The Pre-Race Meal

Here are my choices for the five best foods to eat (or drink) before a race:

Bagel

A bagel makes an excellent pre-race breakfast food, not only because it's rich in carbohydrate, bland and easily-digested, but also because it's something many runners eat for breakfast routinely, hence familiar. Eat it dry or top it with something low in fat such as a light smearing of reduced fat cream cheese.

Banana

Bananas are almost all carbohydrate. A large banana contains more than 30 grams of carbohydrate, just one gram of protein and no fat whatsoever. Bananas are also high in potassium (400 mg), which is lost in sweat during running. As mentioned above, their softness and light taste make them easy to consume even with pre-race nerves, and their natural "wrapper" makes them handy for eating on the road.

More: 10 Natural Race Food Alternatives

Energy Bar

Energy bars such as PowerBar and ClifBar are made to be eaten before exercise. Most are very high in carbohydrates and low in fiber, fat and protein. The better bars also contain useful amounts of sodium, potassium and the antioxidant vitamins C and E. A cappuccino flavor PowerBar, for example, contains 45 g of carbohydrate, 110 mg each of sodium and potassium, 35 percent of the recommended daily allowance of magnesium and 100 percent of the RDA of vitamins C and E.

There's a huge variety of energy bars on the market--some are better than others. Choose one that's close to the PowerBar formula I just outlined. Avoid the high-protein, low-carb bars that have become popular in recent years.

More: What to Eat Before a Race

The advantage of the wide selection of bars on the market is that it's easy to find one you like and can eat without unpleasantness before a race. Pay attention to texture too. Some bars are very chewy, and for some runners (myself included) eating chewy foods tends to exacerbate the stomach churning that's associated with pre-race nervousness.

Meal Replacement Shake

I drink one or two meal replacement shakes before almost every race. Brands such as Boost and Ensure have a nearly perfect nutrition profile, they take care of energy and hydration needs, they're super-convenient, and nothing is easier to consume before a race--even if you're extremely anxious. And they taste good.

More: Green Smoothies: Why You Should Rotate Your Raw, Leafy Greens

Ensure, for example, delivers a whopping 250 calories of energy in a little eight-ounce can, including 40 grams of carbohydrate. The one downside to these beverages is their efficiency. By providing so much nutrition in such little volume, they are not as filling as solid foods and can actually leave you feeling hungry in the middle of a marathon if you rely on them solely.

In the same general category as meal replacement shakes are performance recovery drinks including Endurox R4 and Ultragen. They are normally used immediately after exercise, but they can also be used for the purpose of pre-race fueling. They are sold as powders that you mix with water. Because these drinks are slightly more diluted than meal replacement drinks, they do an even better job of hydrating and fueling simultaneously.

Oatmeal

Like bananas, oatmeal is almost pure carbohydrate, plus soft and light in taste. It is also the most filling food among the five best pre-race foods, which is good for those wanting something substantial in their belly before they head out to burn a few thousand calories. Some runners also prefer to eat a real breakfast food for breakfast, and oatmeal certainly provides that.

Oatmeal requires preparation that can be more challenging on the road than at home. If your hotel room has a microwave oven, you're all set as long as you've brought some kind of bowl with you. If there's no microwave oven, you can use the coffee maker to heat water.

There are so many factors we must think about before a big race. Following these guidelines can help you deal with one of the most important elements.

More: How to Create a Race-Day Hydration Plan

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