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Published on June 10, 2019
By Jean Larson, licensed and registered dietitian at Essentia Health
Summer offers runners many opportunities to compete, it’s a good time to look at how to fuel your run.
Arriving at the starting line with a full fuel tank is essential whether you’re running a 5K, half-marathon or full marathon. During training, you need to eat a variety of whole foods and test your race day plans for breakfast and hydration to make sure your body tolerates them.
Here are some of my top nutrition tips for race week and day:
Start hydrating a week out. Don’t wait until the day before a race to start guzzling water and fluids. Start optimizing your hydration a week before the race. Calculate half your body weight and be sure to consume that many ounces of water or fluids each day. You’ll need more if it’s hot or you are perspiring a lot.
Don’t try anything new. Stick to familiar foods and sports supplements in the days leading to the race. Race day is not the day to try a new sports gel, gummy or breakfast. You want to be sure that whatever you are consuming will not upset your digestion and cause any unnecessary discomfort on race day.
Eat carbohydrates to top off your gas tank in the days leading up to the race. This doesn’t mean you need a heaping plate of spaghetti, but it might mean an extra carbohydrate-rich snack such as a smoothie or an extra helping (about a palmful) of starch with your meals, such as sweet potato, brown rice or squash. Like hydration, this isn’t limited to the day before and is actually most beneficial to do for a few days before race day.
Get in a carbohydrate-rich breakfast three to four hours before the gun goes off on race day. You might need to plan around bus schedules, so be prepared to wake early and possibly take something with you. Again, make sure this is a breakfast you know sits well. The type of carbohydrate is up to you, but examples include oats, a bagel, toast, cereal, rice or potato. My go-to was always a big bowl of Cheerios with a banana and almond milk. Avoid high amounts of fiber and fat at this meal.
Bring water on the bus. Sip water while you await transport to the starting line. You might even pack a quick-absorbing sugar, such as a honey stick, gummy bears or a sports drink, to consume about 15 minutes before race start.
Alternate hydration during the race between sports drinks and water. Especially on a hot day, including sports drink will ensure you replace electrolytes you are losing in sweat.
After the race, make sure to grab a snack and fluids. Get both carbohydrates and protein, which will help you recover. My personal favorite is chocolate milk and a banana. Keep drinking water and have a good meal within a couple hours of finishing.