If you're like many runners, you've spent the last few months training for a big race. And as your 5K, half-marathon, or marathon approaches, you're probably taking extra care with what you eat and drink. Maybe you're loading up on carbs, drinking lots of water, ordering extra servings of broccoli and beans. But are you doing the right thing?
More: Keys to Marathon Fueling
"How you fuel up before the race has a huge impact on your performance," says Beth Jauquet, R.D., a nutritionist for Cherry Creek Nutrition in Denver. Unfortunately, runners tend toward extremes: Skimping on fuel, overdoing food or drink, or eating foods that cause digestive disaster. Here's how to avoid common mistakes and ensure what you eat and drink in the week before your race will help you secure the PR you hoped for.
The Mistake: Eating a Box of PastaMany runners like to top off their glycogen stores by feasting on carbs the night before a race. And why not? You're going to burn through them the next day. But flooding your system with more carbs than it can process may lead to digestive problems that will have you running to the porta-potty every mile.
The Fix: Consume moderate quantities—not huge portions—of carbs for several days prior. "Massive amounts of any food throw your system a curve ball," says Jauquet. Have oatmeal for breakfast, potatoes at lunch, and pasta for dinner. "Eat just to fullness, so you don't get indigestion or have trouble sleeping," says Tara Gidus, R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
The Mistake: Drinking Gallons of H20
Not only will chugging too much water before a race leave you feeling bloated, but it will also dilute your electrolytes—minerals responsible for optimum muscle contraction. Diluted electrolyte levels can cause muscle weakness or cramping and, in extreme cases, can lead to hyponatremia, a life-threatening condition triggered by abnormally low sodium levels.
The Fix: In the days leading up to your race, drink fluids as you normally would to stay hydrated. This can include water, sports drink, juice, even coffee and tea. On the morning of the race, Jauquet recommends drinking 16 ounces of water two to three hours before the start, giving your body time to process extra fluid; drink another one to two cups right before the gun goes off.