Ready to Race: My Pre-Race Nutrition Routine

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Two weeks ago, at 6:30pm on Tuesday September 1st, I lined up at the start line of my first race back in over a year. After being sidelined for so very many months with a stress fracture in my hip (the unfortunate result of many more months of improper nutrition, recovery habits and overtraining), I was ready for this race. I was literally feeling healthier and fitter than I have in years and I knew it was because I’ve finally been treating my body this past year exactly as the successful runner I hope to be.

It was heart-wrenching to be forced to take one year off of the sport I love so much, but I had no choice so I put all my energy into fixing my diet, practicing proper recovery and training smarter. While I may have been impatient for my ‘comeback’, it was worth the wait.

I crossed the finish line of my first race back as the winner! Not only did I win the meet, running 4k in 13:40, I felt fantastic. But none of that would’ve been possible without the changes I made along the way.

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While I made many changes this past year, my nutritional choices are perhaps one of the largest. Nowadays, fueling for a race is a bit of a science for me. Every ingredient I put in my body has the opportunity to make me race well or race poorly, so I opt for choices that are all organic, non-GMO, nutrient-dense, and gluten free (due to an allergy). I get excited thinking and planning out how the perfect balance of healthy nutrients and optimal fuel can come together like pieces in a puzzle.

I’ve found quite literally that when nutrition is planned and prepared correctly, it gives you the opportunity to have an extra boost of confidence when the gun goes off knowing that you are properly fueled and ready to roll.

While the importance of what I eat on a day in and day out basis cannot be understated, I also feel that my pre-race nutrition routine in the 24 hours leading up to the race can make or break it. While specifics vary for each race, my general “recipe for success” is outlined below. My routine will also change depending on if I’m travelling to a race, able to pack food with me, the length of the race and how hungry I am on that day. But for the most part, my routine looks similar to what I did two weeks ago before winning my meet, as follows.

24 hours Pre-Race

My race was an evening race, with the gun set to go off at 6:30pm, so the night before I ate one of my most favorite meals on the planet! I’ll devote one of my next blogs to these thus-far underrated superfoods, so I will just briefly detail them here. I made protein and iron rich bean pasta with spinach, kale, red sauce, grass-fed roast beef, and topped with nutritional yeast. I followed the meal with a grapefruit because it is my favorite way to satisfy my sweet tooth in a healthy way. It was an ideal mixture of proteins, carbohydrates, and nutrients such as iron, sodium and potassium to leave me full and satisfied until morning.

Many cross country races are first thing in the morning and some of my track meets are too. In that case this last big ‘heavier’ meal would usually be dinner 2 nights before the race (about 36 hours pre-race), and I’d also have a large breakfast about 24 hours out.

8 to 12 hours Pre-Race

On the day of the race, things are kept pretty simple. Generally, it’s a good idea to remove concentrated sources of protein (such as meat or fish), fatty foods (such as handfuls of nuts, oils, butter, cream sauces) and fiber rich foods (such as leafy greens, beans and whole grains), as these just won’t have the time to fully digest before the gun goes off. Which is why I ate these types of foods the night prior – I got all the nutrition I needed with enough time to fully digest it all too.

Because this was an evening race, I knew breakfast would be the last big and plentiful meal I would eat before the race. So after a 12 minute shake out run, I indulged in two pieces of toast with almond butter and fruit jam, an orange, Nancy’s organic honey greek probiotic yogurt, and (of course) coffee. This meal left me full for a while, and again provided the right combination of protein, fats, and carbohydrates to ensure satiation yet support full digestion for the evening race.

4 to 8 Hours Pre-Race

The night before my race I made some healthy cookies to eat throughout the day on race day. These cookies are really simple to make – just mix together the following ingredients in a food processor and form into the size of cookie you want. I made nine jumbo sized ones, which I baked at 350 for 16 minutes (12 minutes for smaller cookies).

  • 5 coconut date rollsImage 1
  • 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups of quick cooking oats
  • 3 tablespoons of chia seeds
  • 1 de-thawed frozen banana
  • ½ cup of shredded coconut
  • 1½ cups of sprouted maize cereal
  • 1/3 cup of chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup of dark chocolate chips

They are a great, easy to digest option for fueling on race day – as are any cookies, muffins or bars that are carb-rich and low in protein, fiber and fat. My stomach can get a bit whack with nerves, so I need simple and light options that are easy to digest for the majority of the day. These were great for snacking on throughout the day, and I ended up eating quite a few by the end of the day!

In fact, the first snack I had after breakfast was one of my homemade cookies and an apple with sunflower seed butter and cinnamon. I like doing “mini meals” on race day, where I eat ever couple hours but keep the meals small. This keeps my stomach happy and never too full or left hungry.

Image3 Hours Pre-Race

My last meal before the race was a smoothie that consisted of a scoop of Raw Meal chocolate protein, a frozen banana, and coconut water paired with another one of my cookies. I finished this meal about three hours before the race started. I wanted to race on a stomach that was primarily empty, while still having enough fuel in the tank to compete well.

60 Minutes Pre-Race

The last piece to my pre-race nutritional puzzle was another cup of coffee half an hour before I started warming up. Caffeine is a well-researched ergogenic aid, known to increase performance and endurance by 2 to 7%. I rely pretty heavily on coffee before races for that energy it provides me, plus I love that feeling of an extra little edge it gives me.

All of these meals combined in perfect harmony for my first race back. It was a great start to the season and I just can’t wait to see what the rest of the season has in store for me. As I continue this fall season with more races, workouts, and training, I will intertwine my love of running with my passion for nutrition to maximize my success.

Best wishes for healthy and speedy feet,



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