What you eat before a race is critical to your performance and enjoyment. The most important thing is to follow the The Golden Rule of Racing and try different things in your training. You should think of your training runs, especially the long runs, as a test bed for perfecting many aspects of your racing.
1 The night before
- Pasta is the classic pre-race meal, but may not be the best choice. Some people find that grains like pasta can irritate the digestive system, so choose potatoes for instance. If you are in an Italian restaurant, Gnocchi is potato based, not grain.
- A high carbohydrate meal may work for you, but consider a high fat meal. I find that a high fat meal works better for me than high carbohydrate, and I know others who have had the same experience.
- High Fiber or low fiber? You want to avoid any gas in the digestive system, and you want the digestive system to be as empty as possible when you start the race. It may be that you need a high or a low fiber meal the night before. If you find an approach that works, use it.
- If you are traveling for a race, eating out can add to your stress. After some bad experiences spending ages waiting for a table and getting to bed late the night before a race, I gave up eating out. Now I get carry out and eat at the hotel. Not so elegant, but a lot easier.
- I know a runner who did remarkably well with lots of ice cream. Easily digested, lots of carbs, fat and a little protein, and easy to eat.
- Some people need a very empty stomach to race. When I was racing marathon distances, I found I had a problem if I ate anything solid on the morning of the race. Doing ultra distances, I find I do better with food.
- The makeup of breakfast needs experimentation. Some people like a plain bagel for instance.
- My typical ultra breakfast is Pop Tarts, cookies, chocolate, or similar easily digestible foods.
- As noted earlier, it is important for your digestive system to be as empty as possible at the start of the race. Food can trigger this emptying, as can Caffeine, so that may help. If you are getting up earlier for your race than normal, your digestive system may not want to empty that early; try to practice in training getting up at the time you would need to get up for the race.
- The timing of breakfast can be important. It may be important to leave enough time for the food to be digested before the race. Try different foods at different times.
- You may find that something extra, such as a Gel, works 5 mins or so before starting to race.
The key to all of this is to find out what works best for you. And never eat something before the race you've never eaten in training.