On race day, the blood, sweat and tears of training will only take you so far–you’re gonna need a pre-run snack to power your performance. What kind? Nothing unusual, that’s for damn sure. “The most important thing when it comes to race day is to consume foods and beverages you trained with. You should never eat anything new within 48 hours of racing,” says Kelly Jones MS, RD, CSSD, LDN. Trial and error aren’t for game day, as food affects people in different ways. Not today, GI distress, lethargy and headaches. Not today.
For optimal effort and energy, have a solid breakfast, rich in carbs and low in fat, fiber and protein, at least two hours before race start. Think: A whole wheat bagel with an egg or nut butter or Greek yogurt with oatmeal, berries, and nuts. After that, you want a pre-run snack to keep stoking the fire. Here’s what to reach for:
90 Minutes Before the Race: Fuel with Slow-Release Carbs
An hour-and-a-half before start time, reach for a pre-run snack with good carbs that’s also low in protein and fiber. A solid pick: A cup of instant oatmeal you add water to. The carbs release slowly, fueling you while preventing hunger pangs, Jones says.
Or try a banana. “Bananas are great carbohydrate sources, shown to support running. A ripe banana will provide energy while also being easy on the stomach before a race,” she says.
Related: 3 Healthy Snacks Your Kids Will Love
During the Race: Get a Sweet Boost from Quick-and-Slow-Release Carbs
You’re in the middle of the race but your energy is draining—you need a quick boost to get you to the end. Avoid anything with protein or fat, says Jones–they’ll weigh you down and take a long time to digest.
Energy gels are a go-to, but you can also try honey. “It’s shown to support endurance exercise just as effectively,” Jones says. “The combination of sugars in honey naturally sends both quick-release and slow-release carbs into the bloodstream, to lessen the chances of a spike and crash.” Pack your honey packets in your race belt!
Another option? “Salted dates have energy and fiber to prevent a spike and crash. The salt adds electrolytes you tend to sweat out, so this can be a great pick for heavy sweaters to stash in their belt,” she says.
After the Finish: Recover with Carbs and Protein
You did it! Grab a whole foods-based protein bar. “Bars such as RxBar or Kize provide high-quality protein in the form of egg whites, along with fruit-based carbohydrates to deliver the two most important nutrients for recovery,” Jones says.
You can also have milk and wait to eat. “Shelf-stable milk or soy milk containers provide the ideal carb-to-protein ratio for recovery,” Jones says. Even if you’re not hungry after a race, you can manage a swig. Now go celebrate.