How to prepare nutritionally for race day

Our Run Mummy Run Community Run Club in association with ASICS nutrition expert Kate Percy is back with another great and informative post. Kate will be providing content around running and nutrition, including a series of handy blogs on the most-asked topics. These blogs are exclusive to RMR CRC members for a few months before being made public, so if you do want to get expert advice on your running, as well as a training sessions, expert Q&As, access to exclusive kit and much more, join the club today! This time, Kate is exploring the topic of how to prepare for a race in terms of your nutrition to help you perform at your best. With races and parkrun back on the calendar, we’re sure you will find this essential advice very useful. 

The event calendar is ramping up again. There’s race excitement in the air! Perhaps you’re considering your first post-pandemic half-marathon; perhaps you’re lucky enough to have a London Marathon place Whatever your goal, this month’s focus is on how to prepare nutritionally for your best race ever.

Here are a few pointers on how to tweak your diet so your energy levels are at their very peak on race day.

1. Taper and take it easy!

Resist the temptation to run too much in the week before your race. You’ve done the groundwork now; the best you can do is rest your muscles, sleep well, eat well and take it easy! Look after your legs. The day before, try not to walk too far either.

2. Don’t eat too much

Many athletes fall into the trap of eating too many calories, or eating the wrong foods during those critical few days before a race. The last thing you want it to stand on the start line feeling heavy and sluggish!

The truth is you don’t have to eat much more than you usually do. A certain degree of carb-loading will occur naturally with your taper. As you reduce the duration and intensity of your workouts in the week prior to racing, the muscle glycogen which would normally be used to fuel your long training sessions will automatically be stored by your body.

3. More carbs; less protein and fat

Reducing the level of your training and increasing the level of carbohydrate in your diet in the few days before an event will help ‘super-fuel’ your muscles to ensure that your glycogen levels are at their optimum.

Carbohydrates are converted into blood glucose and used for energy, or stored as glycogen in the liver and muscle. Your body can store enough carbohydrate to keep you going for approximately 90 minutes. That’s not quite enough to get you through a half-marathon (unless you’re very speedy!). Your job in the run up to the race is to eat enough carbohydrate to keep your glycogen stores at their optimum. Increase your daily carbohydrate intake to around 70% of your diet three days before the event. You’ll find 24 nutritionally suitable (and delicious!) recipes and snacks to help you do this in your #Enerjoy! Your Race Day e-book (free download).

Bear in mind that you’re only trying to increase your carbohydrate intake, not your overall calorie intake, so eat smaller portions of protein and limit fat. Your plate should still consist of 10–15% protein but this should be lean protein, such as fish, chicken and eggs. This will not only protect your muscles, but it will also slow the rate of digestion of the carbohydrates you eat, effectively lowering the GI of your meal.

Don’t worry too much if you gain weight as you increase the amount of carbohydrates in your diet. This weight gain will normally be in the form of water rather than body fat. Carbohydrate contains water: for every 1 gram of carbohydrate stored in your muscles you will store between 3–4 grams of water with it and this will help towards hydration as you race.

4. Choose ‘nutrient dense’ foods and avoid ‘empty calories’

Carbohydrates are found in a massive variety of foods, not just pasta and porridge! You can boost carbohydrate intake by eating nutrient-rich, slow-releasing (low to medium GI*) carbohydrates such as wholegrain bread, cereals, oats, polenta, couscous, basmati rice, lentils, pulses and, most importantly, fruit and vegetables. A pre-race favourite of ours is Spaghetti With Fresh Pesto (click for the recipe).

Poor choices for carb-loading tend to be processed convenience foods, which, while often containing high levels of carbohydrate, also contain high levels of salt, fat and additives. Examples of foods to avoid include french fries, crisps, donuts, buttery croissants, pastry products such as pasties, sausage rolls and Danish pastries, cookies and creamy pasta meals. Sorry!

5. Stick to plain and familiar

It’s quite common for runners to experience stomach upsets in the lead up to a race. It’s those dreaded pre-race nerves that play games with your tummy! The last thing you want is a loo stop mid-race (believe me, it’s not much fun watching the minutes fly by on your watch while nature is calling and you’re sat on the loo!)

In the three days before your race, try to avoid really high fibre and spicy foods, such as lentils, pulses, bran and hot curries, even if you normally include them in your healthy training diet.

Avoid unfamiliar foods the night before too, keeping things plain and simple.

6. Little and often

If you feel too nervous to eat a proper meal, try to eat smaller meals and snacks – ‘little and often’.

7. Hydrate well all week long

You’ll enjoy your race far better if your body is well-hydrated.  Keep a bottle of water with you and sip it throughout the days prior to the event and don’t forget that tea, coffee, squash, smoothies, juicy fruits and fruit juices, even soups, will also boost your fluid intake.

Keep checking that your pee is a light straw colour. Keep off the booze!

8. Pre-race breakfast – don’t overdo it!

With the taper and your pre-race diet you should be feeling like a coiled spring, ready for action! On race day, eat what you normally eat before a long training run. Not too much; you just need to ‘top up the tank’. Eat around 2 hours before the race.

Try one of my lovely porridge recipes like this Autumn Spiced Apple & Raisin Porridge. Packed with slow-releasing carbohydrate and not too heavy, it’s a perfect pre-race breakfast.

About Kate

Hello everyone! It’s a great privilege to have been invited by Run Mummy Run to inspire you with all things food and nutrition! In everything I do, whether it’s my food products, cookbooks or educational resources, my mission is to help you discover what I call #enerjoy through what you eat; that’s great taste, good energy, vitality and happiness. I hope you enjoy my tips and recipes over the coming year. And I hope they bring you #enerjoy!

For more information on Kate Percy’s cookbookshealthy snack products (Kate Percy’s Go Bites) and free nutrition resources, check out or join @katepercys on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

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