If you have been training to run in the Houston Marathon, which takes place this year on Sunday, January 19, you probably know by now that what you put inside your stomach is crucial to how well you'll do in the race. It doesn't matter if you run two miles, 13.1 or 26.2; what you eat could make or break you.
Contrary to popular opinion, you don't want to "carb up" so much that you puke all over yourself (or the person near you). Who wants to smell a combination of protein bars, bananas, peanut butter, apples and whatever else you decided to shove down your throat hours before the race? On the flip side, you don't want to eat such a small amount of food that you run out of energy before you're even a quarter of the way through the race. Water stations and food stations never seem to appear when you're running on an empty stomach.
While what you put into your stomach the day and night before the race, as well as the morning of, is a crucial factor in your race-day performance, what you'll eat during the hours after you cross the finish line is just as important. Here are some dietary guidelines for all runners.
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Week of the Race
Obviously, everyone eats differently, and each person's body reacts uniquely to certain foods. So, eat what works for YOU. If you can't handle large amounts of pasta, then don't eat a heaping bowl of spaghetti the night before the race. Your best bet is to eat normally. Adding unusual foods to your diet before any sporting event will result in an upset stomach and digestive issues.
During the week of the race, stick to your normal diet and routine. Don't indulge in greasy, sugary or overly fatty foods, especially if you're not used to consuming rich items. The last thing you want is to get sick before the race and lose precious preparation time.
Day Before the Race
What you eat the day before is extremely important in preparing you for a successful race day; it's where most of your fuel comes from. Make sure the foods you eat before the race are bland as well. Don't mess up your body by eating something that will give you heartburn or indigestion the night before your run.
If you're running the half marathon, you won't need as many carbohydrates as those who will be tackling the marathon. Eat too much, and you'll be dragging before the middle of the race. Pair lean protein with a starch and vegetables, such as chicken with beans and rice, a portion of pasta with fish or chicken, or roasted veggies with chicken and rice. In addition, drink plenty of water with each meal (and throughout the day). Include small snacks to boost your metabolism, such as bananas with peanut butter, an apple, or yogurt with fruit.
Marathon runners should include the same types of foods, but add more carbs. Incorporate a banana, hunk of bread, crackers or pretzels to each meal. For lunch, try a black bean or turkey burger with a side of veggies and a banana. For dinner, opt for pasta dishes with chicken and veggies, or baked fish with rice, a banana and steamed vegetables. Keep it simple.
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Morning of the Race
Everyone's stomach behaves differently in the morning. Some enjoy a big lumberjack breakfast, while others stick to coffee or tea and oatmeal, or a piece of toast. The easiest way to cause an upset stomach is to change your morning routine.
Remember that you don't need to eat enough food to last you from the moment you wake up to the moment you cross the finish line. You'll be able to eat and drink during the race.
If you typically consume a bowl of oatmeal with a cup of coffee in the morning, then have a bowl of oatmeal, but add a banana to counter any potential muscle cramps. Some people can have coffee before they run, so if you are one of them, save yourself from having a caffeine headache during the race and pour yourself a cup of Joe, or opt for hot tea. Eat plain oatmeal with nuts or fruit, rather than a mix with tons of brown sugar and milk (especially if your body can't handle dairy). Or coat a piece of toast with peanut butter and pair it with a banana.
During the Race
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Make things easier on yourself during the race and carry small Gatorade gel packets to give yourself a burst of energy if you sense yourself lagging. Make sure to consume water whenever possible, too. If you're handed something to eat, take it, even if you don't need it at the moment; you'll want to carry it while running so you can eat it the moment you feel as though you're losing energy. Hoping and wishing for a booth with food and water when you need it is not a fun experience.
After the Race
As soon as you finish the race, you need to replenish your body with nutrients you lost over the past few hours. Chocolate milk is an excellent source of protein and carbohydrates; your body will thank you for this replenishing drink (and so will your taste buds). Drink plenty of water as well. You want to get the most nutrients possible.
You need to eat an hour after you run the race. Have a meal with fruit, such as berries, to provide your body with antioxidants, as well as protein and carbs. Have a smoothie made with whey protein, or enjoy Greek yogurt with berries and granola. Don't forget to have a banana -- the potassium is just what your body needs to prevent muscle cramps.