How To Fuel And Hydrate Before Your Competitive Or Casual Run

I ran a 10k this weekend, and it was awesome. However, after mile 4, I started to feel sluggish. I realized that I hadn’t stuck to my normal pre-race meal plan.  I was in a serious hurry and just slathered some butter on a piece of toast. Normally, I eat a whole wheat bagel or toast with almond butter and honey, and it seems to provide me with ample energy through a 5k or 10k.

I also hadn’t hydrated and went into the race already parched. My head was pounding and my mouth felt horrible. I hit every water station and annoyed some kids at the last station when I took two cups of water. I spent the rest of the day uncomfortable and in pain. My muscles felt good, but my head was a mess.

I’ve read many articles on fueling before, during, and after races. Most of those articles claim that for a 5k or 10k, you don’t have to do anything special. I agree with this to a point.

For anything less than a half marathon, carb-loading may be adding unnecessary pounds to your rear-end. But, in my opinion, you should always think about what you eat and what you drink before and after a race or a normal run. If you want to really rock that race, pay attention to what you put in your mouth—and take it seriously.

Most of us are not nutritionists, and there are so many different diets out there right now, how does a runner figure out what is the best thing to eat before and after a race? I say it’s a little bit of science and a lot of trial and error and personal preference.

The one rule we should all follow is to stay away from ingesting a lot of fiber late in the day before and on race day. Say no to copious amounts of fruit (dried or fresh), beans, dark-colored vegetables, etc. Runners with nervous stomachs will have even more issues after meals rich in fiber.

You can start with the basics. You can find plenty of articles online that outline nutrition plans for pre and post-race meals based on your specific race distance. Use the meal plan as a guideline during training and tweak it to find out which food works best for you. This way you aren’t only training your muscles, but you are training your stomach as well. Which combination of foods makes you perform the best? Keep eating that.

Also, do not forget to hydrate. You don’t have to swamp your stomach with water; just make sure you are keeping up with your water or Nuun. Being overly hydrated is just as harmful as being dehydrated. Practicing hydrating methods is also a good thing to do during training. Finding a performance or electrolyte drink that works for you can be just as difficult as finding your ideal pre-race meal.

A good rule-of-thumb for post-race refueling is a 3:1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratioed meal. Chocolate milk is a favorite for many runners if your stomach can handle it. Just remember to refuel within an hour of finishing your race in order to recharge those muscles.

What do you eat before your races? Have you found it difficult to find that magical mix of foods? I would love to hear about it.


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About Liz Ward 101 Articles
Liz Ward is a running fanatic, avid reader, and amateur farmer. She lives on the Oregon Coast with her husband, three kids, and a small herd of animals.