Before I cut to the chase, let me offer an important disclaimer: each runner is different, with a unique digestive system and different ability to handle certain foods before key workouts and races.
But in general, I’ve made one startling discovery that may surprise you (especially coming from me): Don’t eat kale the night before your big race.
Really, what I’m saying is – don’t eat too many leafy greens on race night. But you know how obsessed I am with kale (and how it ranks 1000 on the ANDI scale – highest score ever!!). I would never in a million years pick on my beloved kale.
Unless, of course, I’d found some pretty conclusive arguments in favour of avoiding it the night before a race.
Funnily enough, it wasn’t long ago when my favourite pre-long run and race night meal was my Tri-Plate (pictured above). It was actually my meal of choice before I ran my 1:36:25 half marathon (and I haven’t broken 1:40:00 since).
Perfect pre-race superfood? At the time I sure thought so. But here’s the thing – I’ve tried it again and again, without a repeat performance. Further to this, I’ve worked with hundreds of clients over the years and have clearly seen that leafy greens the night before a race are okay for some and really not okay for others.
Here’s the deal. You should definitely eat your leafy greens, and a lot of them at that, but the day before your race you need to watch out for too much fibre. Keep it low by not eating any more veggies or whole grains than you’re used to. In fact, fewer than what you’re used to may actually serve you well.
Why exactly, you ask? Good question. I’m guessing it’s not in your race plan to dash off into the port-a-potty mid-race. Frankly, it’s a waste of precious time, not to mention terribly uncomfortable. Too much fibre (such as leafy greens, raw vegetables and whole grains) in your pre-race dinner has the potential to cause unwanted digestive distress race morning.
“But wait!” I can hear you saying, “What about the daily green smoothie that you recommend?”
My answer: skip any green smoothies on the day before race day, or have one first thing in the morning that day, and then leave them alone. For the next 24 hours keep it super simple and low on the leafy greens. Here are a few other helpful guidelines for the day before your race.
- Breakfast: have a high carb breakfast such as oatmeal or granola.
- After your activation run (assuming you do one): have a fruit smoothie.
- AM & PM snacks: choose low-fibre, easy-to-digest foods such as oat bars; granola bars (don’t use nuts when making them); banana bread or banana muffins; hummus with carrots or crackers; and rice cakes with a touch of almond butter or pumpkin seed butter and bit of honey or banana. Avoid anything overly fatty, and don’t eat whole nuts – just a bit of nut or seed butter here and there (there’s just not enough time for these foods to digest properly before you race).
- Lunch: choose something that contains a good-sized serving of carbs, such as a rice bowl, lentil stew, tomato pasta, or a yam/potato dish (yams and potatoes are a fantastic carb-loading carb). Don’t eat any red meat, fried foods or dairy the day before race day.
- Dinner: eat between 5pm to 6pm (and absolutely no later than 6:30pm), and make it a smaller dinner. This will ensure full digestion before you start racing. Keep the veggie count low at dinner, and make sure they’re cooked, to continue to avoid fibre.
- Post-dinner snack: because you ate dinner early, you may wish to snack before bed – but make sure you choose very simple carb-rich foods. Good options include a banana, a small bowl of grapes, a rice cake with just a touch of nut or seed butter and honey, a small granola bar or a slice of banana bread.
When it comes to ensuring you’re ready to run your best race ever, race night and race day nutrition is something that you’ll want to have practiced in advance. Practice, after all, makes perfect, and this way when race night rolls around you’ll know exactly what to reach for to ensure you feel awesome the next day.
You’ll be able to rest easy knowing you’ve tested a nutrition plan that loads you up with energy, avoids fibre, and leaves you ready to run your best time yet.
What is your favourite pre-race dinner? Let me know in the comments below – see you there!
Eat clean, run strong, be well… Cheers,
Sarah J Cuff, RHN
PS. When Olivier Jardon-El Hiny first approached me, I couldn’t help but think he ate so well already that there wasn’t much value I could add. However pretty much every one of us can be doing something more – and for Olivier it was practicing nutrient timing – ensuring he was eating enough of the right foods at the right times. This focus on proper fuelling for his Ironman 70.3 training (and race) gave him the tools he needed to succeed! Click here to read how eating 2 run benefited Olivier.