Make a Race Day Nutrition Plan

A well-practiced and developed race day nutrition plan makes sure runners will feel energized, perform at their best, and avoid issues like side stitches or indigestion during their race. Timing, type, and amount of food, sports nutrition products, and fluids are all important considerations for runners when planning for their race.

There are key time points for runners to consider when constructing their race day nutrition plan. A carb-rich meal with easy-to-digest foods 2-4 hours before the race, a pre-race carb-rich snack, and food and fluid every 15-20 minutes during the race will provide sustainable energy and nutrition to the body and brain. Carbohydrates (or carbs) are the main fuel source for a runner’s brain and body during training and racing. The carbs will help support blood glucose levels and provide regular fuel to the muscles and brain. It’s also important to make sure runners are staying hydrated with fluid and electrolytes during the race to stay cool and have enough body fluids on board to enable a steady sweat rate. Nutrition recommendations from the American College of Sports Medicine for a 3 or more hour race include 45-60+grams of carbohydrates with 16-32 ounces fluid with electrolytes per hour.

During the planning stage, a runner should consider what food and hydration they will bring and start the race with, where aid stations are located on the course, and what will be available at them (typically found on the race website or flier), and which aid stations they will plan to stop at to grab foods or drinks. Making a detailed race day nutrition plan ahead of time will lessen the mental load of making fueling decisions during the race.

Example pre-race meal: oatmeal, banana, maple syrup, peanut butter, low-calorie sports drink

Example pre-race snack options: 1/2 banana, 2 large dates, 1 Chargel gel drink

Example in-race fuel and hydration options: Chargel gel drink, sports drinks with carbohydrates in them, dixie cups of water, gummy candy, dates, bananas, sports bars, granola bars

Practice Race Day Fueling in Training

Practicing and dialing in the race day nutrition plan in training will give the runner confidence in their fueling strategies as well as support their training gains. Not all foods and products sit the same for every runner. Where one runner may have a great race with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich beforehand, another runner may feel like that sandwich sits in their tummy like a brick. Trying out different pre-race meals as well as products and foods during training will help determine which types and combinations will work best for them. It may also take the body time to adjust to the amount of food and fluid that is optimal for performance during a race. A runner can train their gut to take in more food and fluid with practice. The body will start to produce more enzymes to break down nutrients and allow them to take in higher amounts of food and fluid without side stitches or indigestion.

Practice race day nutrition strategies in training to maximize performance gains, train the gut to take in the recommended carbs and fluids, and feel energized all race long.

Bottom Line

Developing a race day nutrition plan based on individual needs and preferences, and practicing the race day nutrition plan in training will help set a runner up for success to have a great race.

Kristen Arnold sports dietitian cycling coach Team USA Sports Director

Author Profile: Kristen Arnold

Kristen Arnold MS, RDN, CSSD sports dietitian, cycling coach, Team USA Sports Director
IG: @sportsnutritionforwomen