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Running Fuel: What to Eat Before a Race

 

The Day Before a Long Run or Race

Drink up: To hit your ideal hydration level, use this rule of thumb from Mitzi Dulan, R.D., a sports nutritionist in Kansas City, Missouri: Divide your weight in pounds by two to determine the number of ounces of water you should drink daily. (For a 140-pound woman, that's 70 ounces, or roughly nine cups.) Going longer than 10K the next day? Take in extra electrolytes. "You lose electrolytes­—minerals like sodium, potassium and magnesium—as you sweat, so it's good to start with a full tank," Dulan explains. Try the new no-cal Propel Electrolyte Water.

Eat up: Generally speaking, the longer the run, the more carbs you need. For races that last 90 minutes or longer, "increase your daily carbohydrate intake to 60 to 70 percent of your total calories beginning three days before your run," Dulan advises. "And spread it out through the day." Translation: Don't simply down a giant plate of pasta the night before. Also, avoid foods high in fat or fiber to keep your belly happy, says Matt Pahnke, Ph.D., an endurance expert at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute. "These foods can slow digestion, which can lead to gastrointestinal distress as you run," he says.

Race Day

Wake-up: Drink eight to 16 ounces of liquid. This should be water or a sports drink, such as BodyArmor SuperDrink, or a combination of both. You can also have coffee, as caffeine may improve performance for some, Dulan says.

One to two hours before: Have a light, 180- to 300-calorie meal with a three to one ratio of carbs to protein, such as a smoothie with frozen fruit, milk and protein powder; one cup of nonfat Greek yogurt with eight strawberries; or two slices of toast with peanut butter.

15 minutes before or at starting line: Drink another eight to 16 ounces of liquid. For runs of less than 60 minutes, stick with water. If you're going long, "definitely use a sports drink, because its carbohydrates will help delay fatigue and give you energy," Dulan says.

First hour: Whenever possible, aim to drink four to six ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes.

Second hour and after: Continue swigging every 15 to 20 minutes, but to provide muscles with the fuel they need to perform optimally, make sure you're drinking a liquid with carbs and electrolytes, like a sports drink, or try a combination of portable energy gels or chews and H2O. Aim to consume 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour during efforts that last longer than an hour, Pahnke says. Gatorade Endurance Carb Energy Chews (31 grams of carbs per packet) or Clif Organic Energy Food resealable pouches (17 to 23 grams of carbs per packet) are excellent options.

Finish line: As soon as possible after finishing, have a snack or a drink that contains about 20 grams of protein and is high in carbs. "To jump-start recovery, it's best to take in something right away to help rehydrate muscles and stimulate muscle repair and rebuilding," Pahnke says. Some good bets include a protein recovery drink, a yogurt smoothie made with fruit, or 20 ounces of nonfat chocolate milk.

Rest of the day: To rehydrate, drink water as usual and try the pee test: "Your urine should be light yellow, like the color of lemonade," Dulan says. If it's darker—the color of apple juice, say—keep sipping. If you're a heavy or salty sweater, replenish lost sodium with a handful of salty food, like pretzels or salted nuts, or an electrolyte drink.