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You Asked: What Should I Eat Before Running a Marathon?



You asked: "I am running my first half marathon in little over a week and I was curious to know your suggestion about what the appropriate dinner the night before would be and also what if any type of breakfast I should have before the race."

Thanks for the question. For the answer I looked to my friends over at CoolRunning.com, the authority on running marathons. To see what they recommend eating, read more

Week before: This is carbo-loading time. It is an important period to stock your energy reserves to their max, but don't make too much of the process. Some elite runners, for example, will race hard about seven days before the target race day to deplete their glucogen stores, then train normally for three or four days, eating mostly fats and protein to keep glycogen low. Then in the last few days before the race, they pack as many carbohydrates into their system as they possibly can. The theory is that their muscles are so starved for glycogen that they will soak up even more carbos than they normally would, giving them extra energy for the race. We do not recommend this for the mainstream runner -- certainly not without the oversight of a dietitian. Too often, this approach can backfire and leave you out of gas midway through the race.

Instead, follow your normal balanced diet and kick in some extra carbohydates in the week before a race. Fruit juices and sports drinks are good carbo supplements if you're having trouble eating all that pasta. Try not to miss meals, but also try to avoid overeating. Balance and consistency are particularly important as the big run approaches. For the same reason, this is not a time to sample new cuisines or even a new sports drink. Eat foods that you know agree with you.

Two days before: About two days before a race, particularly longer runs, start loading up on fluids. Sports drinks can kill two birds with one stone by letting you get carbos at the same time. Try to stay away from alcohol, however, since it not only dehydrates you but also interferes with proper storage of glycogen and undercuts your carbo-loading.

In the last 48 hours, avoid high-fiber foods like beans, bran cereals, lettuce and broccoli to avoid an upset stomach or other gastrointestinal discomfort during your run. Avoid hard-to-digest foods like peanut butter, fried food and the like. If possible, cut back on dairy products, too. Some runners have a slight lactose intolerance; while they may not even be aware of the condition on a day-to-day basis, the strenuous effort (and constant sloshing) of a race can cause their bodies to rebel against the lactose in the milk, causing gas and bloating.

Day before: By the end of the day before the run, your high-carbo diet should have worked its magic and topped off your glycogen stores. You should snack moderately and frequently on familiar, mild foods. Drink water and juice constantly. For your final meal that night, eat moderately and go for food that contains -- you guessed it -- lots of carbohydrates and only a little fat. Skip the beer or wine and get to bed early.

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