By Coach Lora Erickson, BlondeRunner.com
After coaching hundreds of athletes and doing triathlons and running events for over 30 years I have learned a thing or two about what foods work for people before different types of races and what foods don’t. Although nutrient needs are very individual there seems to be some common practices that work for most people. Here are some suggestions; however be sure to test these in your training before you use them in a race to be sure they work for you. Take time to fine-tune your nutrition plan.
What to eat before a 5K, 10K run or Sprint Distance Triathlon event:
I find most runners tend to do better with less in their stomach during these shorter faster race efforts; especially if it’s an early morning race. For me I will eat a very light breakfast of 125-250 calories of an easily digested carbohydrate product, such as part of a flour tortilla, bread, granola bar or banana a few hours before the race start. I am 5’4”, 120-125lb athlete, so if you are larger than me you may need more, but I’d still go light. I would say a general rule of thumb would be .3-1 gram of carbohydrate per pound of body weight. Be careful not to consume too much or your body will shunt blood away from your muscles to the stomach to digest and slow your pace. I usually have some water or watered down electrolyte beverage with my breakfast. I try to be careful not to drink too much before the event so I don’t have to use the bathroom excessively. It’s also best to avoid anything really high in fat or fiber like fibrous fruits or things that contain a lot of dairy, artificial sweeteners or fructose; which is known to cause gastric upset. This holds true for most races. Usually very little food or water is needed during these shorter distance events but be sure to go into the race well hydrated but not over hydrated (see the “Cellular Hydration” article on BlondeRunner.com to learn more).
What to eat before a Half Marathon, Marathon or Olympic Distance Triathlon event:
Since these are longer events, more nutrition during the event is needed. For me I usually go into the event with an easily digested carbohydrate product one to two hours before the event like I do with a 5K or 10K. Sometime I will consume a few additional chews, a bite or two of a peanut butter & honey sandwich or part of a gel pack within 15 minutes of the start time of the race and then consume one gel packet every 30-45 minutes during the event with electrolyte water. If you don’t tolerate gels well, you might consider consuming a electrolyte beverage with calories (Gatorade, Cocogo, Powerade or the like) during the event. Again you want to avoid a lot of high fiber foods before or during the event so you don’t lose time using the porta-potty.
What to eat before a Half Ironman or Ironman Triathlon Event:
Since these events are so much longer than even a standard marathon event it is important to get a little more in the belly before getting started and I like to include a little protein. I usually suggest starting a pre-race nutrition routine the day before by eating small amounts of high-carbohydrate, low-fiber foods all through the day and sipping on electrolyte water to make sure my muscles are saturated. Four to five hours before the event I consume 250-350 calories of an easily digested low-fiber carbohydrate rich foods with some protein (ratio: 1 gram protein to 4 grams of carb) every hour on the hour before the event. Yes, this means you will have to set your alarm and get up early and sometimes when you are nervous it can be hard to eat, but it’s important to eat anyway. Again only use low-fiber foods (you don’t want to need to use the toilet during the event). Other food suggestions are; toast, bagel, rice, PB & Honey sandwich, banana, a small amount of salted nuts, pasta, granola bar, sweet potato, juice, protein drink (Ensure is popular and used by many Ironman athletes) etc. Wash foods down with a little electrolyte water. Also, I find most do better to avoid too much dairy or artificial sweeteners before events. Be sure and plan out your nutrition details to consume during your event too. Proper timing and cellular hydration during the event is key to avoid bonking.
Coach Lora Erickson
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Coach Lora Erickson aka Blonde Runner is a USATF certified running & USA Triathlon Certified coach. She has been coaching for over 19 years. She offers community classes as well as group and private coaching services. She is also a US Masters Level 1 & 2 certified coach She has a true love and passion for coaching and welcomes beginners. To learn more visit BlondeRunner.com.