Written By Aaron Boike – B.S. Kinesiology, UESCA Certified Running and UltraRunning Coach, UESCA Certified Endurance Sports Nutrition Coach, ACE Certified Personal Trainer

Fueling for Your Best Race

When it comes to having a top notch race experience and a solid performance, few things are more important than fueling. Often people only think of fueling as necessary for longer endurance events, but what you eat before, during, and after your run will have a major impact on how you feel during any race distance. 

Before The Run: Feeling and performing your best starts in the days leading up to the event. Carbohydrates should be emphasized a bit more starting two days before your race. This does not mean you need to gorge yourself on a huge pasta dinner, but consider having that extra pancake, piece of fruit, or helping of sweet potatoes to help your body top off stored muscle glycogen in your muscles and liver. Emphasizing slower burning complex carbohydrates in the days leading up to the event, such as whole grains and starchy vegetables is best. The night before, eat a simple carbohydrate rich meal that you know won’t cause any GI distress. Avoid having too much fiber in the night before and morning of the race to avoid unwanted trips to the porta potty. The morning of, eat a simple breakfast 2-3 hours before the event with carbohydrates and protein, Minimize high fat and higher fiber food options on race day, which are more likely to leave you feeling too full or bloated on the start line. For longer races that will take more than 30-45 minutes, I often have athletes start their race fueling on the start line with an easy to digest snack in the final 20-30 minutes before the event. This could be something as simple as a banana or an energy gel. 

During The Run: For events that are lasting less than an hour, fueling during the event won’t be necessary. But for events that are longer, it can mean the difference between bonking and having a great day. Typically it’s recommended that during high intensity activity that takes beyond an hour, we should fuel with at least 100 calories every 30 minutes. Picking simple and easy to digest sports nutrition fuels, such as gels and energy chews, or liquid calories found in many endurance drink mixes tend to work the best for most people. During longer endurance events, whole foods are often utilized successfully due to the lower intensity of the activity. 

After The Run: You’ve done the work, and now it’s time to shift the focus to recovery! After the run, your body is craving carbohydrates to replenish blood sugar levels and muscle glycogen, and protein to help you rebuild your muscle tissues. A meal eaten within the hour or so after your run will do the trick for most people. If it’s going to be more than an hour until your next meal (as is often the case!), consider having a post race snack that includes carbohydrates and protein, such as an energy bar, or a banana and protein shake to help kick-start your post race recovery. 

No matter what race distance or level of athlete you are, mastering your fueling before, during and after the run is going to help make race day the most enjoyable and successful experience possible. Run strong, enjoy the miles, and make sure to smile out there!  🙂

Aaron Boike is the Owner and Head Coach at Performance Running Gym, a gym for runners and endurance athletes located in St. Louis Park, MN. He holds a B.S. in Kinesiology, is a Certified Personal Trainer through the American Council on Exercise, and holds a running and ultrarunning coach certification through UESCA. Contact him directly at aaron@3clickfitness.com, follow him on Instagram @trainerontherun, or learn more about Performance Running Gym membership and services at www.performancerungym.com.