There are more than a few blog posts on the interwebs that have been written about what to eat the night before a race.
To carb load or not to carb load, that is always the question.
My take on the topic: most people are missing the point.
FYI: the answer is whatever works for you, but when in doubt don’t carb load.
Start Fueling Early
During your taper period, and especially the week of the race, you need to start fueling your body with the healthiest foods possible if you want to be at your best on race day.
Yes. A week out.
What you eat the night before your race does matter, to an extent, but if you’ve been eating processed junk for the week leading up to the race one good meal isn’t going to do much.
The week of your race you’re dialing back your training for the taper period anyway, so why not take advantage of the extra time you have to cook some healthy food?
The Mythical Benefits of Carb Loading
The idea of carb loading the night before a race makes sense until you actually look at the science behind the practice.
Our bodies ultimately convert everything that we consume into sugars to power the different systems of our body.
So on race day, glycogen (sugar) is obviously in high demand.
Here’s the science that you need to know on the subject:
- Your body can store enough glycogen in your muscles to fuel approximately 2 hours of activity.
- If you overwhelm your system with more fuel than it has the ability to store within the muscles, your body will turn that fuel into fat.
- Since you’ve been taking it easy during the past couple of days of tapering, you don’t need too many extra calories to top off your glycogen stores.
- When you eat neverending pasta from Olive Garden, you are getting WAY MORE calories than you need! So guess what your body is going to do with all of that fuel?
- What goes in, must come out. Hopefully, there are a lot of porta-potties on the course…
Why Fueling Early Works
You are respecting the taper, right?
So since you’re not running nearly as much or nearly as hard the week of your race as you had been during your training period, your muscle glycogen levels really don’t come close to being depleted the week of the race.
By focusing on eating healthy, well-balanced meals in the week leading up to the race, you are making sure that your glycogen stores stay full AND that your body is getting plenty of vitamins and minerals with every meal.
If you do this for the week leading up to your race, you literally won’t need to eat much the night before your race.
Have a small meal that you know won’t cause you any tummy troubles, and then get some rest so you’ll be ready to go in the morning.
What About Race Morning?
The morning of the race, you have some options.
If you’ve been fueling well throughout the week and tapering appropriately, you don’t NEED much to eat in the morning.
That said, some people do better with a little more food than others.
This is where you need to do what works best for you.
Me? I like a pretty substantial breakfast before a marathon. Give me a few eggs, some potatoes, and some coffee and I’ll be good to go.
But I know plenty of runners that are fine with little more than a banana and a spoonful of peanut butter.
You do what works for you, but just remember that properly fueling for a big race isn’t something that you do the morning of the race nor the night before.
Making sure that you are properly fueled on race day is a process that starts a week before the race and continues until the race begins.
When Do You Start Fueling for a Big Race?
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