

Want to really dial in your pre-race breakfast? Then ‘layer’ your carbohydrate intake with several different types of carbohydrates, including slow-burning carbs and higher-glycemic carbs. Here’s one way to do it.

  • Have a bowl of oatmeal, muesli, granola, or other high-carb whole grain 2-3 hours before your race. Avoid foods with too much fiber.
  • Incorporate just a little bit of healthy fat and protein into your meal, too (milk, yogurt, protein powder, peanut butter, coconut oil, etc)
  • Have a caffeinated sports gel and/or electrolyte-rich sports drink ~30 minutes before your race

Pre-race nutrition FAQs

How can I ensure I have enough energy prior to race-day?

By taking in slightly more complex carbohydrates, glucose, and healthy fats in the 24 hours prior to your race! These macronutrients help ensure your glycogen stores are fully stocked by the time they should be.

Can I eat veggies the night before my race?

Of course. Just make sure they’re not too high in fiber or hard to digest. (Fibrous veggies can slow down your digestion the next day.)

Are bagels and peanut butter a good choice for my pre-race breakfast?

If you enjoy them — and they make you feel good — then absolutely!

What’s the best pre-race meal?

That depends on what makes you feel good . . . and what you enjoy most. Granola bars, energy bars, nut butters, and dried fruit can all be good choices. If you’re doing long-distance racing, be sure to include lean protein into your pre-race meal, too.


Author: Thomas Wrona

Date: 3/27/2024

Sources

  1. Sedlock DA. The latest on carbohydrate loading: a practical approach. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2008
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18607222/

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