You’ve heard of the benefits of pre-run nutrition, but what should you eat the night before a marathon, half-marathon, or just a long run?
Athletes often struggle with finding the perfect balance between fueling their bodies and staying hydrated during exercise.
The right mix of carbohydrates, protein, and fat can help athletes perform better at races – but what should you be eating the night before you embark on a long distance run? What do nutritionists suggest you eat to boost performance and endurance?
Read on to find out more with our informative article, and learn about some foods that can help fuel runners the night before a race, and identify certain foods that will give you energy without weighing you down or giving you the trots.
What To Eat The Night Before A Long Distance Run
There are a number of components that make a great pre-race meal.
You should try to balance all of these dietary components to make you feel strong and ready for the hard endurance that long distance running requires.
As you probably know, your body uses carbohydrates as fuel for energy, as they are the easiest kind of food molecule for your body to turn into energy (or ATP), making it great for powering muscles.
During a long distance running event, your muscles will use both carbs and fats to power you forward.
However, when you run out of these, or when there is a lag between your body’s need for immediate energy and that energy actually being available, your body will resort to using stores of glycogen.
Glycogen is a form of carbohydrate stored in your liver and muscle cells which is used up by exercising muscles, and is used when you are in a pinch, as it is easy to quickly turn into energy.
If you don’t have enough glycogen to keep going, you’ll start feeling tired and weak. This is why having plenty of carbs before a run is so important.
Carbohydrate intake also helps prevent cramps, because if you’re low on glycogen, your muscles won’t be able to contract properly, and you could end up with cramped muscles, which are both painful and will slow you down.
Both your body and brain can suffer from fatigue if your diet is too low in carbs – and you are particularly at risk from this if you are having muscle or brain fatigue when doing a high effort and endurance exercise, such as a long distance run or race.
Before a big race, you should aim to get around 2g per kg of body weight in carbs, and ideally 4g per kg of body weight in carbs.
The night before, you should eat low fiber carb sources, such as potatoes, rice, bread, sourdough, and even carb heavy fruits.
Your body needs protein to repair itself after exercise, and to build new tissue. Protein is also needed to maintain muscle mass, and to support recovery.
Your body breaks down protein into amino acids, which are then turned into glucose, which fuels your body.
Eating protein the night before a long race can help you recover faster from training, and reduce muscle damage.
It can also help you avoid getting hungry during a race, as you may not feel like eating much while racing.
However, you shouldn’t overdo protein either, as excess protein can cause problems. A good rule of thumb is to consume around 1g per kg of body weight in protein the night before a race.
Fat is an essential part of any healthy diet, providing essential fatty acids which our bodies cannot produce themselves.
These include omega 3 and 6, which are vital for brain function and maintaining cardiovascular health. They are also necessary for growth and development, and to aid in digestion.
Omega 3s are especially important for pregnant women, who require them for their baby’s brain development.
Fats will help to keep your stamina up – so load up your mashed potato with butter to keep you going, and avoid putting too much stress on your muscles.
Overall, carbs should be the main part of your diet before a big race – but you should still try to keep your plate balanced with healthy fats and proteins, too.
Ensure that you are hitting all of your nutrients the night before a run.
To a certain extent, finding out your ideal food to have before a long run involves a certain amount of trial and error.
Runners should pay attention to how they feel after eating because this helps them prepare for future races.
A runner who does not eat enough before a race may suffer from bonking or ‘hitting the wall’.
In addition, runners should keep a journal of how they feel after eating, and how the food affected race performance, or if you suffered stitches. This helps them get ready for future races.
What To Drink The Night Before A Long Race
Drinking water is very important before a long run. You need to stay hydrated, otherwise it could lead to cramps and other injuries.
If you do not drink enough fluids before a race, you could end up dehydrated, which can make you tired and slow you down.
When running, you lose about half a liter of sweat every hour, so drinking plenty of fluids is crucial. Water is best, but sports drinks containing electrolytes (such as Gatorade) can also be useful.
Hydration is a massive part of pre race nutrition, so ensure you are drinking plenty before your start time.
If you are planning to take energy gels or bars during a long race, you should start consuming these at least two hours before your planned finish time. This means that you will be able to digest them properly, and avoid stomach upset.
If you are taking supplements such as caffeine or sodium bicarbonate, you should stop taking them at least one hour before the race starts.
Caffeine can give you jitters, and sodium bicarbonate can cause nausea, which could slow you down.
Examples of What You Should Eat The Night Before A Long Run
- Pizza – this is a high carb food source, which provides lots of energy. It is easy to digest, and will keep you going.
- Pasta – another great option for runners. It contains carbohydrates and protein, and is easy to digest.
- Mashed Potato – this is a carbohydrate-rich food that is easy to digest. If you skip the butter, it has a low fat content, making it suitable for those who want to cut back on calories.
- Salmon – it is rich in protein, and contains omega 3 fatty acids, which are good for heart health, and if anti inflammatory, which is great if you have any aches and pains which may slow you down come race day.
- Eggs – these contain large amounts of protein, and are a great source of energy. They are also rich in iron, which is essential for healthy blood cells.
- Sweet potato – this is a starchy vegetable that is packed full of vitamins and minerals. It is also a great source of fiber, which makes it filling.
- Peanut Butter Sandwich – this is a simple snack that is quick and easy to prepare. It is high in protein, and is an excellent choice for anyone looking to boost their energy levels.
What Should I Avoid Eating Before A Long Run?
Stay away from high fiber foods, as they can cause bowel problems (and no one wants a classic case of the runner’s trots).
Foods should be consumed at least a few hours before running to avoid digestive concerns, stitches, cramps, or tiredness caused by digestion.
When you eat too much, blood goes into your stomach, and away from muscles, which need strong blood flow to let you exert yourself to the maximum.
In conclusion, there are many types of effective pre race foods out there, and each person needs to find something that works for them. Some people like to eat a lot of carbs before a run, while others prefer to eat more fats.
There are also some people who feel better after eating certain foods, whereas others don’t.
The key thing to remember is that whatever you choose to eat, it should provide you with enough fuel to get through the race without feeling hungry.
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