Race Day Meal Planning

As readers of my blog have become familiar with the way I write posts, I often cover the topics that are requested by my readers about running. One of the most common questions I get is about what to eat on race day. I thought this would be a great post to introduce myself to John’s Run/Walk Shop readers, and give some helpful information.


It does not matter what level of athlete/runner you are, fuel is crucial for getting the most out of racing. Similar to a car not being able to drive with an empty tank, or putting regular fuel in a premium tank, to get the most out of your body, it needs to be provided with the right nutrition to work correctly. We have all had an upset stomach in the past, and it is NOT a pleasurable feeling, so this post will hopefully prevent that from happening.


Everyone has different tolerances for what their stomach can handle; some people can run hard after eating a bowl of ice cream an hour before! You will just have to try different foods to find out what works for you! Here are some great pre race/workout/run foods that you could combine together to reach 300-500 calories:

Chilled Swiss oatmeal

  • Bagel with butter/jelly/peanut butter
  • Toast (be careful with whole wheat fiber content) with spread of choice
  • Banana
  • Animal crackers/plain crackers
  • Oatmeal with brown sugar/honey and cinnamon
  • Dry low fiber cereal (or a little bit of milk)
  • Peanut butter crackers
  • Granola Bars
  • Pasta with a light sauce (tomato is usually safest)
  • Baked/sweet potatoes with a small amount of butter

These are “safe” options, but if you are racing in the evening, and wish to eat dinner beforehand, make sure you keep it relatively plain, without thick sauces/dressings.

Foods to avoid before races to prevent stomach upset, and ensure you have enough energy

  • High fat foods
  • High protein foods (meats/protein bars/legumes/beans)
  • Lettuce/spinach/raw vegetables
  • Thick, heavy sauces
  • Dairy
  • Nuts and Seeds
  • Citrus fruits
  • Spicy food


There will also be a difference in timing depending on your personal preferences on whether you like to be completely empty, or just a little hungry.

The ideal time to consume your pre-race meal is between 2-4 hours before a race. This will give your body enough time to digest the food you have provided, and still have enough energy to use it in the race. If you have a meal larger than the 500 calories, you may wish to leave a longer amount of time.

Depending on personal preference, you may also wish to consume a smaller snack of around 100-200 calories 1-2 hours before to top up energy stores.


For your body to perform at its best, it needs a good source of carbohydrates that can be converted to energy your muscles can use. These are broken down much easier than proteins or fats, which take longer to break down. It will also prevent feelings of fatigue and weakness, as well as bonking during races!


Experiment! As I have mentioned, everyone is different! Try out different foods before hard days/workouts to see what your stomach and energy levels respond best to. Once you have found what works, STICK TO IT on race days!

MOST IMPORTANTLY make sure during the entire day before your race you are consuming water. Even a small percentage of dehydration can lead to a drastic drop in performance; it is critical to your success! Energy drinks are also helpful in the few hours prior to the race, but alternate sips with water!

What is my personal race day menu?

If I had a race at 7am (which I do for my upcoming marathon), I would get up at 4am(!!!), eat 1 ½ cups cooked oatmeal with a small amount of honey and a banana. I ensure I am hydrated the night before, but immediately begin sipping water when I wake up. Around 20 minutes before my warm up (around 5:40am), I will start to consume Genucan (a carbohydrate drink) that I will also drink every 5k during the race.

Virginia Challenge  13

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