Friday, October 26, 2012

guest blog: race day nutrition

Today's guest blog is brought to you by Tina Gowin - a registered dietician whom I had the pleasure of meeting through my involvement in the LUNA Chix. Since I'm nine (!!!!) days away from the marathon race day nutrition is something that has definitely been on my mind. Read on for some really helpful tips about how to fuel before and during a long race!

Race Day Nutrition
If you’re a runner, you’ve probably heard multiple times “nothing new on race day.” This means, don’t wear a new pair of sneakers or the shorts you just bought at the race expo. It also means, don’t eat anything that you didn’t try during training. The best time to practice what to eat on race day is on your long run days. Follow these guidelines when planning what to eat before and after your race.

Since most races start in the morning, your breakfast meal will likely serve as your pre-race fuel. This may mean that you have to wake up earlier than you want to, but you’ll be glad you did. Aim for a meal that is high in easily digestible carbohydrates, along with some lean protein. Examples include oatmeal made with low-fat milk and fruit or a peanut butter and banana sandwich.  This pre-workout meal should be low in fiber and fat as these two nutrients take longer to digest and the last thing you want is to start the race with a heavy stomach. Think about what you’ve been eating before your long runs during training. Stick with that! Race day is not the day to experiment with a breakfast that the guy at the pasta dinner swears by. Save the experimenting for training runs instead.

As for the timing, everyone’s body is different and digests at different rates. A larger meal will take longer to digest while a smaller one will take less time. A good rule of thumb is to go for the solid foods if you have more than an hour before start time, and aim for semi-solids or liquids if you are within an hour of go-time. Again, everyone is different. I’ve heard of athletes who eat a bean burrito and run 15 minutes later and I’ve also had runners who need at least 2 hours to digest a simple meal. Listen to your body and learn from previous experiences!

During the Race
Since a long race like a marathon is likely to last a few hours (unless you’re super speedy), taking in carbohydrates (sugars) for energy during the race is essential. After all, carbohydrates are your body’s main source of fuel during an endurance activity and you don’t want to run out of fuel before reaching the finish line. Again, stick with whatever form (and brand) of energy you were using during training – it could have been sports drinks/gels/blocks/beans, or even crackers or fruit. In general, you don’t want more than 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour as your body won’t be able to process it quickly enough and you’re more likely to end up with gastrointestinal issues if you take too much. Experimenting with timing and type of fuel during training is key. And definitely take advantage of the water stations – you want to be taking in 5-10 ounces of fluids every 15-20 minutes depending on how much you are sweating.

As soon as you can after finishing your race, get a snack into your system to help with healing and recovery. Your muscles just worked really hard to get you through 26.2 miles and it’s tempting to want to just treat yourself to a beer right after crossing the finish line. You can have the beer; just make sure you get some food in first!

The best post-race snack will have a 4:1 ratio of simple carbohydrate to lean protein. My personal favorite is chocolate milk. Other options include a bagel with peanut butter or a smoothie made with fruit and yogurt. The snack is meant to get some quick nutrients to your muscles for repairing. Aim to have a well-balanced meal about 2 hours after finishing. This means include some vegetables and fruits, carbohydrates, and lean protein.

It’s okay to reward yourself for finishing the race, but just make sure you give your body the nutrients it needs to heal. Hard training and running long distances can suppress your immune system. You don’t want to pig out on junk food and then catch a bug before you have a chance to tell all your friends and family about your amazing feat! As always, hydration is key, so make sure beer isn’t the only fluid you’re consuming post-race.

If you’re interested in a more personalized nutrition plan for training and race day, talk to a Registered Dietitian like me! You can contact me at or connect with me through my website

Tina Gowin, RD, CDN is the owner of GoWin Nutrition and works in corporate wellness at a 5,000 employee company in New York City. She is a Registered Dietitian who works with clients to increase energy, improve athletic performance, and meet their overall health goals. Tina is an avid runner who is always looking for a new challenge. She also enjoys hiking trails, experiencing NYC's many restaurants, experimenting in the kitchen, and traveling whenever she can.

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