How to Test Race-Day Fuel

Whether you're toeing a 5K start line or prepping for your first half-marathon, race-day food plays a big role in how you'll feel during and after the run. It affects everything from energy levels to cramping and all-around performance.

More: Fueling for Peak Marathon Performance

Here's how to test and choose the best race-day foods for your body.

Start Soon

Signed up for your race? Now start testing: "As soon as training starts you want to start training your body for the food as well as the exercise," says Lauren Thomas, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., and nutritionist at Nutrition Energy.

Giving yourself ample testing time allows you to tweak things as much as you need to before race day. You want to avoid making any drastic changes in the week leading up to the race, so the sooner you get started the better. 

More: 3 Keys of an Effective Training Nutrition Plan

Listen to Your Body

Play with different food options, and note how your body feels. Consider what it might be telling you every time you consume something new.

Training and race-day food can affect your body and performance in a number of ways; take specific notice of three things:

Energy Levels: How do you feel during your run? How about when you're finished? If your energy levels dip. or you start to feel sluggish, take a mental note of what mile it's at. This indicates you probably need to eat more before starting, or plan to re-fuel just before this mile-marker during the race.

Stomach: If your stomach feels queasy or unsettled, or you're having bad cramps, food is the most likely culprit: "Some people can't tolerate having some sort of fat beforehand [and] some people can't handle sugary things," says Thomas. If your pre-race meal is high in either of these, that's probably the reason for your stomach issues.

Recovery: If you feel sore after every run, your pre-run nutrition may be off. Improper nutrition can impede muscle recovery, which leads to sore muscles, says Thomas. For example, high-quality fats—olive oil—help to reduce muscle inflammation and boost your energy levels, whereas low quality sources of fat—frozen pizza—can leave you feeling achy and sore.

More: Nutriton Recovery for Endurance Athletes

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