Expert Tips: What You Should (and Shouldn’t) Eat Leading Up to a Big Race

Listen up, soon-to-be Blue Cross Broad Street Run runners: this year’s race is right around the corner! (Is it just me, or do you wish we had an extra week … or 10?) Although your workout load has lightened as you taper your way through these final days, taking a relaxed approach to your entire training plan (ahem, what you eat) could sabotage the progress you’ve worked so hard to make since scoring your Broad Street bib.

Registered dietitian and sports nutritionist Jenna Stranzl knows that what you put into your body is as crucial as what you do with it. So, loosen the exercise reigns, let your legs wind down, and devour these fueling tips for the ultimate pre-race cuisine routine.

1. Don’t mess with what you know too much.
Life’s all about doing things we’ve never done before. (SoulCycle, anyone?) However, the days leading up to Broad Street are not the time for fun and/or frightening food experiments. So go with the grub you know. Otherwise, as Jenna puts it, “You could end up with tummy troubles or feeling like a fish out of water.”

2. Make every meal leading up to the race count.
You probably skip the occasional run or two (three cheers for rest days!), but don’t even think about skipping breakfast. Or lunch. Or dinner. “Always make sure you are eating consistently throughout the day,” Jenna suggests. She adds that having a meal every three to four hours leading up to the race should set you up with enough energy to keep your body in the zone for race day. Grab a banana on your way to work, sit down with a steaming-hot supper, or dine in whichever way works best with your schedule.

3. Hydrate!
Here’s the (slightly gross, yet super-important) deal: You need spit in your life. According to Jenna, “Saliva has antimicrobial properties that help with inflammation.” Inflammation limits muscle growth and causes fatigue and soreness, but proper hydration will help you stave off unwanted aches and pains. Need another reason to fill up your cup? “Our muscles are 75 percent water,” Jenna says. Because the average runner loses between one and three liters of sweat per hour of activity, staying hydrated before the race is an absolute must.

4. Save the stout for later.
Does beer count as proper hydration, you ask? Eh, not so much. Jenna points out that it takes our bodies nearly 72 hours (aka THREE DAYS!) to recover from drinking. Even if you only get a little tipsy, alcohol dehydrates and fatigues your body, boosts your risk of injury, and puts a damper on your training regimen. So starting around now, do yourself a solid and set your sights on a post-race pint.

5. Forget about carb-loading.
I don’t know about you, but I take advantage of every opportunity to have more than one bagel for breakfast. Although Broad Street’s 10 miles seem like as good a reason as any, they, unfortunately, don’t require as many carb-crazy meals as you’d think, Jenna says. “There’s no need to eat extra carbs because it isn’t as necessary compared to longer distances such as a marathon or ultra marathon,” Jenna explains. While a double-digit race is a big deal, that bucket-sized bowl of pre-race pasta may not be necessary.

6. Pick lean proteins.
It’s no secret that protein is a total powerhouse, and, as Jenna indicates, “Protein is so important because it reduces the onset of muscle soreness.” Consider your current diet: Are you a fan of boneless, skinless chicken breast, lentils, sunflower seeds, or another lean protein? Opting for these lighter sources will fill you up leading up to the race without weighing you down.

7. Limit your saturated fat intake.
Speaking of being weighed down, certain heavy hitters could defeat all your good dietary intentions. Foods high in saturated fat delay your body’s absorption of the key nutrients it needs to fuel you throughout a run, Jenna says. She suggests that you try to steer clear of scarfing down this type of fat, especially the day before and morning of the race.

8. Reach for omega-3 fats.
Now, to the good fats! You’ve likely heard that omega-3 fatty acids are great for brain health. (Who hasn’t seen at least 5,000 fish oil commercials in the last five years?) But they’re not just a bunch of one-trick ponies. “Omega-3s also help reduce inflammation,” Jenna says. Get your hands on some salmon, walnuts, avocados, flax and chia seeds, and olive oil, and (as a real f-you to inflammation), wash it all down with a tall glass of H2O.

9. Pile on the fruits and veggies.
Leafy greens and foods with seeds? Yeah, they’re exactly what you want on your plate on days leading up the race. Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins A, C, and E, which, Jenna explains, limit exercise-induced stress. If you’re not a fan of seeds, then reach for dark-colored produce. Jenna’s a fan of broccoli, peppers, cherries, citrus, tomatoes, carrots, squash, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes.

10. Seek out sources of Vitamin D.
Soaking up sunshine is easier said than done (especially in the frustratingly unpredictable month of May). Fortunately, the sun’s rays aren’t our sole source of vitamin D! Fatty fish, cow’s milk, egg yolks, and vitamin D-fortified foods will strengthen your bones and keep you fit to the finish, Jenna says.

11. Eat yourself to sleep.
Rest goes a long way for runners, so, for the love of pillows, don’t skimp! To keep yourself from tossing and turning as you try to rest up for race day, nosh on foods rich in melatonin. Jenna says goji berries, raspberries, almonds, tomatoes, orange bell peppers, tart cherries, walnuts, and flaxseeds are excellent sources of this sleep-inducing hormone.

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