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How to Fuel Your Body Before Race Day

It’s no secret that proper nutrition will boost your athletic performance when training for a big event. Yet questions about what and when to eat can be a little overwhelming, especially for those who are new to a sport.

“When it comes to diet and training, there isn’t a universal plan because everyone is different,” says Ryan Cannon, an orthopaedic personal trainer at University of Utah Health. “It depends on many factors such as age, fitness level, and how your body responds to different foods.”

Cannon recommends working with a personal trainer, a coach, or a nutritionist to plan out a nutrition strategy that’s right for you. However, some proven dietary tips can help you along the way.

Fuel Up with Carbs

Carb loading is a tried-and-true strategy for building up energy reserves the day before an epic workout. Just remember to go easy on the protein and rich cream sauce.

“A big spaghetti dinner is a go-to strategy among athletes when getting ready for race day,” Cannon says. “It’s a fun way to prepare yourself for a vigorous workout. But try not to overindulge and be sure to drink plenty of water.”

If you’re not in a pasta mood, many other options for carb loading include baked potatoes, pizza with chicken, rice and vegetables, pancakes, and waffles.

Get Off to a Good Start

The right breakfast can make or break a workout, so remember to choose wisely before you grab and go. Here are a few performance-boosting breakfast foods that are easy on the stomach:

  • Peanut butter toast
  • Oatmeal with fruit
  • Protein bar and fruit juice
  • A bagel with a banana
  • A fruit smoothie with coconut water
  • A hardboiled egg with salt

Eat, Drink, and Run

Whether you’re on a long run, ride, or swim—or doing all three—it’s important to think ahead. That means replenishing your sodium levels and electrolytes with gels, salt tablets, pickle juice, and sports drinks.

“Don’t wait for a certain mile marker to start taking a gel or drinking an energy drink,” Cannon says. “You want to start consuming these things before you hit the wall, because at that point it’s already too late.”

During a long workout, it’s best to frequently drink both sports drinks and water. Make good use of every water stop and pay attention to any signs of dehydration.

“Water intake varies from person to person, so there isn’t a certain timetable to go by for hydrating before, during, and after a workout,” Cannon says. “Try to drink plenty of water, but don’t go overboard and over-hydrate.”

Refuel and Recover the Right Way

You just finished an epic workout, and it’s time to fill that empty stomach. Before heading to your favorite fast-food joint, remember that not all calories are good calories.

“It’s important to be in the mindset of eating to train, not training to eat,” Cannon says. “Don’t use a big workout as a reason to eat a huge slab of chocolate cake. Think of food as a fuel source for optimizing your performance and overall health.”

After a workout, Cannon recommends replenishing your body with nutrient-rich foods, such as lean proteins, vegetables, carbs, and good fats. A good rule of thumb is to avoid fast food and pre-packaged snacks, which can derail your progress.

Keep a Fitness Journal

It takes some trial and error to figure out a nutrition plan. That’s why a fitness journal is an excellent tool for determining which foods help or hinder your performance and weight goals. As for the bathroom scale, try not to be discouraged if the needle moves forward.

“It’s easy to get upset when your weight goes up while you’re training,” Cannon says. “The scale isn’t going to show that you’re losing fat but gaining muscle, so pay closer attention to how your clothes fit than the number.”

Whether it’s the number on the scale, a sluggish workout, or a minor injury, setbacks are sure to happen throughout your training journey. Remember to take it easy on yourself, stay the course, and celebrate all your big and little wins along the way.